When The New Yorker magazine arrives at our house, I always take a quick look at the table of contents and quickly squirrel the issue away from my husband if there happens to be an article written by Elizabeth Kolbert.  I am a huge fan of hers, so I was pleased to come across an interview that Kolbert did for Yale Environment 360 with Jane Lubchenco, the current head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  The subject?  Climate change and the challenge that scientists face when trying to engage the public and politicians in a subject that can be difficult to understand and grasp on a “real” level.

Lubchenco is a marine biologist and professor of marine biology and zoology at Oregon State University.  Oregonians were rightfully excited and proud when she was named by President Obama to serve as NOAA Administrator.  Lubchenco also founded the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program, which trains environmental researchers in outreach and policy-making skills.  One of her long-standing missions has been to open the lines of communication between scientists and citizens.  She believes that scientists have a responsibility to share their knowledge to a broader audience so that their ideas can be brought into action rather than staying dormant in the laboratory.

Among other things, the conversation between Kolbert and Lubchenco highlighted a report that the U.S. Global Change Research Program recently issued on the current and projected impacts of climate change in the United States.  The report strives to explain impacts in clear language with detail that brings climate change to the level of where people live.  Here in the Northwest we will see declining snowpacks, which will, in turn, affect water supplies and fisheries, and we can expect widespread pest infestations in our forests as winters get warmer.  This report provides an example of the “plain language” approach that Lubchenco supports.  The U.S. Global Change Research Program also launched a new website in conjunction with the report: www.globalchange.gov.

Here at ELAW, we are fortunate to have staff scientists Mark Chernaik and Meche Lu who are masterful at helping ELAW’s partners understand science and technical information, from interpreting air emissions data to finding flaws in an environmental impact assessment or the design of a pollution treatment system.   Their work informs advocates, judges, and policy-makers around the world, and embodies the type of scientist/citizen collaboration that will bolster the role of science in important environmental decisions facing our communities.

Liz Mitchell, ELAW Staff Attorney