Friday, December 19, 2014

A new writing adventure

Today I've got a new article up with the excellent folks at Hippo Reads, who are working to bring academic voices to bear on important, timely topics. My first piece with them is "5 Key Facts about the California Drought—and 5 Ways We’re Responding to It." Of course, today it's pouring buckets here in northern California (those of us working on water here have decided the best way to get it to rain is to have a drought meeting, guess it works with writing too!).

The article is intended to be quick primer on the drought, a bit of a one-stop guide to some of the issues that have made it such a big deal this year. I talk about everything from California's reliance on snowpack to groundwater depletion to climate change - all informed by the latest research. I also discuss some our recent groundwater legislation, the water bond, and urban water conservation innovation. It's (hopefully) a nice overview of the range of issues at play.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Old, new... when it comes to California water, we need it all

For what feels like quite a long time but turns out to only have been a couple of years, there has been an active and contentious conversation about the idea of "new" and "old" conservation. This dicussion is related the idea of the Anthropocene -- the proposed name for a new geological epoch based on human activity -- and is often extended to environmentalism in general. Michelle Nijhous provides an excellent, concise overview and current state-of-the-debate in The New Yorker that I highly recommend reading. In a nutshell: old conservation is often characterized as being about saving species and places from people -- saving nature for "nature's sake" -- while new conservation often integrates ideas about the importance of nature to people, which has led to controversial attempts to reconcile, for example, corporate and environmental needs.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The water haves and have nots

I have to admit that after almost a year of live tweeting California's drought -- and what seems likely to be at least another year of the same -- there are stretches of time where I can't help but feel totally numb to the amount of apocalyptic information that I have to sort through on a daily basis. But, today, there are a few things that have gotten my attention.

First, yesterday 60 Minutes did a really great segment on drought and groundwater depletion in California and around the world. If you care at all about water, food, farming, or national/global security, spending 13 minutes to get a compelling, curiosity-driven overview of the impact of aquifer drawdown on our lives and communities is totally worth it. Near the end of the segment, researcher Jay Famiglietti responds to a Lesley Stahl statement that "this is alarming" by saying "well, it should be alarming." And, though I'm not big on alarmism, in this case I will say: yes, yes it should.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

From water to agriculture, more evidence that human relationships matter

The interest in and recognition of the value of relational work when it comes to science and conservation, and really across all sectors, seems to be reaching a critical point. Just this week, several pieces on everything from farming to water scarcity to forest management directly addressed the generative power of relationships between people in environmental work. I am thrilled, to say the least.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Come on now, make it stop

Over the past couple years, there has been a much deeper awareness and, fortunately, calling out of the lack of diversity and inclusivity on expert panels -- whether they be at conferences, special events, workshops, etc. -- in the science world and beyond. For me, this challenge very much extends into how I see the issue of expertise (which is problematic to begin with) play out in, for example, who is contacted by journalists as well. I would say it's an almost daily occurrence for my blood pressure to spike when I look at an event (or article) that might seem interesting, only to see that, if we're lucky, there is a lone/token female voice on a panel of six or eight or 30. One of the biggest problems with all of it, simply from an intellectual perspective, is that the lack of diversity leads to narrow and less relevant discussions, which at their worst can be downright harmful and at their best are just boring.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Questions of survival

Flying over an almost bare Mt. Shasta, with several 
wildfires burning up and down the western coast, in August. 
Photo by me.
Okay, so this drought in California has been going on for a while now, and many of us are starting to anticipate the beginning of our rainy season, which is normally somewhere around November through the end of March, with equal parts hope and dread, and that anxiety seems to be coming out in strange ways. Earlier this week, I woke up to this headline: "In virtual mega-drought, California avoids defeat." All of my days are filled with this kind of thing, like "It takes HOW much water to grow an avocado?!" or greek yogurt or other food of your choice, but I still felt a little cognitively challenged in even understanding the idea of a "virtual mega-drought" or what it might mean for California to "avoid defeat."

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Relatedness in action in science practice (#3)

In a beautiful blog post, Megan Adams gives a personal and honest account of both the benefits and challenges of community-engaged ecological research. In "Doing Science that Matters: Engaging with Communities in Collaborative Scientific Research," she describes working in coastal British Columbia and collaborating with groups of indigenous and non-indigenous people with "long-standing, adaptive, and evolving knowledge of natural systems" on a variety of projects.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

California drought and climate change: a science communication challenge

This week, a new report focused on extreme weather events and climate change came out in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. Since so much of my job involves filtering and sorting through this kind of information, particularly as it relates to California water issues, which right now are all drought all the time, I spent Monday watching a series of articles and tweets attempting to summarize that report come out. First was a link to the report itself. There was a lot of traffic (I'm assuming), so the report wouldn't load for me. At the same time, I started to see a lot of tweets about how we basically now know that the California drought is caused by climate change. Then as the afternoon went on came a series of tweets about how there is absolutely no measurable way that climate change caused the drought. Literally, two totally different headlines on the same topic within hours of each other. It was hard, even as somebody who is pretty well immersed in this stuff, to interpret the findings and figure out why the stories were so totally different.

Reconciling science research and practice

There is a lot of conversation these days around "bridging" research and practice in various fields - as a science and conservation type I tend to pay more attention to that piece, but I also see it in active conversation in the humanities and other fields as well. There are two main threads here that I think are helpful to break apart - one is how to better connect the results of research (and, not often enough, the process of research) with practice. The other related, but somewhat separate, piece is how to better train graduate students for practice-based careers in the sciences.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Boundary spanning

I am in the middle of preparing a talk for next week's 99th annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA), which will be in Sacramento, CA this year, an easy train ride for me. This is my first slide for my talk, which is (sadly but predictably) still taking shape.

Almost 20 years ago, I spent a couple of years working for ESA, first as a public affairs intern and then as staff with a program within the Society that was called the Sustainable Biosphere Initiative, launched after a paper from Jane Lubchenco and others proposed the concept in what was at the time a controversial paper published in Ecology. While in graduate school at Berkeley, I continued to be involved with ESA, starting the student section in 2000 - it is really exciting to see how that section has truly taken off. I am now ending my final year of service on the ESA Public Affairs Committee and will be going out on a good note with a short talk on California's drought that I will be giving to introduce rancher Dan Macon at a lunch for ESA's Rapid Response Teams. I am particularly honored to open for Dan, whose blog post on the emotional toll of drought inspired my own on live-tweeting the drought.

Monday, June 30, 2014

From parched to water-logged and back again

This tree in Killarney National Park was the
most alive thing I've been near  in a long time.
Worth the trip!
For much of this year my life has been all about the drought in California, whether live tweeting it at work, or trying to understand my own experience living with it. Somewhere in the middle of the worst of it, when it seemed it might never rain again, I wrote about trying to stay sane, at the last minute adding a line about needing a vacation, which upon further reflection seemed like a message from my subconscious. Being the type to take those kinds of messages seriously, in April I quickly decided to take a trip, and ended up in one of the wettest places I've been in a good long while: Ireland. Which was *spectacularly* wet, and very green, following several months of heavy rains and floods that were basically at the opposite end of the weather spectrum from what we were experiencing in California.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Trauma-sensitive environmental work

Many of us understand and have directly experienced trauma -- generally defined as the emotional response to overwhelming and often terrifying experiences -- in some form in or another. From growing up in abusive or addiction-ridden homes, suffering with serious illness, having been in or witnessed accidents or violent crimes, lost jobs, lost loved ones, and the many other ways in which trauma plays out in our very human lives, we get it on some level. We get the wounds trauma can leave, both visible and not. Some of us have actual scars and others the leftover remains of anxiety, depression, dissociation, grief, insomnia, violence, flashbacks, or bodily pain. And, we also see the ways in which healing is possible -- how we find resources, sometimes where we least expect them, and how we pull together in community with generosity, compassion, and love.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Joy for this world, just as it is

Here in this enchanted land known as the greater Bay Area of northern California, rain has been falling intermittently but quite heavily and blessedly during the last week. While the state snow survey that took place just a couple of days ago showed that we are still at only 32% of the average snow pack that we rely on to get us through our largely precipitation free summers, the storms brought along an incredible, sweeping energy, complete with a type of powerful thunder and lightning which are often elusive here. After a dry winter spent live tweeting a drought, I find myself making evening pilgrimages to our newly green hills almost daily. It is inevitable that I return home full of a type of deep joy that comes only from being in the world in this particular way.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Interested in relational approaches to science practice? Retreat? Community?

So, I've got a small bit of funding to convene a group of folks that are interested in relationship-centered approaches to professional practice across disciplines. Over the past several years in my own work, I've fortunately connected with lawyers, doctors, psychologists, scientists, and others that have similar interests. There is a core group of us that will get together sometime this spring/early summer for a couple day retreat, and I want to extend an invitation to a few more folks that might have interest but that I might not have connected with yet (or haven't explicitly talked to about this).

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The secret superpower of subjectivity in science practice

Subjectivity - our internal experiences and perceptions of ourselves and our world - can be devalued in many aspects of life, and particularly in scientific training and careers. The pursuit of objective methods and analyses can lead to a sense that subjective experience more broadly is unimportant or inaccurate or irrational -- this is part of the "hidden curriculum" in graduate training and related professional norms. But, the thing you are rarely shown is that a healthy relationship with your subjective experience can be a big asset, particularly in fluid, practice-based careers.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Compassion practice & our common humanity on this shared planet

"Real compassion kicks butt and takes names, and it is not pleasant on certain days." Ken Wilber

A dearly beloved person gave me the
Quan Yin figure in the top right photo
as a symbol of compassion,
it's helpful to have the reminders. 
There are times when compassion feels effortless, and times when it take real work. In graduate school I had a longer version of the Ken Wilber quote above on a piece of paper taped to my desk to remind me the hard days were okay. It was at least a dozen years ago and I had just begun a more conscious relationship with compassion, particularly with self-compassion, largely as a result of needing some help getting through my doctoral qualifying exams with what I came to understand later was a severe case of impostor syndrome. Seriously, every first year graduate school seminar should start with this topic just to get it out of the way early since so many of us encounter it unexpectedly.

My particular version came from feeling out of place at a major research university as a female, working class kid in a body that didn't and still doesn't fit the mold, combined with a lifelong family struggle that came to a head at the same time as an utterly confusing and identity-shifting personal relationship developed. I am grateful that instead of the many other ways it could have gone, this confluence of events started me on a complex and ultimately healing journey, with compassion as one of its main ingredients.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Staying centered and sane

Sustainability as a concept is both regaled and reviled in environmental circles. For me it’s really about what can be maintained over time without harming myself, my community, or the planet, and I haven't been doing it lately. A deep inner drive about my work, which I love, feels at cross purposes with a deep part of my soul that needs life to slow down. That inner struggle is amplified by a similar one I feel in the outer world, where mixed messages abound and we are, for example, simultaneously rewarded and chastised for being stressed out or where taking a break can be both verbally encouraged and subtly discouraged. After sputtering around in overwhelm for what can be days and weeks at a time, what brings me the most peace are the moments when I can surrender and just let it – whatever I can do – be enough.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Beyond the buzz: change-making with science

I recently wrote a post about how to "generate buzz" about research where I mentioned that, in my mind anyway, attention-getting should not be conflated with actual change-making. There are lots of ways of looking at change-making, and here I am mostly talking about broad-scale, societal, and, most likely, policy change. What this kind of change-making really comes down to for me is working with other people. That is why I started to blog to begin with, and why I focus so much on the concept of relatedness - here focused on deepening capacity as a scientist or practitioner to participate in change-making efforts.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The beauty of being lost

This weekend I went for a several hour hike, at least half of which I ended up spending laying in the dirt and leaves on some northern California hillsides (which should be soggy and green but are instead brown and crunchy) alongside a path I'd not been on before. I realize in retrospect that I needed to be lost for a bit so that I'd give myself time to wander and to rest.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Live tweeting a drought

By now, many of you have undoubtedly seen some version of these NASA images that compare snow cover in California between 2013 and 2014. Believe it or not, 2013 was considered a drought year (as was 2012), so you can only imagine the visceral reaction these images have brought up over the past couple of weeks, released on the heels of the news that 2013 was the driest year ever recorded in the state. With barely a drop of rain so far in 2014, who knows what is on the horizon.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The emotional lives of scientists

"Scientists should be allowed to be upset about things that are in fact upsetting" was the general gist of an interesting set of live-tweets that came flying by me from the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. Naomi Oreskes, Harvard professor and author of "Merchants of Doubt," was giving a talk that is now conveniently summarized in this ClimateWire article. At the time that article was not yet written, but because I was intrigued I searched around and came across a seemingly recent (can't find a date on it to save my life) piece she wrote called "The scientist as sentinel" in a special issue of Limn on "sentinel devices." What had first captured my eye about her talk, at least what I could glean about it from the tweets, was the need to "allow" for the emotions of scientists to be a part of the discourse around climate change. It makes me somewhat sad that we need permission, but also, um, yes, please?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Relatedness in action in science practice (#2)

As my first post on "relatedness in action" mentioned, I'm trying to make the concept less abstract by pointing to examples of it that I see in the science world. Science journalist Michelle Nijhuis recently wrote a piece in the New York Times Opinionator blog on "The Science and Art of Science Writing." You should go read the whole thing, but in short it beautifully describes her work as a newly minted college graduate who while "looking for strange animals in strange places" found herself even more fascinated by the scientists she was working with as they gathered eagerly around a rattlesnake than she was by the snake itself.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

What if complexity can actually be helpful in science communication and engagement?

What if the ways that we commonly think of communicating science, for example, by simplifying, messaging, and framing, don't work as well in issue areas where prolonged conflict is present? What if, instead, complexity and nuance might be helpful in such situations? This may seem counter to my recent "how to" on publicizing research, but begins to speak to the difference between "buzz generation" and change-making I mentioned there.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

How to generate buzz about research

One of the most common activities I engage in as a scientist and communications practitioner is working to "generate buzz" about the research work I either participate in or that the various organizations I've worked for fund or are otherwise engaged in. Since I have yet to write about much of the practical work that I do, I'm trying it just to see how it goes, and maybe it will be useful for some.