Out of respect for those experiencing recent racism across the United States, murders such as George Floyd as one of many examples, I have avoided posting about my personal activities, recently. Racism has been a centuries long battle for Black and other minority people. I admit I do not have much knowledge or experience with racism. I used to blame that on living in a nearly entirely white community. However, I believe I am complicit for not having learned about racism until recent years. Living in a white community is no excuse for not learning more and trying to help. Frankly, I feel its been a failure of mine. So, learning and taking action is what I am spending much of my free and work time on, these days. As one step, I’ve been reading a ton. The photo above shows some of the books I’ve started to work through. I have other books on the way. I recommend buying your own copies though your local book store, they are well worth reading. OR, check out Bookshop.org as a way to support local independent minority owned bookstores that may not be in your region. At a bare minimum, if you cannot afford to purchase one of these books, message me and I will loan one to you.
Likewise, with the suffering that is occurring due to COVID19 by those getting sick, losing loved ones, losing their jobs and/or not having appropriate financial or healthcare support due to our government focused on bailing out big business instead of people, I have also avoided posting about my personal life. I believe there is a time and a place for personal postings and that this is NOT that time or place.
However, I will continue to post news of Black Lives Matters, COVID, and related societal or environmental issues which affect us. I will also post details of organizations I believe are working hard on some of these major challenges facing society. The reason I am posting on these topics is simple: First, because human survival and our economy is inextricably linked to a healthy environment. Second, because environmental challenges disproportionately impact minorities and low-income people who often do not have the resources to take on big business that cause the vast majority of environmental and health issues that we face. Third, because misinformation is rampant and me NOT posting on these issues, particularly considering my expertise falls into environmental matters, is complicit with those who spread propaganda, non-science based research, and racism.
We have a obligation to take care of our neighbors and friends when they are facing challenges. I prefer a caring world over one that ignores suffering. I also believe that we will not make progress without reaching across borders because environmental issues know no political boundary, whether it is local, state, or country. For those of you that say the U.S. does more relative to other countries, that is no reason to not continue the work. In fact, the U.S. cannot afford to sit back, humanity depends on it. Please help become part of the solution as opposed to giving up.
Here are three recent examples I’ve been working on that I hope inspire some positive conversation towards a better future. I recommend you checking out these organizations: Protect Our Winters, American Alpine Club, and the Juneau Icefield Research Program.
In the fall of 2019, I provided a public presentation in Southern Maine sponsored by Protect Our Winters (POW; https://protectourwinters.org/). The presentation was titled “Climate Change 101 for New England” and focused on the science behind changes we are seeing in climate, what we expect to see in the future, and how future changes may impact New England, and specifically Maine. More recently I participated in an event sponsored by POW, meeting with U.S. Representatives and Senators to discuss action items which would support environmentally friendly and economically viable initiatives for our country. Of the 65 participants, 33 were professional athletes such as Jeremy Jones (professional snowboarder who founded POW), Jessie Diggins (gold medal cross country skier), Conrad Anker (professional climber), Jimmy Chin (Professional Climber/Photographer; Free Solo movie Co-Director), Caroline Gleich (professional skier), Tommy Caldwell (professional climber), Sasha Digiulian (professional climber), and many other talented and energized souls. These athletes are using their very large public platform (which scientists do not generally have) to help spread the word on environmental action. We had five participating scientists working with this team, including myself. Others also participated as experts on renewable energy and the outdoor industry across the United States, providing science and economy facts and solutions which will help the U.S. improve our environment, create economic stability, AND help the U.S. lead other countries towards a more sustainable future. I personally was on video calls with Senator Susan Collins and staff, Representative Jared Golden’s staff, Senator Lisa Murkowski and staff (Alaska), and Representative Chris Pappas (New Hampshire). Why is this important? My hope is that each of my colleagues and friends also reach out to their representatives and senators to ask them to support environmentally conscious and science-based solutions for the future. Evidence shows that reaching out does make a difference.
Secondly, for the past few years, I’ve been working closely with the American Alpine Club (AAC) on their “Climbers for Climate” initiative and as a scientist on their Climate Task Force (https://americanalpineclub.org/climate). Their most recent effort is focused encouraging active outdoor people who care for our environment to educate themselves on environmental issues and vote with environmental considerations in mind. Voting is the single most important action we can pursue as citizens to make a positive impact on our environment. This INCLUDES local community engagement because many of the initiatives which will help our environment and economy, start locally. On AAC’s website, you will note that the Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP) is a partner with them because both are working to increase science advocacy and the use of science for making environmental policy decisions. In a few weeks, a short article I’ve written for AAC should come out with a particular focus on Maine. I urge you all to read it and consider the topics I discuss within your own communities.
Lastly, and speaking of JIRP: Three years ago, I accepted the position as Director of Academics & Research leading the Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP; https://juneauicefield.org/black-lives-matter). JIRP has been around since 1946 as the longest operating Polar research and education program in North America. Last year we had over 80 people on the icefield between students, scientists, and educators. We hope to grow this number substantially in future years. JIRP is globally known for bringing students onto the glaciers and mountains of Alaska and Canada to experience Earth systems science and research, first hand. Prior students, staff, and faculty have been inspired by JIRP for decades and many have become leaders in their own communities and within the science, engineering, or science policy communities after JIRP. One of my goals is to help train science leaders that go back and work on solutions within their own community.
However, JIRP is not perfect. Like most science organizations JIRP has had its own challenges, historical failures, and current failures. One ongoing failure is poor representation, poor inclusion, or not providing a sense of belonging for students, staff, and faculty of color, minority, or of less financial security. JIRP follows the common theme in geosciences where over 90% of professors are white. And, speaking of finances, JIRP is expensive. It costs roughly $7500 for a student to traverse across the icefield each year, participate on research with scientists, conduct their own research, and learn from world-class scientists. JIRP is a small program and our faculty volunteer 40,000 hours of their time, annually. We have limited funding to support students who do not have the financial means to attend JIRP. However, these limitations of JIRP are not a good enough excuse for a lack of inclusion and a lack of making all students/staff/faculty feel like they belong and have a voice that matters. JIRP, like much of the geosciences has failed for decades in this realm. JIRP needs to do better.
I did not take the position leading JIRP to mentor only privileged students. I accepted the position (applying for this position in 2011 and again in 2017) to make a difference for those who are less fortunate, to provide opportunities for those students who think they don’t have other options. I absolutely believe in JIRP and what JIRP can do for students and society. But, its been a constant battle, a labor of love, many stressful decisions and disappointments, feelings of being cut down despite our best efforts, declined proposals, or even challenges within my own career path limiting what I can do for JIRP. For example, as a Tenure Track Assistant Professor, my performance reviews over the next few years are based primarily on my productivity publishing papers and receiving federal grants from proposals that I write. My success in these two topics mostly determines whether I keep my role or am fired. Unfortunately, most academic institutions do not place as much value on supporting and mentoring students in the science community. This absolutely needs to change and its perhaps up to my generation to push hard on academia to make this change.
BUT, there is light on the dark horizon of geoscience that I see coming from JIRP. In recent years JIRP has had about a 55% to 40% female to male ratio of students, we have been supporting non-binary students, and our faculty has been fairly well close to a 50/50 split of male and female. This coming year, it looks like we may have at least one new program starting which will support all first generation college students and minority students, almost free of charge. I hope this new program works as a model for future JIRP-type programs which help engage more students and help them feel a sense of belonging. This could be a tremendous step in the right direction. We are also developing new teams to help improve diversity, inclusion, equity, and justice on JIRP. And we are re-assessing our strategies to not only welcome minority students but more importantly, make sure minority students feel like they belong at JIRP and within the geosciences. We want each of our students to know that we truly care for them, that we are here for them, that we are listening, and that we are working on actions to be the societal change needed for future generations.
I know many of my friends, family, and colleagues are doing similar things and I have seen many positive examples over the recent month. I hope that this energy continues into the future and that this marks the turing point of true change. Without supporting each other, caring for one another, and caring for our environment simultaneously, life on our unique planet is certain to change for the worse and I fear greatly for what the next generation will face.