Thursday, November 1, 2012
Launch of Bridge Environment
Today, we launch Bridge Environment--a project of the Ocean Foundation. This organization represents my effort to balance interests and abilities that span three important disciplines. I started my career as a marine ecologist with a burning desire to make my science useful. Pursuing that goal has taught me a lot about policy making, about the use of science, and frankly, about humility. In the process, I have gained extensive experience in environmental policy and economics through sweat, some sorrow, and a lot of serendipity.
Luck found me as I began to generate results from my first project--design principles for marine protected areas--just as the marine conservation community discovered this management tool. Though the demand for my expertise was deeply satisfying, I found that groups and governments were often unwilling to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work of crafting thoughtful policies. I also noticed that scientific advisers, myself included, were often complicating the process by confounding the insight science could provide with their own values, but even more frequently by avoiding values altogether such that their advice was not relevant to the important questions over which policymakers and the public struggled.
Ever since, I have striven to make science more useful by adapting my efforts and outlook. Early on, I had a chance to learn some lessons about managing fisheries from a rocket scientist--Bruce Bollermann--who designs missile guidance systems for a living. My work with Bruce helped me realize the central role that uncertainty plays in our attitudes about fisheries regulations and environmental policies in general. This realization inspired me to go back to graduate school to study the psychology of decision-making via the fields of behavioral, environmental, and public economics. Behavioral economics, in particular, has focused on how people perceive and respond to uncertainty. It turns out that our brain wiring is at least part of the explanation for why debates surrounding most environmental issues seem alike. The psychology of negotiation also plays a role as people have a hard time negotiating effectively when they mistrust the other party. People are unlikely to offer up some sacrifice of their own if they doubt their opponent is meeting them halfway.
Many people believe we can use science more effectively when crafting environmental policy. We believe a major step towards this goal is to make science more useful. Doing so requires more effort into building bridges between the policy world and the worlds of ecological and economic science. In making these connections, Bridge Environment aims to catalyze a cultural shift in how our society addresses environmental issues.
If our work catches your interest, please consider following this blog, keeping an eye on our website, and supporting our work with your thoughts, energy, and financial contributions. I promise future blogs will provide more stories, both funny and sad, that describe the origins of my views and the interesting situations and work opportunities they have made possible. If you have thoughts on our work, positive or negative, we would love to hear from you.