What We Talk About When We Talk About Engaging

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Cartoon by Carole Levy, commissioned by Andy Hoffman, on redefining academic success to include “stepping out of the ivory tower” to inform important national discussions on topics like climate change and GMOs.

In mid May I had the good fortune to attend a three-day meeting at the University of Michigan that was co-organized by Leopold Leadership Fellow Andy Hoffman on “academic engagement in public and political discourse”. My interest was piqued by an article that Andy circulated in early February (“Isolated Scholars: Making Bricks, Not Shaping Policy”). I’m very glad that I went. Other Leopold Leadership Fellows present were Joe Arvai, David Hart, and Dawn Wright. I think that what transpired at the meeting validates what many of us are doing in a very powerful way, and so I wanted to share some of what I learned and heard.

You might be interested in several articles that highlight various meeting discussion threads: “Presidents Agree Engagement Is Part of Academics’ Obligation to Society,” “What to Expect When You’re Engaging: Tips for Academic Outreach,” “American Universities: Reclaiming Our Role in Society,” and “Can We Talk?”

Below are some of the key points that resonated with me from presentations, panelists and discussions that I tweeted about. I’ve added italicized notes in brackets to help clarify the context of the character-limited tweet. If you’re interested in reading more tweets, all that were tweeted during the meeting can be found on Twitter at #AcadEng. At the end of this post, you’ll find a meeting summary.

Tweets:

  • Engagement is boundary work- a messy space. Need to put thought into how to navigate it. Think about our own personal values sets. [Our value sets inform who we think is credible, e.g., Carl Sagan vs. Dr. Oz. Need to grapple with how we work with each other in terms of being civil and supportive. Need to have stronger collaborative projects with natural and social scientists.]
  • via Susan Collins: should consider working collaboratively in the public/political engagement space rather than being competitive
  • via @DavidScobey need to shift away from intellectual hierarchy @ universities & create an inclusive intellectually generous faculty [“Participate more in inter-institutional and consortial institutions, e.g., Imaging America, and leverage faculty change to undo intellectual hierarchy” David Scobey]
  • RT via @NeilLewisJr “The problem is not the audience, the problem is us.”
  • via @DavidScobey participatory engagement: think abt how to work w/ people w/whom we share a common fate but not common experiences
  • How to broaden diversity of who we’re engaging with? via @RogerPielkeJr Need to be willing to go against the grain of what’s easy [“Engagement is highly politicized and hence polarized- need to not run from the polarization but rather learn how to be at the boundary” Dietram Scheufele. “The goal of politics is not to get everyone to think alike, the goal of politics is to get people who think differently to act alike to get those with differing opinions to know that shared action is possible” Roger Pielke.]
  • via @RogerPielkeJr: Be clear abt your goal for engagement shouldn’t do it to impose our view on others but rather to open up the discussion […to learn more and create a collective vision]
  • via @Nancy Baron: To effectively engage, show your passion- not only the what/how but also the WHY. People will pay attention [‘Those that show their passion are actually the most effective at engagement. “Tell a story, stories are data with a soul” Nancy Baron]
  • via Jane Lubchenco ‘scientists must be bilingual’- to be able to both speak to scientists and to translate this info to the general public [Academic engagement “requires a 2-way communication with society- with transparency and humility” Jane Lubchenco]
  • via H. Pollack: you’ve got to have content, & to coin #LeopoldLP lessons learned, “you’ve got to know thy stuff!” [“Evaluate where you are (wrt engagement) and pivot. Don’t engage with the bad experiences. Cut your losses and move on” and put your energy into engaging with positive experiences. Henry Pollack]

And, last but not least as tweeted by Dawn Wright:

  • via @deepseadawn As one of the peeps in the @LeopoldLP & @COMPASSonline universe, I am SO PROUD of @HoffmanAndy! #AcadEng

Meeting Summary

There were 2 keynotes, one to kick off the meeting, by Jane Lubchenco (Oregon State & Former NOAA Administrator) and the other to close it, by Richard Alley (Penn State). The rest of the time was devoted to a series of panel discussions and breakouts organized with the goal of stimulating a dialogue on specific issues related to academics and public/political engagement, some of which were:

  • Why should academics engage in public & political discourse?
  • What do we mean by public and political engagement?
  • How do we practice public and political engagement?
    • What are some guidelines?
    • How does one pursue an academic career that includes public and political engagement
    • What should be the role of academics in public/political discourse?
  • What are the obstacles for academics with public and political engagement?

The organizational structure and the intentional diversity of career tracks, academic disciplines, and career stages of attendees set the stage for some really interesting and stimulating discussions. Most attendees were from academia but there was also very good representation from boundary organizations, the media and some from the private sector. For those from academia, 43 different disciplines were represented spanning the physical and social sciences, humanities, and professions. Attendees came from the University of Michigan as well as from several colleges and universities from around the country and Canada. Impressive too was that that almost 30% of the academic attendees were PhD students: these are the people who represent the future of academia and so are critical to the dialogue.

A big thanks to Andy Hoffman, Andrew Maynard and the other Michigan Meeting Steering Committee members and organizers for helping to put this all together and for getting such a broad collective of academic wheels turning. A job very well done!!

Summary slide presented by Richard Alley in his MI Meeting keynote presentation ‘Good, Bad and Maybe:  Communicating Scientific Near-Certainties and Deep-Uncertainties to a Non-Scientific Audience’. His presentation exemplified how not only to engage with non-scientists but with scientists and other academics as well.   A very positive keynote- there’s hope!

Summary slide from Richard Alley’s keynote presentation,”‘Good, Bad and Maybe: Communicating Scientific Near-Certainties and Deep-Uncertainties to a Non-Scientific Audience”.

Jennifer Cherrier is an Associate Professor in the School of Environment at Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University. In August 2015 she will become an Associate Professor in the Earth & Environmental Sciences Department at Brooklyn College, City University of New York.

12 Things to Know about Working in the International Sustainability Arena

Tip #1: To meet leaders working on sustainability issues from different perspectives, attend the conference of an international cross-sector organization, suggests Katherine Sierra, a senior fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Global Economy and Development Program who spoke at our Leopold advanced training “Navigating the International Sustainability Arena.”

If you’re a researcher in sustainability science, and you want to make your research used and useful in solving sustainability challenges internationally, how do you engage? “The world is wide,” as the saying goes. How do you identify partners and determine where you can have the most impact?

The Leopold Leadership Program recently held an advanced training in Washington, D.C. to help participants answer these questions. All were academic researchers seeking to integrate their science into practice internationally.

During the two-and-a-half-day workshop, the group got an overview of the international sustainability arena through the lens of two organizations: the World Bank, which was the subject of a keynote by Katherine Sierra, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; and the Global Environment Facility, which was the focus of a panel moderated by Tom Hammond, Secretary of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel for GEF. As happens with all Leopold trainings, participants immediately had the chance to put what they learned into practice. In this case, they interviewed professionals working at international organizations on their issue of interest to learn more about their work.

To prepare, the group first did a series of “speed interviews” during an afternoon session. Working in pairs, they had an hour to develop questions. They then used them in 12-minute interviews with volunteers from the World Bank, the Pew Charitable Trust, Climate Advisers, and the World Wildlife Fund. The goal was to learn as much as possible in a short time about the international sustainability arena. Armed with an understanding of which questions work best, they spent the following day visiting international organizations and doing their one-on-one interviews.

In their debrief, the workshop participants spoke about the power of informational interviews for building relationships to advance the work of solving sustainability challenges. “Aims to influence policy start with a real desire and ability to listen to policy- and decision-makers, rather than always providing information and thinking that ‘they will come,’” said Marc Jeuland, a workshop participant and faculty member in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University.

Here are 10 other tips:

Marc Jeuland: “In the context of making connections, I learned how critical it is to tailor even a two-sentence introduction to be most relevant to the person and purpose at hand. I used to think that such clarity could come from subsequent conversations, but this workshop and the substantial practice interacting with others (in small groups, mock interviews, and then with my own scheduled interviews) really drove home the point that first impressions are very critical if one wants to maximize impact.”

Jill Caviglia-Harris: “I learned that the silos that we talk about in academia also exist in the international policy world… and that breaking into this new arena requires reaching out, building long-term relationships, and co-developing questions that can be addressed with research findings.”

Karen Holl: “I learned an immense amount about the goals and workings of several intergovernmental organizations, and how I could most effectively collaborate with them. As a result of one of my meetings, I was invited to participate in workshop in May to discuss forest restoration and monitoring with various countries participating in the Initiative 20×20, which aims to restore 20 million hectares of tropical forest in Latin America by 2020.”

Kevin Krizek: “If you’re asking for an informational interview with someone, include the name of the person who referred you in the subject of your email. This strategy works for getting a response, and I’ve begun teaching it to my students.”

And:

“There are amazing efforts out there aiming to make the world a better and more environmentally humane place. These international agencies need different types of information from scientists and researchers at different points in various initiatives. A key challenge is finding out — and then delivering — the right info at the right time.”

Max Boykoff: “I found discussions surrounding our ‘theories of change’ very enlightening, in appreciating how we can chart different pathways to effective change in the international sustainability arena. My colleagues’ varied perspectives helped me to reflect on how to prioritize and plan my contributions going forward.”

Marco Janssen: “When I asked about the challenges they experience, representatives from the various international NGOs voiced the same message: ‘No more individual case studies, how can we scale up?’

Jennifer Cherrier: “All my interviewees reinforced the power of collective approaches for creating change that I learned in my Leopold training. I was reminded of the need to focus on your niche and work toward a series of ‘small victories’ (‘shrink the change‘) rather than trying to hit it out of the ball park. In all of this, doing your homework is key — you have to ‘know thy stuff’ and enough of your interviewees’ and collaborators’ stuff to effectively cross borders. Finally, be realistic with time constraints when you interview for information and plan accordingly.”

Margaret Krebs, Leopold program designer and training co-facilitator: “The rules of engagement are different for the international arena than they are for other spheres of sustainability work. Cultural differences are in play, and you need to respect and work with them.”

And:

Who you know matters. This training was possible because Leopold fellows and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment shared their networks to identify people who could advise us about the workshop content and matching participants with representatives of organizations to interview. Thanks to Josh Tewksbury, Lea RosenbohmEd Barbier, Ruth DeFries, and Rashid Sumaila for their help in this regard!”

Pam Sturner is the executive director of the Leopold Leadership Program.

Applying Scientific Thinking to Decision-Making

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Ocean Protection Council Science Advisory Team member Karina Nielsen has found that working across the science-policy boundary requires a shift in mindset about one’s role as a scientist.

Note from Pam: Over the next several months, scientists from the Ocean Protection Council Science Advisory Team will be blogging at OceanSpaces about how science gets linked with decision-making. We’ll be republishing some of their advice and reflections here on LL3.0.

Scientists are inherently curious about how nature works. We enjoy applying creativity and logic in the pursuit of answers to challenging questions. We like thinking hard about how to solve a difficult puzzle, and we enjoy finding a solution. Many of us also hope that the knowledge we generate will ultimately be useful. In our scientific publications, we often point out that there are “policy” or “management” implications associated with the results. And then we think our work as scientists is done. We often assume decision-makers will seek and find the breadcrumbs we’ve left behind to create effective solutions to environmental problems. And we are often dismayed when they don’t.

Building strong bridges across the science-policy boundary involves more than simply pointing decision-makers to the most recent scientific findings. From serving on the Marine Life Protection Act Science Advisory Team to the Ocean Protection Council Science Advisory Team (OPC-SAT), and participating in focused workshops like a recent one on ecosystem health assessments, I have found working with fellow scientists to help managers and policymakers grapple with complex environmental issues just as challenging and rewarding as doing basic scientific research.

Most recently, I was involved in an OPC-SAT workshop focused on exploring Ocean Health as a Scientific Concept and Management Goal. The idea of ocean (or ecosystem) health as a metaphor for the condition or status of an ecosystem is not new. It has been part of the environmental science lexicon for decades and is now embedded into the environmental policy landscape. Yet despite its common sense and intuitive appeal, there are no generally accepted ways to measure it. Through my work with scientists, managers and policymakers on this and other science policy questions, I’ve learned a few things that other scientists may find useful as they stretch to span the science-policy boundary.

1. Take A New Approach to Engaging with Decision-makers

To span the science policy boundary, we are not being asked to be scientists for the government. Rather, we are being asked to bring our scientific way of thinking to the management and policy table. We have so much to offer beyond our own areas of expertise, because what is useful is not limited to what we each know, or the particular data sets we’ve personally collected and interpreted. It’s also how we’ve been trained to think. In other words, using evidence and applying logic to arrive at sound inferences, including identifying areas of uncertainty can be extremely valuable in helping decision-makers find tractable solutions to problems.

2. Be Willing to Co-develop Projects

Scientists can benefit immensely from collaborating with policymakers and managers. Often we start with a scientific question or problem in our field, design and complete a research project, and then reach out to the decision-makers who we think might benefit from our new findings. What if instead we engaged decision-makers from the beginning?

As scientists, we’re keenly aware of the gaps in our field. But being able to hone in on those gaps that inhibit potentially beneficial and important policy action is not something easily done from the ivory tower, the research lab or the field site. As a result there are often mismatches between what scientists think decision-makers need to know, and the information they are in fact desperately seeking. Identifying the critical knowledge gaps to fill, and/or finding focused, nuanced applications of existing knowledge are important emergent benefits of greater crosstalk and collaboration with decision-makers.

3. Look to Existing Models for Engagement (such as Marine Protected Areas)

I am very encouraged by the Ocean Protection Council’s emerging effort, Healthy Ocean California. The purpose of this effort is to make a long-term reality out of what so many of us have been working toward sustaining for a long time: a healthy, productive ocean. We’re asking the question: Can the concept of ocean health unify us for better science, policy and management?

I believe it can. It starts with California’s network of marine protected areas (MPAs). They’re the backbone of a grand experiment and observational network we can use to understand the consequences and tradeoffs of different policy decisions. The management and monitoring of these MPAs form an important foundation we can use for science-informed decision-making on issues that span management jurisdictions—water quality, fisheries, climate change, and more. The MPAs give us structure for an iterative, adaptive process that will allow us to learn and improve as we go. We can use the network and how it changes over time, under different conditions and in comparison to areas outside the network, as we would an experiment to provide critical tests and contribute to building scientific theory. We built this network, we’ve applied management decisions, we’ve set up monitoring, and now we can start using the results to improve our understanding of ocean health, and how to sustain it.

4. Broaden the Community of Scientists Engaged

We need to keep working to broaden the community of scientists who are active in the policy and management process. We also need to expand the pool of scientific information that scientists and decision-makers can draw from, including academic knowledge, traditional knowledge, citizen science, and local expertise. Examining multiple lines of evidence from different sources to test assumptions and answer questions is an important aspect of scientific thinking.

The boundary between science and decision-making is a fuzzy one. We never have all the information we would like. There is always uncertainty we wish we could reduce. We know that if we only had more time, more resources, and more data we could provide a more robust answer. But managers and policymakers are most often charged with making decisions in the here and now with the information that is currently available. Coming to a conclusion or making a decision in the face of uncertainty can be very uncomfortable for scientists. Inaction can be equally uncomfortable or even impossible for the policymakers and managers charged with tackling environmental challenges. This is the “fuzziness” that can make boundary-spanning feel uncomfortable or even a little scary. But to make science and scientific thinking useful and accessible to decision-makers, to have impact, to actually have science-informed policy, or at least to have science at the table when decisions are being made, we must be willing to stretch outside our traditional disciplinary comfort zones.

As they say sometimes, “If you’re not a little bit uncomfortable, you’re not growing.” It’s not just about ecology, or climate science, or fisheries; and it’s not about being 100% certain about our conclusions before we help inform policy. It’s about to bringing a diversity of scientists, scientific information and scientific disciplines together to work adaptively and iteratively with decision-makers to find the best possible answers to the questions we have about California’s ocean health, something that is important to everyone.

Other blogs in the “Perspectives from the OPC-SAT” series: Introduction to the Series; and Part I: Gone with the Wind? What climate-driven changes in wind intensity means for CA’s Ocean Health.

Karina J. Nielsen is a professor of biology and director of the Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies at San Francisco State University.

Affecting change on the ground: an interview with Anne Guerry of the Natural Capital Project

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To help catalyze change, scientists have to listen carefully to stakeholders and be prepared to change their approach and vision of the outcomes.

Moving science out of the ivory tower, off the pages of journals, and into the hands of conservation practitioners, regional planners, and corporate decision makers is not something most environmental scientists learned how to do in grad school. However, it is exactly what the scientists at the Natural Capital Project do day in and day out. The Natural Capital Project—NatCap for short—is a partnership among The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Stanford University, and the University of Minnesota. NatCap aims to integrate the values of nature into all major decisions affecting the environment and human well-being—with the ultimate objective of improving the state of biodiversity and human well-being by motivating greater and more cost-effective investments in both.

In a recent paper in Ecological Economics, Mary Ruckelshaus and coauthors describe NatCap’s experience using ecosystem services to inform decisions. The paper outlines over 20 decision-contexts in which NatCap and partners have worked to quantify ecosystem services, change decision-making dialogues, inform plans and policies, and affect real-world outcomes. Anne Guerry is Chief Strategy Officer and Lead Scientist for NatCap—and, in the interest of full disclosure, she is also my wife. I recently spoke with Anne (at our dinner table) about what it takes to successfully bridge the divide between science and practice.

1. What lessons did you learn about bridging the gap between science and action/policy?

We’ve found that information co-produced with decision-makers and stakeholders is much more likely to affect decisions than information just chucked over the wall. Science is never central to decision-making; you have to work hard to make it resonate. I have a slide that I use that shows our heliocentric understanding of the universe pre-Gallileo—I use the image to remind people that scientific information, though we scientists like to think otherwise—is at least a few rings out from the sun. Decisions are often made based on innumerable factors and for our science to have a prayer of being used, it needs to be salient, credible, and legitimate (see David Cash’s work on this theme).

You have to be a good listener. Real decision contexts provide really interesting scientific questions: you just have to listen and be willing to let your work be shaped by those grappling with hard questions. If you’ve been a good listener at the beginning and throughout the process, you’ll be much more likely to find good listeners in your audience at the end of the process—because you’ll be talking about things that matter to them.

Real personal relationships and real time together makes things happen. In a lot of NatCap’s work, we’ve gotten deeply engaged with our partners on the ground. For example, in our work on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, our team logged many, many hours in stakeholder meetings, in trainings, in board meetings, on Skype, in conference calls, and simply working together in the same physical space. This allowed our team to have a real understanding of the decision context we were working to inform—and for our partners to have a real understanding of what we could bring to the table. The same has been true for our work on water funds in Latin America, our coastal planning work in Belize, and for many of our other projects. However, we can’t scale up this intensive work. A better, more sustainable model involves putting our tools and approaches in the hands of others who can take real ownership of the work and not need significant outside help. Then those real personal relationships and real time together still matter—but the science is done internally, enabled by credible science and accessible tools.

2. What kind of person does it take to bridge the gap?

You need an open mind. One size doesn’t fit all, so you have to be ready to adapt your science and tools to be relevant to the questions at hand. This means that we need creative people who can come up with new solutions and different approaches. Also, for those who will work with stakeholders and decision-makers, it is critical to have people who are personable. You are going to need to build trust and that’s unlikely, if not impossible, if you can’t connect with people.

Also, we’ve seen that you either need jacks-of-all-trades (people who are capable scientists, good modelers, decent GIS analysts, creative data hounds, clever big-picture thinkers, and likeable) or you need a diverse team that ranges from the technical experts to the big-picture people. Of course, it also helps to have people with some experience in the wild and wooly world of using science to inform decisions.

What you do NOT need are big egos – Trying to inject some science into decision-making is about politics, stakeholders, and decision-makers. It is so not about you or your science. It is about their process, their decisions. You are there to help them. You may get no credit, your work may be very much behind the scenes, and you need to be comfortable with that.

3. How did you link-up with different stakeholder groups?

There are a lot of different ways that we get connected with different decision-making processes. In many cases, we work through our NGO partners (TNC and WWF) in their priority projects and regions. Some examples include our work on setting up water funds in Latin America (with TNC) and our work on creating an integrated coastal zone management plan in Belize (with WWF). In other cases, we have received a grant to do research with an applied component and have included a scoping phase in the project during which we’ve found an on-the-ground partner interested in applying the new science and tools in local decisions. Also, people come to us and ask for help; in those cases we have an “applications team” that uses various criteria to decide whether or not such work might be a good fit.

4. What lessons have you learned about working with stakeholders and practitioners?

The science is critical, but it is a very small part of the decision-making process. We’ve learned to be more realistic about the ways in which science gets used in decisions. Sometimes we’ve seen different kinds of “success” than we initial envisioned. Although we may start out with the ultimate objective of improving outcomes for people and the environment on which they depend, we have learned to recognize interim successes along the way. These include producing and publishing results from our analyses, changing dialogues, and seeing an imprint of our work in plans and policies.

Also, as we talked about earlier, it is really important to co-produce information for maximum relevance. This means you’ve got to listen carefully and be ready to change your approach and vision of outcomes to match their needs.

5. Do you have any parting words of wisdom for those of us trying to more effectively use science to effect meaningful change?

This is where the real magic happens. It is hard work. And it takes practice. But it is extremely rewarding to see your work actually making a difference. If this sounds appealing to you, roll up your sleeves and find ways to get engaged with real decisions. The world needs you.

Josh Lawler, a 2013 Leopold Leadership Fellow, is an associate professor in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences at the University of Washington. Follow him on the web and on Twitter @jjjlawler.

How Academics Got Traction on Climate Change with Florida Politicians

 

Jeff Chanton explains climate change to Florida Governor Rick Scott.  Photo: Jennifer Portman

Jeff Chanton explains climate change to Florida Governor Rick Scott. Photo: Jennifer Portman

In the year 2000, I watched the Gore-Bush debates with a sense of disbelief. Al Gore was talking about putting social security in a lock-box and not tackling George W. Bush on climate issues. What about the CO2 problem? Climate wasn’t mentioned in those debates or in the campaign. And, over the next decade, Democrats were afraid to bring up the issue, reckoning that everyone who was concerned about it would vote for them anyway, and they didn’t want to alienate independents confused by fossil-carbon industry hype.

Suddenly, this year, in Florida at least, we’ve got a Republican governor casting himself in a green light, and a Democratic candidate who wants to air the issue. How did this happen? Maybe the tidewaters in the streets of Miami on clear days had something to do with it? Maybe it was the concern of local governments in the southern low-lying areas of the state? Whatever the cause, we got traction and faculty members drove it — finally.

The specifics of this transition were related to two things. First, Florida Governor Rick Scott had recently amended his position as a climate change denier. He announced that he was not a scientist and was therefore unable have an opinion. Second, a power corporation unveiled plans to build a second nuclear plant at the bottom of the Florida peninsula. Taking their best estimates into account, the corporate officers allowed for a 12-inch rise in sea level by 2100. University of Miami Professor Harold Wanless was concerned about this under-estimate, and wrote a letter to U.S. Senator Marco Rubio and Governor Scott, expressing his concern. He suggested that as policy makers and leaders of a state as vulnerable to climate change as is Florida, they should consider meeting with him and collecting information — from a scientist.

Susan Glickman, an activist and a friend of Professor Wanless, then entered the picture. Susan is the Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and a longtime associate of the National Resources Defense Council. She organized 9 more climate scientists and faculty members, including me, to sign onto Wanless’s letter. I had worked with her 7 years earlier in a successful effort to derail the construction of a coal-fired power plant in Perry, Florida, about 50 miles southeast of Tallahassee. I had gotten involved with that effort because I was contacted by local citizens in Perry who were fighting the location of the coal plant in their community, and I met Susan while at a meeting in Perry. If any other non-scientist had called me about signing onto Wanless’s letter, I might have declined. And I admit at the moment she called I felt somewhat harassed: I was reviewing papers, working on proposals and counseling my students on writing their papers. But, I agreed, even though it felt like a distraction.

Don’t misjudge me, I’m a climate advocate. I cover the subject in detail in my undergraduate classes. Living in Florida’s capitol, I give talks to government entities, including the Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission. I’ve pounded the beat of local churches, civic groups (the Lions Club), and high schools. Fifteen years ago my wife and I and several neighbors even started a local environmental group that bought climate change educational supplements in the newsletter of our natural food coop. But honestly, of late it was feeling rather fruitless. The fossil carbon industry, like the tobacco industry before it, has kept up a steady stream of misinformation to confuse the public.

Four days later Susan called again and asked me to hand carry the signed letter to the governor’s office. She arranged for a reporter, Mary Ellen Klas, from the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times to meet me there. Mary Ellen photographed me handing the letter to the governor’s staff and wrote articles and online stories about the request of 10 climate scientist to educate our non-scientist governor. It must have been a slow news week, because these stories received a lot of attention. I even had an interview on “Here and Now,” an NPR radio program. Governor Scott, on the campaign trail, was asked about the request in several press conferences. He said that he’d have his staff meet with us.

The next day, I got a call from Scott’s Democratic challenger, former Governor Charlie Crist. I met with him on July 25. My university, Florida State, asked me to do this off campus at the Florida Press Center. The room was full of media folks, and Republican demonstrators picketed when Crist arrived. He listened carefully to my 30-minute climate change presentation and asked some good questions. Afterwards he talked to the press, advocated for solar energy, and stated that even though he wasn’t a scientist, he had a brain, which he could use and talk to a scientist.

Three days later, I was contacted by the governor’s staff to set up a meeting. We set the date far enough out so that other signers of the letter could join. Five of us met at the governor’s office on August 19 at 4:30 pm. We got 30 minutes with the governor, roughly half of which was spent on introductions. At the end of the meeting, he thanked us, and quickly left the room. In subsequent days, he did call for increasing attention to the environment, mentioned sea level rise, surface and ground water clean up, and Everglades restoration, but did not speak directly to climate change. Nonetheless, environmental concerns are being addressed by both candidates in this election, which is, in my book, a huge victory.

Timing – of course — is everything. The timing that made this effort successful was its coincidence with the gubernatorial Florida election, which pits a Tea Party conservative against a former Florida governor who was an Arnold Schwarzenegger Republican — fairly liberal, and especially on climate. He was so liberal, in fact, that he became a Democrat. He had to, after embracing Obama on health care. Additionally, there have been stories of late about high water levels in South Florida streets. Finally, there was not much other news that week. Had we to compete with the events that unfolded in Missouri the next month, there would have been no story for us.

I would like to add that my university has been entirely supportive of my activities. I have received supportive emails from the president, my college dean, and my department chair. David Hasting, another of my colleagues in this endeavor, has become the star of Eckerd College, which is going to host a climate solutions summit in October. From the start, I was careful to inform FSU administrators of my activities and I clearly communicated that I was not conducting lobbying activity. I always made it clear that this work was strictly of an educational nature. I couched it terms that while I regularly presented the science of climate change to young adults, I rarely had the opportunity to educate older adults who directed policy and that this was sorely needed. My administrators agree with this assessment.

Jeff Chanton, a Leopold Leadership Fellow, is a professor in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science at Florida State University in Tallahassee.