Puerto Rico is the Private Sector’s Wake Up Call to Invest in Climate Adaptation NOW

Look at Puerto Rico. The earth is in open rebellion! The challenges of climate change, food insecurity, water scarcity, pandemics, and overpopulation cannot be solved by the public sector. The burden of investing in solutions lies on the shoulders of businesses. The private sector must acknowledge and address the pressing challenges faced by our planet. Inaction has a cost. Business bottom lines will directly suffer from a lack of proactive mitigation against the risks we collectively face, but also from a lack of adaptation to the new global landscape.

 

Climate adaptation is now mandatory. Reinsurance companies like Munich Re Group are reporting that the frequency and severity of extreme weather events are increasing, along with their associated losses. This should not be surprising given what the world has witnessed in the past few weeks. In the U.S. alone hurricanes have devastated major cities, sea level rise is lapping at coastal infrastructure, and wildfires no longer adhere to a season. These recent examples are just the tip of the rapidly melting iceberg!

 

Climate impacts and subsequent devastation have already begun to result in secondary and tertiary impacts that have increasing implications for a business’s bottom line. Millions of Americans in Puerto Rico might suffer from no access to power and water for up to six months! The humanitarian costs are immediately obvious in the wake of Hurricanes Maria and Irma, and the economic costs of an extended period of brutal recovery are also astronomical.

 

Ignoring the $74 billion in Puerto Rican government debt, the measly $15 billion slotted for recovery is less than half of estimated hurricanes’ costs. Business will hurt from decimated infrastructure, crop value losses of 80%, up to 3.5 million climate refugees, lost productivity, and additional ripple effects. For companies operating fully or partially in Puerto Rico, the implications for business bottom lines are enormous.

 

The climate impacts we are witnessing in Puerto Rico will be increasingly repeated in locations throughout the world in various forms (e.g., extended droughts, uncontrollable wildfires, heavy flooding). These challenges must be proactively addressed before the costs of mandatory reaction overwhelm expendable business capital and reserves.

 

Costs for adaptation are substantial by any measure, and delay in action will only increase these costs. A 2010 World Bank report has estimated adaptation cost at $70-100 billion a year globally by 2050, while the 2015 UNEP Adaptation Gap Report estimates it to be 4-5 times higher taking into account equity, communities, and ecosystems. These costs will vary based on how successful we are globally at mitigation efforts, but even with zero carbon emissions today we need to adapt, and we need to adapt quickly.

 

The private sector must play a leading role in these efforts. Adaptation costs are too high for governments to solve alone. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria are projected to cost the U.S. hundreds of billions in post-disaster recovery funding. The Universal Ecological Fund just put forward a report titled “The Economic Case for Climate Action in the U.S.” which highlights the hundreds of billions in economic losses from inaction.

 

Despite what we know about the costs of inaction, relief and recovery, proactive adaptation measures are painfully miniscule. The Climate Policy Initiative reports that adaptation efforts receive less than 10-20% of approved public funding. The private sector has thus far had limited involvement despite the critical role of private finance and investment in addressing the direct and indirect threats to our planet.

 

The private sector’s delay in leadership and investment in proactive adaptation measures can be traced to three key issues: 1) the risk perception versus real risk gap, 2) the inherent uncertainty of the real risk, and 3) the perceived lack of options for investing in adaptation measures.

 

First, aligning actual risks to a company’s bottom line with perceptions of risks held by business stakeholders (e.g., shareholders, regulators, consumers) is critical. Closing this gap through the application of advances in the field of cognitive behavioral science is the first step in ensuring precious resources are being prioritized and allocated appropriately. Stakeholder support will be necessary for successful adaptation investments.

 

Second, the private sector can exhibit leadership in adaptation by voluntarily disclosing an investment’s climate change related risks. While the majority of the private sector is aware of climate change risks to business, hesitation in disclosure stems from the accompanying inherent uncertainty (e.g., what, how big, where). Acceptance that actual impacts, both direct and indirect, cannot be known with certainty will encourage the disclosure needed for better adaptation.

 

Finally, there is a perception of limited opportunities for adaptation investment and an accompanying uncertainty of return on investment. Investing in higher surge walls or more efficient water pumping systems fall woefully short of the magnitude of adaptation measures required. Transformative climate adaptation and resilience investments (e.g., new business models, transformative technologies, behavioral changes) are where private sector collaboration and leadership are urgently needed.

 

While there are many examples of “climate-proofing” investments (e.g., drought resistant agriculture, water surge resistant infrastructure), these are primarily short-term adaptation measures. Increasingly, opportunities are being presented to the private sector. From smart grids that protect against extreme weather events to resilient manufacturing companies, sector specific investment prospects are becoming available.

 

In addition to science and technology innovations, cutting-edge solutions from the field of cognitive behavioral science must be considered as part of the adaptation investment portfolio. Subject matter expertise will be of utmost value as businesses think strategically about fortifying products and services in this new global landscape.

 

The reasons for private sector delay in proactive adaptation investment measures are no longer justifiable. Companies must act now to offset the enormous costs of inaction. Even with inherent uncertainty of climate change risks, it is clear that risk reduction efforts now will ensure business survival and resilience in an increasingly risky world.

 

Mar-A-LaGone!

Hurricanes do not discriminate against the affluent and the less affluent.

 

Hurricanes, exacerbated by climate change, belong to a category of climate change related events (e.g., drought, sea level rise, wildfires) that impact all inhabitants of this planet, regardless of how much is in their bank accounts.

 

The science community is unified in how climate change will impact every citizen of America. Immediately vulnerable are those on the coast, occupied by both the rich and poor. The rich may choose to self-insure and prolong their luxury living, but ultimately all taxpayers are paying for their choices.

 

Donald Trump has already received a $17 million insurance payout for previous Hurricane Wilma “damage” to his wealthy, private estate Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach. There wasn’t actually that much damage following Wilma, and the estate has been relatively lucky following Irma. How much taxpayer-funded compensation will he receive this time? Will we continue to subsidize luxurious real estates along our vulnerable coastlines? Our shorelines will be increasingly impacted as ocean temperatures warm and sea levels rise–ensuring progressively frequent and devastating hurricanes going forward. By the mid-century, vulnerable east U.S. coastlines are predicted to experience “Sandy-like” hurricanes every other year!

 

What about the poor who can’t rebuild and redecorate? They will inevitably retreat from the shoreline. The rich, however, will hold out. Eventually when basic government services become impossible (e.g., postal delivery, emergency services) even the rich will give in and retreat. By then how much more money will be lifted from the wallets of everyday citizens to subsidize elite lifestyles? Where will this money originate? Even extreme conservatives will find it hard to justify government subsidization of vital services to selfish developments.

 

Entities or individuals with the current means to develop along vulnerable shorelines must recognize their decisions impact their communities and our country as a whole. A collective multi-stakeholder effort (e.g., public officials, economists, journalists) is required to educate and raise awareness of the immediate and future risks of living and further developing infrastructure along the coast.

 

Economic alternatives must also be explored in order to ensure community sustainability. This type of anticipatory planning has varied considerably across vulnerable communities throughout the U.S. Some Florida cities (e.g., Tampa, St. Petersberg) have proactive measures in place. This will prove vitally helpful as they begin to recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma.

 

Part of proactive adaptation to increasing climate change events is discouraging development in flood risk areas and permanently removing structures following disastrous events. Relocation of low-income communities will begin the necessary and inevitable shoreline retreat. Finally and most controversially, properties must be transitioned from private ownership to the public domain. This type of policy has never been popular, but must remain on the table as an option.

 

If and when Mar-A-Largo receives an insurance payout from Irma, it could lead the adaptation initiative and transition to a public recreation area for the remainder of time it would receive public services. The reality of how long this will be is definitely shorter than what people perceive. Science is very clear. Palm Beach County will be significantly flooded within 30 years! Incentivizing the wealthy to transition prime coastal real estate sooner than later will not only release private ownership from the burden of an increasingly at-risk property, it will also translate to precious shared savings.

 

Transitioning Mar-A-Lago would be a much needed strong, clear signal for the future of luxury coastal living. Leading in the face of harsh reality isn’t always fun, but it would command respect. Let’s collectively encourage this type of leadership.

 

As long as there is demand for those ocean views, there will be developers competing to supply. A true cultural shift is required to change the deep-rooted attraction to the shores. This needs to happen before the very beauty that compels us to the beach becomes the very thing that destroys our collective health and safety. Let’s prudently plan and adapt to the reality of climate change impacts before everything is Mar-A-LaGONE!

Earth in Open Rebellion!

Is it obvious yet? Every major disaster converts a few more nonbelievers. There will always be those stubborn final few clinging to their “values” as Earth gets closer to purging itself of the species that sickened it. Let’s not wait for those people to act, but let’s continue to hold out a hand as we do.

 

Earth is furious with us, and is acting out. The cumulative impact of our actions will be increasingly and painfully obvious if they aren’t already. Smoking one cigarette probably won’t kill you, but the cumulative impact of smoking many cigarettes will land you on life support. We have all been chain-smoking. We are now at the impact stage from our collective bad habits as the human race.

 

We are seeing Earth’s rebellion all over the world in recent days– from Houston to Niger to Bangladesh. The Pope is calling for global leaders to acknowledge our deteriorating plant! Earth is so clearly over it.

 

Global warming raises sea level by melting glaciers and ice sheets in places like Greenland and Antarctica, but also by heating up and expanding water. Those rising sea levels make devastating storm surges and subsequent flooding more likely. Warming sea level has DOUBLED the probability of storm-surge flooding since the mid-1900s.

 

Following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) put forward that “Sandy-like” storm surges and subsequent sea water inundation would occur more frequently (up to once a year!) from the combination of sea-level rise and warming waters by the end of this century. Imagine the east coast of the U.S. from Atlantic City to Florida flooded every year starting within the lifetime of our mortgage cycles! This isn’t fear mongering. This is a millennial scientist hoping to have some semblance of the life we know now!

 

The devastating storm surges and flooding that we are witnessing today will not require the same magnitude of hurricanes in the future that they require now because of the increasing and irreversible rise in sea-level. So imagine when the hurricanes are severe!

 

Global warming makes the strongest hurricanes more intense because hurricanes draw their energy from ocean warmth. Once hurricanes form, warmer ocean temperatures provide more fuel. Warming sea temperatures also translate to more water vapor in the atmosphere, resulting in 5-10% more rainfall. We can attribute several inches (scientists are saying up to 30%!) of the whopping 60 inches of rainfall in some places during Harvey to global warming.

 

Irma might boot Harvey out of first place, but for now, Harvey has become the costliest storm in U.S. history, overtaking Sandy and Katrina before it. Soon we will have more detailed analysis of the role climate change played in Harvey like we do for Sandy. We know with Sandy that sea level rise added nearly one foot to the total storm surge that devastated the east coast of the U.S., and exposed an additional 25 square miles and 40 thousand people to flooding. The gulf has experienced four feet of sea level rise in the past century, and we will know soon the role of that rise in the destruction we are still wrapping our heads around in Texas and bracing ourselves for Irma.

 

Let’s hope a positive outcome from both Harvey and Irma is that we do not stick our heads back in the sand. It is utterly irresponsible to return to business as usual following Harvey not just in the areas affected by Harvey, but in areas that are increasingly vulnerable to similar impacts like Florida and the U.S. east coast. If there was ever a time that people, both believers and nonbelievers alike, were paying attention to efforts at adaptation or even retreat from the coastline, it’s now. We need congressional delegations to recognize that Hurricanes transcend partisan politics. The time to act is now.

 

It is imperative for scientists to advise policymakers on responding swiftly and responsibly from facts entrenched in credible science.  This requires the science community to continue to advance knowledge and communicate with key decision makers. This is mandatory as we approach more critical times.

Without science leaders in key roles in the U.S. government, we must loudly, clearly, and collectively voice consensus on the relationship between severe storms and climate change. Harvey is offering this opportunity to present evidence and facts over politics and ideology. The truth of science will prevail if it is followed.

 

With Earth sending another rebel in the form of Hurricane Irma to the southeast coast of the U.S., we may be converting a significant number of nonbelievers just in time. Let’s take advantage of people listening and ADAPT to the new normal of living on a planet that is angry with us—rightfully so.

Answers to those questions in your head you think everyone understands but you (e.g., How is more snowfall a sign that the earth is warming?)

I commiserate with your confusion. Despite being a scientist, I am not an environmental scientist and there was a steep learning curve for me going into this space professionally. I get it now. Please allow me to clarify a few key misconceptions that always come up in conversations with my family/friends (I won’t name names).

 

  1. Droughts and heavy rainfall are both impacts of climate change?

 

Warming temperatures and air are causing more extreme climate conditions included extended periods of drought and heavy periods of rainfall. Higher temperatures have lead to increased rates of water evaporation. Even in areas where precipitation does not decrease, increases in surface evaporation and loss of water from plants lead to more rapid drying of soils. As soil dries out, a larger proportion of the incoming heat from the sun goes into heating the soil, resulting in hotter temperatures under drier conditions.

 

Heavier rainfall results from increasingly warmer air, which can hold more water vapor than cooler air. This extra moisture is available to storm systems, resulting in heavier rainfalls. We need to recognize that both wet and dry extremes will increase in intensity, frequency, and duration.

 

  1. Shouldn’t sea level rise be the same increase globally?

 

Just as the surface of the earth isn’t flat, the surface of the ocean isn’t flat. The absolute water height of the ocean is higher on the U.S. east coast than on the U.S. west coast. When seal level rise (SLR) is referred to in the singular, it refers to the average global sea level rise trend.

 

Over the last century, global average sea level has been approximately eight inches. Historical and future sea level change has not and will not be the same everywhere, and in fact, varies greatly. For example, in the U.S., New Orleans has had forty-six inches of SLR while Los Angeles has had only four. These differences are mostly due to land subsidence (i.e., land sinking) or uplift, which increases or reduces the global average sea level change.

 

  1. Despite increasing water from melting glaciers and ice sheets, we still have less water?

 

For anyone who’s swallowed seawater, it should be no surprise that filling your cups from the ocean is not an option. Melting ice increases sea level rise, which may seem to imply an increase in water supply, but the energetic demands and financial costs of desalination techniques (which would be required to actually use the “extra” water) are far from being commercially viable.

 

As ocean levels rise, saltwater intrusion will contaminate drinking and irrigation water supplies, impacting not only surface water, but also seeping into aquifers and other groundwater sources. Saltwater intrusion will penetrate farther inland than in the past, and both current measurements and modeled projections suggest that drinking water losses either have occurred or will soon manifest in numerous locations around the world. For example, it is expected that Bangladesh will experience a shortage of potable drinking water by the year 2050.

 

In edition to being infeasible for human consumption, saltwater is devastating for agriculture. Twenty percent of the world’s irrigated farmland is already contaminated with salt. Saltwater for a farmer means certain crop failure.

 

  1. How did we not have more notice that Harvey was coming? What have scientists been doing this whole time?

 

Scientists widely agree that the pace of warming is tens or even a hundred times faster than at any known period in the last five hundred million years of geologic history. This has created conditions for which there is no comparison historically. The earth’s temperatures and climate events were largely stable for the past several millennia, only recently changing course in the anthropogenic period (or period of man-made climate change). Therefore historical data does not exist from which to make comparable predictions.

 

  1. How is more snowfall a sign that the earth is warming?

 

Snowfall and rainfall cascade to the earth as forms of precipitation. Snow falls instead of rain because of the temperature at the time of precipitation release, NOT because of a decreasing global temperature trend. Increased precipitation is caused by more water being evaporated from the oceans due to warmer ocean temperatures. Despite it feeling counterintuitive, increased snowfall has actually been an offshoot of warming oceans.

 

Oceans have warmed by 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) this century. The rate of warming is increasing, resulting in record rainfall (and snowfall when the temperature is appropriate) events worldwide.

 

  1. Why can’t we reverse it?

 

No amount of collective global effort can change the fact the sea level will rise. This is because the melting that has already taken place of the earth’s glaciers and ice sheets cannot be undone before the impacts are felt worldwide. In fact, it will take centuries or even millennia to reverse the extent of melting that has already taken place. We must accept that SLR is a permanent new fixture that will permanently change the ocean’s height for generations to come, and subsequently reshape continents, as we know them now.

 

For answers to more questions, please email me directly sweta@swetachakraborty.com and I will aim to address them in a future blog post.

Killer floods in Bangladesh, Nepal, and India: We need to talk adaptation to Sea Level Rise

My family is West Bengali, a term that only came into existence following Partition and the formation of “West Bengal,” in India, and “East Bengal” originally part of Pakistan, but now present-day Bangladesh. Prior to that, East and West Bengal were simply Bengal. My father’s side of the family has ancestral roots from the land that is present day Bangladesh. My family, primarily based in Calcutta, India, continues to share a language, food, and many customs with the people of Bangladesh. The primary difference is the recognized national religion: Hindu versus Muslim.

 

This isn’t a post about arbitrary political borders and deep religious divides (I want to sleep tonight), it’s about a geographic area that is very close to my heart and makes up the DNA that manifests as my caramel mocha skin (thanking Starbucks for giving me an alternative to “brown”) and goldfish-like eyes that through most of my childhood were just too big for my face.

 

This geographic area has recently been devastated by intense rainfall and subsequent flooding, resulting in at least 1200 dead and hundreds of thousands displaced. Bangladesh, along with Nepal and northern India are in the midst of a major crisis. The immediate reaction by devastated governments and aid agencies experiencing natural disasters is to provide relief, but future planning for population adaptation to these types of events must reach the national consciousness now. This is the new normal.

 

The flooding is bad, and will only be intensified as sea level continues to rise. Sea level rise is unstoppable. The present day elevated global temperatures have already kicked off the irreversible melting of glaciers and the great ice sheets. There is no viable science or technology solution today to address this stark reality. We can, and we must still work to mitigate against global temperatures increases to prevent against the worst-case scenarios, but even if we were to collectively switch to a sustainable, non-carbon based energy today, or yesterday, it’s still too late.

 

Impacts of sea level rise are felt in various ways. In the case of Asia, the intense flooding and saltwater contamination is resulting in devastation to human lives and their livelihoods. Communicable diseases are an increasing risk due to the prevalence of conditions that mosquitoes thrive in, and the economic ramifications are also dire. This cannot be another disaster that the relevant governments simply put band-aids on, but rather serious policy upheavals are required. Building another embankment that washes away is futile as the new normal of where our planet is habitable versus inhabitable sets in. Bangladesh and other vulnerable areas that will NOT be habitable must adapt to the impacts of sea level rise. Bengal was divided on man-made conflicts, and might it reunite on man-made climate impacts? We are all caramel mocha after all.

Double Whammy! Hurricane Harvey Hits as Scientific Advisors Continue to Resign

I.M.P.E.A.C.H. coded into science envoy to the State Dept. Daniel Kammen’s resignation letter. THERE’S a way to garner attention to what might otherwise be lost in the endless media Trump-eting. I.M.P.E.A.C.H. definitely got the attention it was seeking, and the timing of losing another science advisor as the first major national disaster hits the Trump presidency is disturbingly ironic.

 

Several scientist colleagues have been ominously predicting that a major natural disaster would inevitably strike during the Trump presidency at which point it would become painfully clear to the administration that disenfranchising scientists serving in public service roles was a bad idea. As Hurricane Harvey’s effects are beginning to be felt in the American south, I fear their predictions could be right.

 

Scientists, like public officials, serve a greater good, and circumstantial factors like the president must not impact that commitment to serve. Public officials work for the people, and scientists aim to advance knowledge with the ultimate end goal of ensuring credible science-based policymaking. Perhaps the practical and useful application of science is not always obvious or even promoted by the researchers, but ultimately science aims to dictate policies in a manner that is not influenced by subjective values. Credible science-based policymaking seems like a no-brainer for policymakers, given that the alternative is a spectrum of belief systems often at odds with one another. Science has always been a framework for policymaking that unites us all despite our many differences.

 

This is true even in regards to the very polarized arena of climate change. Where value-based policy recommendations harp on whether or not climate change is influenced by human activities (doesn’t matter!!), the serious threat from sustained storm surges following hurricane landfall is a matter of science. Natural disasters have very real impacts, and these impacts can be proactively mitigated against based on scientific models and projections. Rejecting science at the top tiers of government leaves a vacuum for information, and newly places science on the spectrum of viewpoints that it once aimed encompass. It’s somewhere leftish..,mid-left?… just left then.

 

This could explain why Trump has yet to appoint a director for the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), who traditionally also serves as the president’s science advisor. Having this position empty along with a meager OSTP staff (currently 35 versus the previous administration’s 135) is especially jarring when prominent science related events transpire at a national stage. Who is explaining the science behind hurricane landfall and consequent storm surges to the president? Is science communication considered liberal and therefore irrelevant to the administration’s policy? De-neutralizing science is dangerous when it comes to federal policy responsible for lives.

Another attack on science in climate policymaking!

Something significant in the arenas of climate change and science communication just went down. The Washington Post was the first to report that the 15 members of the Federal Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment received notice via email that their committee was being disbanded. The primary purpose of the committee was to make recommendations to relevant federal agencies following the release of a congressionally mandated climate report produced every four years with the next Fourth National Climate Assessment due out early 2018. The report presents the consensus from the scientific community on various aspects of climate change science; however, it stops short of providing actionable next steps based on the data. This is where the role of the advisory committee was so crucial in interpreting the consensus points to provide recommendations for science-based policymaking.

 

Members of the now defunct committee have warned that without their guidance, the presentation of the data could be widely misinterpreted by both policymakers and the public who do not necessarily have the scientific expertise to interpret the data. While this can come across as science elitism, it is in fact true of anyone who lacks expertise in any area trying to interpret raw data. Climate change scientists attempting to understand a raw data dump of baseball statistics without any context would not be the best people to trust in predicting future game outcomes (my first effort at a sports analogy!). In the same vein, context and expertise are critical in sifting through the data in order to determine probable future scenarios and their accompanying actionable policy decisions.

 

Without the advisory committee to help policymakers make sense of the science, the climate science community runs the risk of being ignored, or even worse, having decisions made based on incorrect interpretations of the report. Communicating science to non-experts in a way that is clear, timely, and useful is critical for ensuring policymaking based on credible science. Dismantling the federal advisory committee on climate change contributes to the politicization of science and the current administration’s ongoing campaign to disqualify science from the policymaking process. My recent peer-reviewed article published through Cambridge University Press explores in more detail how values trump science every time.

 

Hopefully value judgments will align with scientific consensus and recommendations on coastal infrastructure building as flooding intensifies.

The Fate of the Genomic Revolution: Can Public Fears Inform Better Policy?

On September 15th, 2016 I gave a Keynote speech at the NZBIO Annual Conference in Auckland.  The following is the abstract of my talk:

In recent years, biotech innovations have rapidly changed the landscape regarding solutions to the world’s most pressing and immediate threats to the human condition.  Food security, agriculture sustainability, and human health are just some basic needs that could experience immense benefit from the promises in the field.  However, this promise can only be achieved if the values represented by the technology and the technology providers are culturally, ethically and economically acceptable to the communities where they will be deployed.  The varying perspectives towards the commercialization of biotechnology advances have resulted in polarized views towards the many products already developed and in the pipeline.  Decision makers are now tasked with finding solutions in an environment characterized by enthusiasm for future breakthroughs, but also by a wariness and distrust that has the power to stifle any potential benefits.  Advancing global harmonization in the regulatory space has proven considerably challenging for influential policy makers, credible scientists, and societal stakeholders, particularly in regards to the public backlash against technologies perceived as “unnatural” or “unsafe.”  It is evident that multilateral efforts and interdisciplinary collaborations will be required to advance harmonization as well as to address the incredibly complex global challenge of improving public perceptions towards biotechnology advancements.  Understanding both individual and societal tolerances of perceived risk is the first critical step in successfully communicating the credible science that can inform global policy.  Public acceptance and cooperation with measures towards better regulation of the promising science and technology solutions stemming from biotech is both achievable and within our grasp given what we now know about risk perception, eliciting behavior change, and the powerful role of social media.

Food Security and Diet-Linked Public Health Challenges

How does nutritional value within the food supply impacts different segments of the population?  Different segments have distinct phenotypes, reflective of the variety of genetic backgrounds found throughout society.  The recognition that the variability of phenotypes within a population causes individual groups to respond differently to the nutritional values in foods has become an important part of both scientific research and, more recently, public policy.

Food Safety, Security, and Defense (FSSD), identified by participating governments, international organizations, and the private sector as major policy priorities, has been the topic of an ongoing series of invitation-only conferences convened by the Institute on Science for Global Policy (ISGP).  The fourth FSSD conference is being organized in partnership with North Dakota State University and will be convened September 20–23, 2015 in Fargo, North Dakota.  This ISGP conference will focus on using food diversity to address global chronic disease challenges and how “Food Security and Diet Linked Public Health Challenges” are particularly affecting American Indian communities.  This conference is part of a series of FSSD conference on “Nutrition, Sustainable Agriculture, and Human Health.”

All ISGP conferences are conducted in “not-for-attribution” environments (Chatham House Rule). This ongoing series of ISGP conferences is devoted to linking scientifically credible understanding to the formulation and implementation of sound, effective domestic and international policies concerning the diverse aspects of the safety, security, and defense throughout our increasingly global food supply.

The full conference announcement can be viewed at:

http://scienceforglobalpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Food-Security-and-Diet-Linked-Public-Health-Challenges-announcement.pdf

Tips and hiring criteria for a career in global science policy

My career in science policy was not planned. However, looking back on how I got to my current position as the Associate Director of the Institute on Science for Global Policy (ISGP), I have been able to identify the critical decisions and junctures in my career that has led to my current position. First and foremost, I developed an expertise in a specific subject matter – risk and behavioral science. To ensure a long and upwardly mobile career in science policy, obtaining subject matter expertise through graduate studies and/or professional experience is crucial. It is also critical to network and seek out interdisciplinary meetings, conferences, and events on current policy topics (e.g., genetic engineering) that attract individuals from various sectors (e.g., government, academia, industry).   It was at one of these meetings held by the International Risk Governance Council (IRGC) several years ago that I met the director of the ISGP, Dr. George Atkinson. I joined the ISGP as a Senior Fellow and was appointed the Associate Director in January 2015.

 

My typical day at the ISGP consists of training and mentoring new and existing staff. I oversee daily staff activities, which include researching, preparing, writing and editing background materials and reports for the variety of topics that our institute covers. I am also responsible for identifying, building and maintaining relationships with key collaborators (e.g., funding bodies, academic institutions). Finally, I am responsible allocating the organization, management, and implementation of ISGP’s programs, which currently include our Signature Series (e.g., emerging and persistent infectious diseases), our ISGP Academic Partnerships (IAP) program, and our program on Global Challenges (e.g., climate change). These programs consist of specific series to which staff is assigned to help plan, organize, and convene ongoing series of debates.

 

For potential candidates for hire, the ISGP looks for academic and professional experience concerning the evaluation of scientific research and conclusions as well as strong oral and written communication skills. We also require candidates to demonstrate good problem-solving skills, a keen attention to detail – especially with respect to recording the substance of oral debates, editing notes from a variety of sources, and interviewing subject matter experts to obtain clarification of ideas. Strong candidates for the ISGP will possess the ability to conform to rapidly shifting priorities and demands. Candidates must be able to respond well to direction, adjustments, and alterations promptly and efficiently. We look for candidates who have the ability to work independently in a fast-paced environment as well as a strong ability to meet target deadlines and manage their time effectively. Successful candidates will be able to work both independently and in a team-oriented, collaborative environment.

 

Once hired, new staff members are integrated into all aspects of working for the institute. Staff regularly interview and correspond with scientific and policy experts, both in the United States and abroad, to determine the relevance of their professional expertise to the topics on the agenda of each ISGP conference.  Staff members are asked to assess the level of communication skills of debate presenters/audience participants that are necessary to promote vigorous, critical debate within the scope of ISGP conferences and ultimately contribute to the selection of potential debate presenters/audience participants for each ISGP conference. Staff members are required to justify their recommendations through networking, extensive correspondence, selective interviews, and a detailed familiarity with the related scientific and policy literature.

 

Staff members must be responsive to collective staff needs for conference planning and be able to work closely with all ISGP staff on a variety of issues at each ISGP conference. Staff members must also take an active role in writing and editing pre- and post-conferences material and publications in tandem with other members. Routine correspondence with colleagues and providing regular updates to senior staff is critical for the institute’s overall success. Because ISGP staff is located throughout the United States – and some globally – it is also imperative that potential candidates demonstrate the ability to work efficiently and productively across time zones through tools such as conference calling, e-mail exchanges, and scheduled meetings in designated places.

 

Ultimately, the success of a global policy institute such as the ISGP is dependent upon the skills of the core team. The ISGP has set a high bar for the types of candidates it seeks, but it is also necessary for potential candidates to understand the nature of the work conducted at a neutral not-for-profit think tank to ensure that it is within their scope of interest. I highly recommend following the above guidelines for anyone looking for a long and successful career in the field of science policy and particularly with the ISGP.

 

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