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Global Crisis, Local Solutions

Photo by Takver on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

Photo by Takver on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

With temperatures and sea levels on the rise – and news that the newly named nominee to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is a self-proclaimed “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda" – the world is at a critical point in the fight against global warming.

Many WINGS Fellows and Flag Carriers contribute invaluable research to the environmental movement in fields such as endangered wildlife species, ocean and river pollution, and climate change. They have spent their entire careers protecting our environment.

WINGS asked climate scientist and WINGS Fellow Dr. Beate G. Liepert what impact the new presidential administration will have on any progress toward climate change reform.

With uncertainty over continued U.S. participation in the Paris Climate Accord, and restrictions on energy production on public land and the Clean Power Plan, Liepert says “we have come too far” to allow “a revival of the coal industry, and expansion of fossil fuels that contribute to climate change and environmental decay.”

Liepert foresees progress on many fronts at the state level that will help advance renewable energy technologies and usage. Here is an excerpt of her observations:

In the November elections there were referenda on the ballots in states, counties and municipalities that were related to climate and the environment. For example, Washington State had, for the first time, a carbon tax on the ballot, which was rejected, but the next referendum is already in the works. In the greater Seattle region, voters accepted a public transportation bill. Although it didn’t pass (due to required supermajority), half of Floridian voters said “yes” to the right to produce and consume your own solar electricity.

Independent of what the new administration will do, it will be on the local and state level where environmental and climate initiatives most likely succeed. The majority of states already have some renewable portfolio standards and goals (see figure below). It will be impossible for the federal government to overturn these laws and regulations.

The tendencies of electricity production towards renewables has been going on for a while now. In the mountain regions the change in electricity generation away from coal over the past decade is shown below.

 

In the state of Iowa, wind provided 31.3 percent of Iowa’s total electricity generation in 2015, the highest portion of all states. New jobs are created in the cleantech industry every day. Heavy coal and gas subsidies would be needed to upset the development in the cleantech industry.

Lofty international goals may be in jeopardy due to redirected federal priorities.Concrete steps from the bottom up will be more likely to succeed if we all keep working hard on the momentum generated over the past years at the local and regional level.

As a climate scientist, I am optimistic that we will make significant progress towards a carbon free, sustainable energy future in the next four years, no matter what the direction of the federal government.

Dr. Beate G. Liepert discovered the groundbreaking climate change phenomenon of global dimming, which was also the subject of her master's and doctoral thesis. Skepticism of her theorem was so great that she was nearly denied her PhD. Her work was eventually recognized and ultimately cited by the United Nations Panel on Climate Change. She received the 2016 WINGS Women of Discovery Earth Award and was inducted as a WINGS Fellow in October 2016. She is the founder of Lumen LLC, which develops solar energy software.

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Women of Discovery: Q&A With Kristen Marhaver

WINGS WorldQuest will induct six new inspiring women as Fellows during our 2016 Women of Discovery Awards Gala on October 25. In advance of our gala, we are highlighting the work of each new Awardee. Our sixth and fInal honoree in the series is Kristen Marhaver, who is working to restore the essential marine habitats that reef corals need to survive. She will receive our Sea Award. Read the rest of the series here.

WWQ: tell us your story. How did you get involved in science and exploration?

KM: Spycraft gets some credit! As a kid in Minnesota, I had a neighbor who wanted to learn to scuba dive so he could be like James Bond. Those neighbors told my dad about diving, and he and I took dive lessons a few years later when we lived in Kansas, just after my 15th birthday. Dive trips were such a great father-daughter bonding activity – gadgets, boats, adventure, animals, and the Caribbean sun. There were also plenty of crazy-angry seas and freezing cold boat rides! As a freshman in college, I learned about a lab on campus that studied corals and I lobbied my way in – despite the fact that this was not really done at the time. Three years later, I was applying to Ph.D. programs in marine biology… and my undergrad lab was recruiting new freshmen! When I started studying coral spawning, I fell in love with the spooky craziness and suspense of night diving. You can be only a few miles from home, but once you're underwater in the dark at midnight, you're on an adventure.

WWQ: What is it like to work as a woman in your field?

KM: Women are pretty well represented in marine biology and conservation by now, at least up to the postdoc level – and we even have advantages underwater, like our tendency to breathe down a scuba tank less quickly. There is still a fair share of machismo in field research, especially at sea. And it is difficult to protect one’s modesty, professionalism, and privacy when everyone is in close quarters, in speedos and bikinis.  – I won’t even go into the subject of 'tropical beauty disasters'! – But in general, I’ve experienced much more harassment and discrimination outside of science than within. I have many strong ‘science uncles’ and ‘science brothers’ to thank for being good allies and upholding a respectful culture. Fieldwork can be ridiculously funny and salty without anyone getting hurt.

WWQ: What are the greatest barriers to having more women work in science?

KM: I’m often frustrated that ‘diversity’ in academia means a group of people who look different on the outside, but who are all healthy, wealthy, workaholics. Companies are scrambling to offer part-time, flex-time, disability-friendly work arrangements, but in science we still expect someone’s CV to reflect an unwavering full-time-plus-overtime schedule, from Bachelor’s degree to tenure. The tragedy is that we end up rejecting all the brilliant and creative people with amazing hobbies, intensive family commitments, tricky or private health issues, a passion for outreach, or just a second job that they love or need to do. Scientists are such nuanced thinkers, but we still act like science must be done on an 1800s steel mill schedule.

WWQ: What is the most serious threat the world faces?

KM: We’re tragically short-minded as a species. It makes sense that evolution only prepared us to think about space and time on human scales – bathtubs and minutes we can handle, but not oceans or centuries. But we will always hurt ourselves as individuals and as a species when we don’t save nature, food, and clean water for the future.

WWQ: Describe yourself in three words.

KM: Because I’m sitting in my mosquitoey garden in Curacao: inquisitive, independent… and itchy!

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Women of Discovery: Q&A With Sheila Ochugboju

WINGS WorldQuest will induct six new inspiring women as Fellows during our 2016 Women of Discovery Awards Gala on October 25. In advance of our gala, we are highlighting the work of each new Awardee. Our fIfth featured honoree in the series is Sheila Ochugboju, who is developing and leading pioneering African science, technology and innovation projects. She will receive our Humanity Award. Read the rest of the series here.

WWQ: Tell us your story. How did you get involved in science and exploration?

SO: As a child, different fields of science offered me the vital tools to explore the forests, riverbanks and bushlands where snakes, scorpions or any number of life-threatening bugs and insects might have attacked me. This was because until the age of nine I was growing up (very happily) within a forest-dependent rural community in Northern Cross Rivers State, Nigeria. Everyday before I stepped out to play, anywhere where an elder could see me, there would be a short lesson in entomology:

“She-she (my pet name), this kind ant…red like this…if it bite you…run home very fast.”

Or zoology: “Kaka (my middle name), the snake with the green body…that one you never fear. But that spotty brown one, with the light-colored belly, hiding behind the water pot…. that one go kill you.”

Or Microbiology: “Bwan-me (my child), this river we leave for the Gods alone to drink…never drink from it yourself. Inside…. small creatures dey live, eye no dey see them, if you drink, when they enter your belly, you go die.”

So I wondered endlessly about so many beautiful, vicious or benign, seen or unseen organisms living alongside us. How would we survive? Years later that curiosity led to the study of Medical Biochemistry for a first degree and Plant Biochemistry for a PhD at London University. Marriage and children intervened; then, I continued with a Research Fellowship at the Institute of Virology and Environmental Microbiology, now the centre for Ecology and Hydrology Oxford. The Daphne Jackson Trust generously sponsored the fellowship, which is aimed at women, who have taken a career break for family reasons, to return to science. I was based at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford (when it was still a women’s only college) and my research area was on developing novel biopesticides (genetically engineering), using the Baculovirus Expression System.

Thereafter, my career has veered tangentially towards the humanities and for the last 15 years, I have worked as an International Development professional, with a focus on science policy projects in Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria. I’m currently the Lead Researcher for the Global State of Urban Youth Report for The United Nations Human Settlements Program. And I was recently appointed as one of the Global Roving Ambassadors for the County Government of Kisumu, Kenya, holding the portfolio of Transformative Science & Urban Resilience.

At the same time, I am also the Knowledge Management Specialist, for the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation program. This is an international effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, and our team is providing the technical assistance to the Nigerian Government. We are highlighting “Issues and Options” which lead to a National Strategy to save the rapidly depleting forests in Nigeria, focusing on Cross Rivers State, where I was born. So it feels like a lovely full-circle moment in my life this year.

WWQ: What is it like to work as a woman in your field?

SO: It’s wonderful that now the international development world is raising up strong, dynamic women leaders, who are at the forefront of change in the fight against poverty and disease across the world. It’s no longer unusual to see women heading teams of scientists going to fight Ebola or developing strategies to alleviate suffering for displaced migrant communities in refugee camps like Dadaab in Kenya, the world’s largest refugee camp, which my friend Dr. Ebere Okereke, working for the International Rescue Committee described as an “open air hospital/prison camp/“home” for over 300,000 people in the last 24 years.”

And my program leaders for UN-REDD Nigeria are two incredible women: Elsie Attafuah (Senior Technical Lead for UNDP), supported by the Minister for Environment in Nigeria, Amina Mohammed. Both balancing the myriad of complex issues and challenges involved in tackling climate change.

That is not to say, however, that the systems of patriarchy and cultures of exclusion have now disappeared – to the contrary. My experience working in Africa offers regular reminders that those who actively seek to muffle the voices of women and constrain their power are as determined as ever. It’s not surprising, therefore, that most of the gender-related goals and targets for the Millennium Development Goals were missed. And despite incredible progress in medicine and science, thousands of women and children still die in childbirth or from simple preventable diseases, due to the lack of things so “commonplace” as clean water.

In Nigeria, the continuing scandal over the 276 Chibok schoolgirls, kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists and still missing after two years, is another damning indication of how little the lives of women and girls matter in many societies.

But still, I remain optimistic – for “the times, they are a-changing” and the increasing impact of transformations that can be attributed to the leadership of women in science and development continues to rise. More women will open more doors for many other women across all disciplines in the future.  

WWQ: What are the greatest barriers to having more women work in science?

SO: In my opinion, the three greatest barriers are systems, perceptions and finance.

Systems: The work environment in many countries offers few choices for women to optimally adapt to different stages of life and careers. The career path for scientists favors the linear approach, from PhD to Post Doc to Lectureship or Research Scientist, without any career breaks. A break in your career can seriously impede your future progress. And yet the initial investment to train scientists is so high and so long, that it’s important to create more appropriate intersections for exit and reentry into research and academic careers.

Women scientists should be recognized as valuable resources for social good and flexible career pathways should be created which nurture their potential in the long-term.

Perceptions: Despite centuries of progress, gender bias against women scientists is still strong within academia and research institutions. Empirical research studies show that at every level, women face more challenges as they enter and try to make progress in every field of science. What makes this even worse, is that many young girls and women themselves have started to believe these negative stereotypes, and self select themselves out of science early on. This is even worse for women from ethnic minorities. Diversity is as much challenge for scientists in the developed and developing world, in different ways.

Recent research blames this on “The Parable of Talents,” where certain professors – gatekeepers within science and humanities – believe that only people who possess specific innate abilities for the subject can succeed. Hard work and discipline are not believed to contribute as much as the talent you’re born with. This gives easy justification for gender and race bias in science. And it has been shown to exclude women and black people from careers in STEM, across the academic spectrum, because they are stereotyped as not possessing such talent.

If that is the case, it suggests that a cultural shift in schools and universities is needed, playing down talent and emphasizing hard work, in order to enhance inclusion.

We need the courage to challenge our own assumptions and those of our societies about women and minorities in science.

Finance: In high profile, big budget projects male scientists are usually more prominently featured. Examples include space research, genomics etc. Science research projects are designed through a strategic science policy process, and implementation pathways are often in the hands of finance and business experts, alongside the technical specialists. Women are not as prominent at these inception or upstream phases of work. Their absence makes a difference in the long-term, because this is where the big picture for projects is conceived and resources allocated to support specific lines of inquiry. Women scientists generally become more visible at the downstream phases of work, where less decision-making power lies.

Women scientists should advocate for more control over project design and budget control of the projects, which they are working on.

WWQ: What is the most serious threat the world faces?

SO: Waste. I believe that this is the Anthropocene Age, where humanity has an irreversible impact upon the earth. But the legacy that we are leaving behind is now covered up by all our waste. All our good is masked by the detritus of human life above all else. It is simply clogging up every part of our earth system – water, air, land and sea. It is also polluting our minds, because we are so ravenous in our consumption and so careless in our waste production and management. We have “wasteful” minds. Rich, developed countries in the West that are surrounded by excess, have slowly changed how they value things, people and even their own societies over time.

This mindset of plenty is also fuelling incredible inequality – inequalities of income, access, opportunities, etc. The gap between rich and poor is reaching new heights, and in a world where we are more visible to each other, it also fuels crime, spiralling economic migration and conflict. In Africa, we are faced with the rise of terrorist groups such as Al Shabaab and Boko Haram – which recruits young people who are easily indoctrinated because they have lost hope in the status quo in East Africa and Nigeria. But they are simply a subset of global terrorist groups, who prey of those who are increasingly renouncing all we have built for the good of humanity and laying waste to our way of life.

And yet, this is the first time in the history of humankind that we have enough food to feed everyone in the planet – but still people die of hunger daily.

We have more than enough weapons to annihilate humanity many times over, and yet governments continue to invest a major proportion of our annual national budgets on arms and defense.

We have more knowledge generated now than at any other time in world history, from the beginning of time. And yet we cannot find solutions to meet basic human needs and choose to hold on to our ignorance as an excuse to destroy one another.

We have so so much and yet so little, of everything.

Describe yourself in three words.

SO: Adaptive, creative, contemplative.

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Women of Discovery: Q&A With Juliana Machado Ferreira

WINGS WorldQuest will induct six new inspiring women as Fellows during our 2016 Women of Discovery Awards Gala on October 25. In advance of our gala, we are highlighting the work of each new Awardee. Our fourth featured honoree in the series is Juliana Machado Ferreira, who is conserving biodiversity by ending wildlife trafficking. Ferreira will receive our Courage Award. Read the rest of the series here.

WWQ: Tell us your story. How did you get involved in science and exploration?

JMF: Since my earliest years I had a deep love and appreciation for all living beings, as well as a strong sense of justice. I took biology because I wanted to work with nature and animals and because of Jacques Cousteau and Jane Goodall! Towards the end of my undergrad course, I discovered Conservation Genetics and the work developed by Professor João Morgante’s lab – it was love at first sight. Dr João became a mentor and a friend. During the development of my Master’s on Population Genetics of the Subantarctic Fur Seal, I found out about the wildlife forensics work developed at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife National Forensics Lab, where I met three of my life mentors, Ken Goddard, Ed Espinoza and Mary Curtis. I was instantly hooked – and still am today. A year later I found out about the counter wildlife trafficking work the organization SOS Fauna and its president, Marcelo Rocha, were doing in Brazil and learned about the domestic wildlife trafficking in my country. I had found my life’s passion and mission - that mixed pot of biodiversity conservation, field work, scientific tools to support law enforcement and counter wildlife trafficking work. I developed my PhD with Conservation Genetics applied to issues related to wild bird trafficking in Brazil. Later I met Steve Galster, another one of my mentors, and the organization Freeland Foundation, where I found my peers, people with the same views and the same passion I had, developing serious and effective counter wildlife trafficking work. I became a Freelander and here I am today. 

WWQ: What is it like to work as a woman in your field?

JMF: I have battled a lot of prejudice, especially when I was young and better looking (haha). The first time I stepped in the lab to ask for an internship to learn about Conservation Genetics, another girl, who was a PhD candidate at the time, said that I could not be intelligent with that “beach bum” look. She said I would not last a month at the lab but in the end, I stayed for 10 years. And during field work in remote rural areas sometimes local people felt very uncomfortable seeing a woman going into the forest, especially because I did most of my field work alone with a male colleague. Many times we were asked if we were brother and sister or if we were married. Sometimes they made jokes about me going in the brush. I would smile, slowly reach for my machete and say I was in good company. And there was always an unspoken tension about being a woman alone with just one colleague in remote areas, because if we ran into the wrong people, there would be nothing we could do. I also heard several times – many of them from other women – that I was only being granted fellowships and awards for being Brazilian and having the right looks.

But that being said, I found much more support than the other way around. My advisor Dr João, my field work colleagues (Fábio Schunck and Marcos Melo), my husband (Shanty), SOS Fauna, through Marcelo Rocha, law enforcement agents (Sidney and Manzutti), the forensics Lab folks (all, but specially Ed, Ken and Mary), and the majority of the local people during field were incredibly supportive.

WWQ: What are the greatest barriers to having more women work in science?

JMF: With a few sad exceptions, my experience is that women are present, working and are respected. In my field, sometimes women are the majority. In Dr João’s lab we were ten women to one or two poor guys! Some of the most important researchers in my field are women, and I do not see any huge barriers there. 

However, there are two things worth mentioning: the first is the prejudice that women have towards other women, which is unacceptable. The second concerns maternity and being a working mother. I strongly believe that the only way to begin to deal with this issue is through the creation of a longer paternity leave, opening daycares in institutions (companies, universities, etc.) and to implement measures to assure mothers are be able to breastfeed even after their return to work. 

WWQ: What is the largest threat THE WORLD FACES?

JMF: Unaccountability and lack of empathy. If people were able to put themselves in the place of others living beings (humans and nonhumans) and act for the greater good we would be halfway to better times. However, those who act in ways that disrespect others should be held accountable for their actions.

WWQ: Describe yourself in three words. 

JMF: Stubborn as hell!  But in seriousness, I would say nonconformist, passionate and idealistic. 

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Women of Discovery: Q&A With Hope Jahren

WINGS WorldQuest will induct six new inspiring women as Fellows during our 2016 Women of Discovery Awards Gala on October 25. In advance of our gala, we are highlighting the work of each new Awardee. Our third featured honoree in the series is Hope Jahren, a geochemist and geobiologist and the author of the New York Times Best Seller Lab Girl, a memoir about being a woman in science and her lifelong love and study of plants. Dr. Jahren will receive our Leadership Award. Read the rest of the series here.

WWQ: Tell us your story. How did you get involved in science and exploration?

HJ: My father taught all of the sciences at a rural community college in Minnesota — he worked there for 42 years.  While growing up, my brothers and I used to help him maintain his teaching lab, help him get the exercises ready for the next day’s use, etc., so I grew up around science and the idea that it was this very familiar homey thing that we could do, even as children.  Later, when I went to college, I found that this gave me a tremendous advantage in that I had already developed the intuition required to make a complicated scientific instrument work and keep it working — which is really what I love to do most. I also always felt like science was where I was naturally supposed to be — that I belonged there — because it was part of my early upbringing and family — this served me very well when I got into courses and environments where I was the only woman in the room. I never wavered in my firm knowledge that I belonged there — that science was where I was supposed to be.

WWQ: What is it like to work as a woman in your field?

HJ: Overall, I’d say that it is extremely isolating. When I was first a professor, women in academia were still relatively rare, and I was often the only woman on the faculty or on the committee, etc.  Growing up in a small town, the girls who had been my best friends in Kindergarten were also my best friends in High School. I had a decent number of girlfriends in college and even in graduate school where we knew other groups of students, across disciplines. When I became a professor, however, I was almost exclusively in very male environments and all my time was taken up with my work — and I remember feeling extremely lonely because of it and just pining for the comfort of having women friends around.  

WWQ: What are the greatest barriers to having more women work in science?

HJ: I’d say the obvious structural barriers are the greatest — because they are also the most infuriatingly artificial. The fact that there’s no uniform maternity leave policy within academia; the fact that we are not safe on our campuses or at our field sites from sexual harassment and sexual violence; the fact that we’re underpaid compared to our male counterparts. I’ve seen clear solutions offered toward of each of these barriers, and I’ve seen institutions flat out decline the solutions. It can be very discouraging, but we have a duty to keep asking, keep demanding, and keep asserting our right to work. We are part of a several-hundred-year movement in which women are joining the public workforce and using their talents for professional good — we are obligated to keep moving forward.

WWQ: What is the most serious threat the world faces?

HJ: In a world of seven billion people, one billion live without adequate food and housing. I am an Environmental Scientist, but I believe our first responsibility is to feed, shelter and nurture each other as people.

WWQ: Describe yourself in three words.

HJ: I’m hardworking, and I’m funny — in both senses of the word.

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Women of Discovery: Q&A With Marla Spivak

WINGS WorldQuest will induct six new inspiring women as Fellows during our 2016 Women of Discovery Awards Gala in October. In advance of our gala, we are highlighting the work of each new Awardee. Our second featured honoree in the series is Marla Spivak, who is working to protect and enhance the health of the world's declining honey bee population, and will receive our Conservation Award. Read the rest of the series here.

WWQ: tell us your story. How did you get involved in science and exploration?

MS: I read a book about bees in 1974 when I was directionless and somewhat rebellious in my first year at Prescott College in AZ. Prescott was and still is very outdoor- and environmentally-oriented. I asked my advisor if I could get credit for working with a beekeeper and organic gardener, and he found me a family in Bosque Farms, New Mexico that did both. They had a huge organic garden and 2000 hives of bees. I worked for them a semester and was hooked. I finished my BA degree in Biology at Humboldt State University in northern CA in 1978. (I transferred because Prescott College went bankrupt, but is since reaccredited). I took a semester off while at Humboldt to volunteer at the USDA-ARS Bee Research Lab in Tucson, AZ under researcher Steve Taber – a very eccentric and outspoken researcher who taught me to "think like a bee" and to "question everything I read about bees," which got me interested in research. After my degree I traveled across South America with a friend in search of beekeepers, to learn and experience what we could. When I returned to the U.S., Dr. Orley "Chip" Taylor asked me to be the beekeeper for his research projects in Venezuela on Africanized honey bees. While there watching graduate students set up research projects on bees I realized I could do the same, and started a PhD program at the University of Kansas under Chip in 1981.  

WWQ: What is it like to work as a woman in your field?

MS: I don't give it much thought, or maybe I refuse to acknowledge barriers. From an early age, I have been fortunate to be blind to the notion that there are occupations and paths not open to women. I have taken risks, particularly in my 20s, and I suffered consequences (stories for another day). Bees are my passion and in many ways my saving grace; bees and beekeepers have always been there for me. Now I'm in a place where I can give back.

WWQ: What are the greatest barriers to having more women work in science?

MS: Women are starting to dominate the life sciences. I see no barriers there. There may be more barriers in STEM sciences that start at an early age. I wish more young women, and everyone, would refuse to acknowledge gender barriers.

WWQ: WHAT IS THE LARGEST THREAT THE WORLD FACES?

MS: Humans distancing ourselves from nature and from the consequences of our actions. 

WWQ: Describe yourself in three words.

MS: Persistent, optimist, open-minded.

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