Why researchers should remember they're citizens as well as scientists

The Source
By: Lucy Frisch, Thu Jun 4 2020
Lucy Frisch

Author: Lucy Frisch

In honor of UN World Oceans Day (8 June), and in collaboration with Oceanic Global, we are excited to launch our new SDG 14 hub, dedicated to life below water. This day is about celebrating the ocean and its importance to the planet and our lives, while raising awareness about the many threats it faces. 

We had the chance to speak to a few of the experts who will be featured at the first-ever virtual United Nations World Oceans Day event. Here, renowned environmentalist and Co-Founder of 350.org, Bill McKibben, shares his thoughts on addressing the SDGs, public engagement, and how researchers can have an impact beyond their scholarly circle.

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What are some of the greatest threats to the future of our oceans and how does UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14: Life below water fit into the larger discussion around climate change?

There are so many threats to the ocean, but of course the deepest are the rapid heating and the rapid acidification of ocean waters. On present trends, we can expect a dramatic intensification of the 'marine heat waves' we already see, and with them an effective end to coral reefs and other ecosystems, with attendant misery for the people they depend on.

How is 350.org addressing the UN SDGs?

Well, we do our best among other things to respond to SDG13, with its emphasis on climate change. We think the key to progress is breaking the political power of the fossil fuel industry, so that's what we've set out to do, with massive global campaigns like fossil fuel divestment.

What do you believe is the most relevant way for researchers to measure success against the goals?

In the case of climate, the measurements that matter most are the ones about carbon concentrations in the atmosphere – and they're still going up sharply.

How do you prioritize public engagement and how important is it for the future of our oceans?

I think that unless we build big movements our chances of overcoming vested interest are small. But we are building those movements - I hope in time!

What do believe is the key to successfully mobilizing the public around campaigns for global warming awareness? What are some of your most memorable experiences from the movements you have started?

I think some mix of realistic fear and realistic hope really help. My most memorable day was probably 350.org's first global day of action in 2009, when we managed to have 5,200 simultaneous demonstrations in 181 countries. It was amazing to see how many people in how many places really cared.

What advice do you have for researchers who are looking for ways to make societal impact beyond their scholarly circle?

Remember that you are citizens as well as scientists – bring your concerns out into public. And wear a white lab coat when you do!

What projects are you currently working on and what are your goals for the future?

We're working at stopthemoneypipeline.com, a broad coalition trying to keep big banks and asset managers and insurance companies from continuing to fund the fossil fuel industry.

All our interviews reflect the views and opinions of the interviewees.

Visit our new SDG14 hub to explore the latest content related to life below water.

About Bill McKibben (Co-Founder, 350.org)

Bill Mckibben
Bill McKibben wrote the first book for a general audience on climate change (The End of Nature, 1989) and co-founded 350.org, a global grassroots climate organization. He is the recipient of the Gandhi Peace Award, the Right Livelihood Award, and is Schumann Distinguished Scholar in environmental studies at Middlebury College in Vermont.

Lucy Frisch

Author: Lucy Frisch

Lucy Frisch is a Senior Marketing Manager leading the Content Marketing Programmes team, based in the New York office. She has a passion for storytelling and works to humanize the research published across Springer Nature with a focus on the researcher experience.

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