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Translating enviromental science to politics

By Katie McWilliams
On April 10, 2014

  • Former NOA administrator Jane Lubchenco gives a lecture describing her experiences on getting envirormental legislation passed in Washington Thursday in the Konover Auditorium. SANITAGO PELAEZ/The Daily Campus

Former National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration administrator Jane Lubchenco said Wednesday that the climate in Washington for environmental policy is unproductive.
The first woman and marine ecologist to hold the position, Lubchenco is a renowned scientist in her field and one of the world's premier scientists, said Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor, Rob Colwell.
"She's one of the most highly cited scientists in the world," said Colwell. "She is guiding the country in its understanding of oceans, land and climate."
Colwell also highlighted that although Lubchenco is pioneering research in marine ecology, she is also revolutionizing how scientific findings are communicated with the public.
"Many of us know her partly for her role in promoting science communication. Jane taught us that it is not our job to just research, but rather to communicate our findings to the public in a way they can understand."
Unlike other lectures, Lubchenco's address focused on the state of environmental policy making in Washington, D.C. Through telling a series of stories about her time at NOAA, Lubchenco illustrated the necessary characteristics students will need to succeed in making environmental policy.
"It is getting harder and harder to get things done...I think our democracy has been hijacked by campaign financing and gridlocks," Lubchenco said.
She described her job as getting legislation passed and implementing policies to protect environmental areas, keep oceans healthy and tackling the growing issue of climate change. However, she said that convincing skeptics about the important potential impacts of climate change and getting law-makers to take action was difficult and often times trying.
"Operating in DC is so much harder than it needs to be. In Washington's current political climate, jobs like mine are frustrating and depressing," said Lubchenco.
The lessons Lubchenco learned during her time at NOAA are valuable for a student of any discipline, but are especially relevant to students pursuing careers on Capitol Hill.
"Getting things done in DC is about relationships, not just politics," Lubchenco said. She told the story of how when she was getting voted in by the senate, as all Presidential nominees are required to do, her advisor told her to network with as many officials as possible. Beyond networking, Lubchenco emphasized the importance of listening to people to build relationships.
"Listen to their concerns, find out what they care about," Lubchenco said. "When things work in DC, that is one of the keys to why they work."
Lubchenco's talk was a part of the semester long Edwin Way Teale Lecture Series, which celebrate nature and the environment, and honor Teale, the late Connecticut Pulitzer Prize winning naturalist. The series brings together UConn's focus on the environment which Vice Provost, Mun Choi, said is a key representation of UConn's leaps and bounds in environme.ntal policy.
"We were ranked by the Sierra Club as the number one university when it comes to green initiatives. The rapid changes we are facing really require us to reflect and ask ourselves 'are we really doing enough?'"

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