Taking Action on Environmental Sustainability

Taking Action on Environmental Sustainability

In 2021, the United States rejoined the Paris Climate Accords and the World Health Organization, and a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was released, which updates research on the physical science behind climate change and its stark impacts. As these global efforts continued, we found ways to support environmental sustainability and provide evidence-based guidance at the neighborhood, city and state levels. These efforts draw from our deep expertise in science communication and know-how to provide nonpartisan evidence to inform decision-making.

Local Solutions for Safe Drinking Water

During meetings organized by the EPI Center, city council members, mayors, water engineers and local utility managers joined scientists to discuss per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, synthetic chemicals found in the drinking water consumed by millions of Americans. Even trace doses of several of the most-researched compounds have been linked to harmful health effects ranging from cancer to elevated blood pressure during pregnancy.

The EPI Center hosted more than 10 hours of facilitated workshops on PFAS in 2021 that engaged 638 attendees from 48 states. The EPI Center also produced free guides to help state and local officials monitor and mitigate PFAS in drinking water, which were distributed to the hundreds of officials who attended sessions and were downloaded nearly 400 times. In 2021, the EPI Center worked on this issue with the National Governors Association, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, the Environmental Council of the States, and the National Association of County and City Health Officials. Lyda Hill Philanthropies has provided substantial support for the continuation of this work.

10hours

of facilitated workshops

638

attendees

48

states

Nearly400

PFAS guide downloads

Making the MOST of Local Scientific Expertise

The AAAS Local Science Engagement Network (LSEN) offers an avenue of engagement and advocacy for members by connecting scientists with their own elected representatives on the local, state and federal levels. Missouri LSEN, in partnership with the MOST Policy Initiative, an entity of the University of Missouri, includes nearly 500 scientists and science advocates in the state. They have contributed to Community Science Notes for state lawmakers and peer-reviewed and cited science policy briefs around climate and other issues in the state, including vehicle emissions rule changes. In 2021, Missouri LSEN also launched monthly roundtable discussions between scientists and state elected leaders and school board members.

LSEN participants are becoming a resource for lawmakers grappling with policies to mitigate the local effects of climate change and other science-based policy issues, thanks to the support of Benjamin Hammett, Ph.D.; Evan and Cindy Jones; The David R. and Patricia Atkinson Fund; The Delta Foundation; Robert F. Brammer, Ph.D.; the Dorothy G. Bender Foundation; Bruce Fowler, Ph.D., and Mary Sexton, Ph.D.; Jerry Bell, Ph.D., and Mary Ann Stepp, Ph.D.; The Sapere Aude Fund; and other generous donors.

Science Issues Focus on Sustainable Solutions

In two special issues in 2021, Science took a closer look at the environmental threat posed by plastics and the urgent need for climate-induced relocation strategies. These issues emphasized the shift from prevention toward actions needed now to address and alleviate the worst impacts on the planet.

June’s climate relocation issue considered how individuals, communities and governments can manage climate-based retreat and find local, creative solutions that meet the needs of those most affected by relocation. The publication of this special issue catalyzed interdisciplinary interactions among its authors and practitioners and U.S. political appointees at the local and federal levels. July’s plastics issue highlighted the impacts of plastics pollution but also considered new recycling and biodegradation technologies that can make future plastics production more sustainable.

A generous gift provided in 2021 by Daniel Vapnek, Ph.D., and Dianne E. Vapnek will allow Science to increase its climate impacts and sustainability coverage in 2022.

Photo courtesy of the IF/THEN® Collection

Lekelia Jenkins, Ph.D.

Member Spotlight

The Power of Merging Science Outreach and Ocean Conservation

It all started in 2008 when Lekelia “Kiki” Jenkins, Ph.D., won second place in the postdoc category of the AAAS Dance Your Ph.D. program for her dance sharing her sea turtle research. Now at Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society, College of Global Futures, marine biologist Jenkins sees science dance as a powerful tool for science engagement and communication with a wide audience.

Just as Jenkins has merged the powers of art and science through dance, she is working toward solutions for marine conservation by finding the proper mix of people worldwide who know technology and others who have secured their livelihoods through fishing for many generations. “Often when I’m giving a talk around ‘Who are you partnering with to solve ocean problems?’ I will say to the audience, ‘If you’re sitting in a meeting with your collaborators and you’re just comfortable, you probably don’t have the right group of people. Because if it was that comfortable of an issue, then we wouldn’t be having a problem.’”

Keeping Climate on the Media Radar

In advance of the IPCC’s 2021 climate report, SciLine conducted video interviews with several of the report’s authors and, when the report was released, shared edited clips with thousands of reporters across the United States to facilitate the inclusion of scientific perspectives in their news stories. SciLine offered similar resources during the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26) and hosted media briefings on the community impacts of urban heat, wildfires and hurricanes that attracted more than 100 reporters.

2021 SciLine Overall Activities

659

reporters

From372

news outlets

including

321

reporters

working for204

local print, radio, and TV outlets

representing137

cities in 46 states

and in the process of helping these reporters, SciLine engaged with

906

scientists

from337

research institutions

representing224

cities in 48 states and 7 Canadian provinces

Photo courtesy of Michael Walsh

Defending Science With Evidence

Donor Spotlight

Michael Walsh, a semiretired software engineer and previous chief security officer and head of R&D at Quotient Technology, grew up during the space race, when “the idea that science was a public good and the center of a free society was unquestioned,” he said.

“But we’ve seen now for the past two generations people working against science, people trying to slight it, trying to muddy it and make it less clear,” Walsh added. This change has spurred him to become a generous supporter of the AAAS Centers of Evidence, including EPI Center, SciLine and LSEN.

“For me, AAAS’ ways of promoting science, the ways of defending science and insisting on its accuracy and providing well-documented sources of truth to people who want it, are important,” Walsh said.

In 2021, he provided the key funding for EPI Center’s outreach on PFAS and safe drinking water. The program’s emphasis on working with state and local decision-makers is key, he says.

“The fact that we’re reaching out to local government is critical because that’s where most of the decisions frankly get made. It’s easy to say, well, the federal government has all the money, so that’s where we should concentrate,” he noted. “But local government makes these decisions all the time and to be able to reach them and to provide them with a resource with which to make a better decision is absolutely critical.”