Brave Climate Change Scientists Choose Hope Over Politics – Part Two

This is Part Two of an article resulting from interviews conducted by the author with Drs. Ziska and Caffrey in August of 2019. Full disclosure: Dr. Caffrey was willing to be interviewed due to the author’s previous employment with the National Park Service. The author’s spouse works for the US Department of Agriculture.

Click here to read Part One.

In Part One (found in the Oct/Nov EcoNews), readers were introduced to two climate change scientists, Dr. Lew Ziska and Dr. Maria Caffrey. Dr. Ziska has over 150 peer-reviewed publications with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). His research regarding climate change and the nutritional value of rice crops was scheduled for publication, but when the agency pushed back with questions regarding the research that were clearly meant to prevent publication, it was blocked. Dr. Ziska retired from the USDA and began a new job at Columbia University.

Dr. Caffrey worked as a contract partner with the National Park Service for almost a decade. She developed a modeling tool to help coastal National Park areas plan for the increasing risks of sea-level rise to natural and cultural resources. While on maternity leave Dr. Caffrey found her work was being edited to remove all references to human causes of climate change. Although Dr. Caffrey was finally successful in having her model made available to parks, the supervisors who pushed back on her work left her feeling betrayed and she filed a whistleblower complaint. Though she was told there was ample funding to continue her work, she was not funded and is now unemployed.

Scientific integrity policies prohibit these types of harassment. It would be simple to assume scientists should forego the pursuit of climate change research under the thumb of the current administration. That is not the message from these two scientists. They feel a strong support for new and current scientists to continue to guide government work and they have some inspiring recommendations.

Dr. Lew Ziska, former Senior Researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Crop Systems and Global Change Laboratory. Submitted photo.
Dr. Lew Ziska, former Senior Researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Crop Systems and Global Change Laboratory. Submitted photo.

Don’t Forget Your Champions

Dr. Ziska grew up when astronauts were bigger than life champions for scientific revelation. His 8th grade science teacher inspired him to become a scientist.

Dr. Caffrey points to her husband’s unfaltering support for her as she stood up for scientific and personal integrity even as they maneuvered new parenthood and financial uncertainty when she lost her job. She also points to Joe Clements, Senior Fellow, Arctic Initiative at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard and was a senior government advisor for seven years.

Caffrey met Joe Clement when they both testified in July 2019 at the House Natural Resources Committee: “When Science Gets Trumped: Scientific Integrity at the Department of the Interior.” Clement reported to Congress, “One week after speaking at the United Nations on the importance of building resilience to climate change, I received an evening email telling me I’d been reassigned to the auditing office that collects royalty checks from the oil, gas, and mining industries. It was pretty clear to me and my colleagues that this was retaliation.”

In adverse times, champions can remind us of our professional standards and the importance of perseverance.

Dr. Maria Caffrey, former Principle Investigator with the Department of the Interior (DOI).
Dr. Maria Caffrey, former Principle Investigator with the Department of the Interior (DOI).

Professional Mentors Can be a Guide Through the Wilderness

Both Ziska and Caffrey pointed to the importance of mentors in their careers and recommend new and current employees develop these important relationships. Mentors help an employee unofficially navigate through unexpected challenges. Effective mentors understand the work culture where you are employed and have broader experience they can apply to a situation. Mentors should be chosen because they are wise in their judgement and effective at reaching goals. A good mentor is supportive but explains what an employee needs to know—not necessarily what they want to hear. An employee’s needs change over time and changes in mentors should reflect these changes.

Both Ziska and Caffrey urge conservationists and scientists to: “Remember why we do this, why it is so important.” Dr. Ziska carries on his work in a new venue and Dr. Caffrey hesitantly said she would return to the National Park Service under the right circumstances, because she believes in protecting our natural and cultural resources and in the mission of the Park Service.

Know Your Rights

Scientists are not alone. Familiarize yourself with Scientific Integrity Policies. The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund (CSLDF) provides guidance and legal advice to scientists who find their work attacked or under personal threat. Their mission: “The CSLDF protects the scientific endeavor by providing support and resources to scientists who are threatened, harassed or attacked for doing their jobs.” When Lauren Kurtz, with the CSLDF was asked if she believes young people should join the ranks of new climate scientists under this cloud of harassment, she replied,  “Yes, because the climate change deniers have so galvanized the public opinion on this subject, which has resulted in a surge in strength to this important work. The work is supported by millions of concerned people globally and that support is growing every time there is a climate-driven disaster or breakthrough.”

In November 2016, after the U.S. presidential election, CSLDF published “Handling Political Harassment and Legal Intimidation: A Pocket Guide for Scientists” which contains basic legal advice for scientists. You can view the guide here and learn more about the work of the CSLDF.