Many Americans are increasingly conflicted when they are confronted by advice from research scientists, even advice on such fundamental issues as vaccination and human health, nutrition and food safety, and especially the role of climate change in their lifestyle decisions.
This dilemma exists even though most Americans recognize the technology shaping much of their lives comes directly from the stunning achievements of these same research scientists. These technologies have transformed our lives, mostly for the better, with options unimagined even a few years before.
The reluctance, and occasional hostility, of citizens to accept, or even rationally discuss, the views of research scientists underlies serious challenges now facing societies in determining which science and technology to embrace and which to reject. Often these decisions have merged with unsubstantiated opinions and/or personal ideologies.
To reach informed decisions concerning the increasingly complex choices emerging from research, we need opportunities to candidly debate credible scientists with those questions of importance to us (including, “I do not believe you!”). When involving our fellow citizens, these debates “give voice” to the views of citizens that can reinforce the effectiveness of societal decisions.
In our area, “Sea Level Rise: What’s Our Next Move?” is a conference focused on linking scientifically credible information to the formulation and implementation of sound, effective public- and private-sector policies. The conference will be Oct. 2nd and 3rd at the St. Petersburg College Seminole Campus. The conference, organized by the Institute on Science for Global Policy (ISGP), in coordination with the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at St. Petersburg College, focuses on engaging the local communities in useful debates and caucus discussions concerning climate issues.
Three internationally recognized scientists will address ocean-related impacts of climate change at the conference. They are: Dr. Harold Wanless, a University of Miami researcher who has studied the past 8,000 years of coastal environment evolution and has done extensive research into coastal geology; Dr. Andrew Keeler, whose Coastal Studies Institute at the University of North Carolina has delved into the economic aspects of coastal adaptation to rising seas; and John Englander, oceanographic consultant to government and industry who addresses financial and societal impacts of climate change.
The local event is one of a series of similar ISGP-sponsored conferences held around the country during 2015 aimed at engaging local communities in useful debates and caucus discussions concerning various aspects of climate issues. The goal is to reach consensus on practical options for mitigating and adapting to anticipated changes in the climate, all of which seek to define a sustainable future.
The debate and caucus format pioneered by the ISGP, a not-for-profit organization that does not lobby on any issue except rational thinking, provides an unusual forum in which the climate issues observed worldwide can be viewed through the personal life choices and community-wide decisions facing the Tampa Bay region. The conference also confronts the often-challenging tasks required to formulate and implement effective policies related to scientific and technological understanding, especially when broad community support is required.
We hope that you will join the conversation. The public may register for “Sea Level Rise: What’s Our Next Move?” at www.scienceforglobalpolicy.org. For additional information, call the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at 727-394-6942.
George Atkinson is executive director of the Institute on Science for Global Policy and former science and technology adviser to U.S. secretaries of state Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Peter A. Clark is president of Tampa Bay Watch, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of the Tampa Bay estuary through scientific and educational programs.