Saving And Savoring The World

Crocodile - Photo courtesy Ken Weiss © 2013

It was past midnight on a moonless night in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. The Toyota truck jounced along a boulder strewn path in the darkness, astonishing me with what it could take. I was wondering what the two Nile crocodiles in the longbed back were experiencing. We had been up most of the last two nights capturing crocodiles that had wandered out of the Olifants River and belly crawled across the park boundary to take up residence in a tailings pond of a massive open pit phosphorous mine.  The mine bosses wanted the crocs gone. These industrial neighbors to South Africa’s most famous park decided it would be better PR to call in park biologists to relocate the giant reptiles rather than shoot them on site.

The question was whether the crocs would settle into their superior home in the park, or try to migrate back to the silted waters of the mine. Or die trying.  Biologists have long chronicled how animals show a remarkable drive to return to their origins. And so relocating animals is not always a viable option, especially when it comes to apex predators who happen to have a territorial streak, powerful jaws, and more than five dozen teeth. So we were testing this idea, satellite tagging these crocs that had to be moved anyways, and transferring them back within the park to where the Olifants River borders Mozambique. [Read more…]

The Top Ten Qualities Of Scientist (Communicator) Leaders

"Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects." Dalai Lama.
Photo courtesy of Mark J P via Flickr

Over the past few weeks, since we published “Navigating the Rules of Scientific Engagement” in PLOS, the voices of scientist communicators have rung out in blog posts – some personal perspectives and others calls to action. Even more chimed in on Twitter under the hashtag #reachingoutsci. These scientist bloggers are as diverse as their topics. I consider every one of them a leader.

Over the past 12 years as a communication trainer for the Leopold Leadership Program, and as a coach for many scientists, I have observed an intrinsic link between communication and leadership. [Read more…]

Diving The Uttermost Ends Of The Ocean


The Story Behind the Story of My LA Times Sunday Travel Piece

In Sunday’s travel section of the Los Angeles Times, I wrote about a scuba diving expedition to the Forgotten Islands of Indonesia – a place so far flung it took us four days travel to get home. For all 15 of us on this journey, it was a life experience, and, for most of us, a reaffirmation of why we work toward conservation.

The backstory is that Ed Norton Sr. (the father of the actor), an environmental lawyer, businessman and conservationist and his wife Anne Norton who live in Bali, chartered a 100-foot schooner to take a group of conservationists and business folk interested in sustainability to islands so remote, that in some cases, Westerners had not been there for over 20 years.

The trip had dual purposes: To explore the state of the reefs and learn about the communities living on these islands, as well as to have the adventure of a lifetime diving three to four times daily and making something of the experience in our respective ways. A key asset to our trip was Larry Fisher, our cultural guide and an expert in resource conflict mediation, and the official translator for heads of state (including President Obama) visiting Indonesia. [Read more…]

Meaningful Change Is Not For The Timid: A COMPASS Perspective On Jane Lubchenco


This post was originally posted on 13 Dec., 2012.

COMPASS co-founder Jane Lubchenco announced this week that she will leave her position as administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at the end of February.  She will return to her home on the West Coast and resume her life in academia, and with her family.  She is the first woman and first marine ecologist to ever run the science-based agency dedicated to understanding changes in climate, weather, and the oceans, and sustaining coastal and marine resources. Her departure comes exactly four years after she received an unexpected telephone call from the White House asking her to join President Obama’s new team in Washington, D.C.  The call came while she was in Australia on a trip that combined intertidal research with a family holiday – not unusual for scientists who love their work. She flew to Chicago to meet with President-Elect Obama and accepted his invitation to be part of his ‘Science Team.’   With her family’s encouragement, she chose to take the leap — from scientist to policymaker.

I’ve known Jane Lubchenco since the early days of COMPASS in 2000 and witnessed her continuous evolution as a leader. Along the way, we’ve shared many a glass of wine and deep discussions.  In an email to me reflecting on her decision, she showed her true grit. “It is both thrilling and daunting. It’s also surreal right now,” she wrote. “But this seems like an unparalleled opportunity for science, for oceans, for climate. It’s not clear how much I can accomplish, but I am willing to try.” [Read more…]

Hot, Sour, And Breathless

Left to right: David Malakoff, Science; Alok Jha, The Guardian; Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post; Christopher Joyce, NPR; Jim Barry, MBARI; Scott Doney, WHOI; Dave Hutchins, USC; and Anne Cowan, WHOI.

This week, 572 scientists gathered in Monterey for the Third International Symposium on the Oceans in a High CO2 World. The numbers mark a sharp increase from the first symposium in 2004 in Paris where the community of ocean acidification scientists numbered only 124. And, this time, the mood was more urgent.  Atmospheric CO2 is entering the ocean and it is acidifying fast… the ocean is 30% more acidic than prior to industrialization. Combine this with rising ocean temperatures and decreasing oxygen levels (which cause dead zones) and, in the words of Swedish scientist Sam Dupont, you have an ocean that is increasingly, “hot, sour and breathless,” for its inhabitants. What these changes mean – from effects on plankton to shellfish and fish to entire marine ecosystems – was the subject of the meeting. [Read more…]

Living In The New Normal

Nancy Baron (second from right) with moderator Frank Sesno (second from left) and fellow panelists Drew Westen and Randy Olsen (l-r) share insights on how thoughtful communications and leadership can be used to enact change in a changing world. Photo by Daniel Bayer of the Aspen Environment Institute via @AIEnvironment on Twitter.

The author with moderator Hari Sreenivasan and fellow panelists Frank Sesno and Randy Olsen (from left to right) share insights on how communications and leadership can be used to enact change in a changing world. Photo by Daniel Bayer of the Aspen Institute via Twitter.

How do you get people to change the world? The world is changing already, with and without our help… climate change, population, consumption, and extinction are all on the rise. But… imagine if every academic environmental scientist could communicate why their science matters – to the public, policy makers, journalists, and their own communities – now that would change the world!

I posed that thought to over 200 environmental experts – academics, journalists, pundits, activists, decision makers, futurists, and citizens – gathered in our plenary at the 2012 Aspen Environmental Forum entitled, “How to Get People to Change the World.” With all this change, what we were really there to discuss was: What does it mean to be living in “the new normal?” Thought-leaders pointed out the many problems and challenges we’re facing, but they also kept the mood upbeat with the inclusion of bright spots, solutions and constructive discussion about how to chart the course ahead. And, in my plenary in particular, how communications and leadership are critical to shaping it.

My topic was “Communicate Like a Leader” and the link between communications and leadership. Communications is central to the enterprise of “would-be” change agents – whether breaching the boundaries of disciplines or expertise, or amassing votes, or mobilizing action. Good communicators can articulate a vision, focus a debate, and cut to the essence of their argument. They can make their points compelling – even to those who disagree. And they can make people sit up, take notice, and care. They know how to reach their audience by making it personal, addressing the “so what?” and speaking from the heart. We experienced this first hand with the brilliant roster of speakers. [Read more…]

Story – A Medium For Change

Nancy in the classroom at the Huntsman Aquarium in St. Andrews, New Brunswick.  Photo by Meghan Miner

At the Huntsman Marine Science Centre and Aquarium in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, two harbor seals gaze through the glass at 20 marine ecologists and me. This underwater room is a fitting setting for a three-day communications workshop for senior academics, post docs and grad students in the Canadian Healthy Oceans Network or CHONe. Their research focuses on the diversity of marine life in Canada’s three oceans – the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific – and ranges from the deepest ocean bottom vents to the intertidal zone and the atmosphere.

With me are Cheryl Kawaja and Lisa Johnson from CBC, and Hannah Hoag and John Rennie, two experienced freelancers. Journalists are professional storytellers and we are united in our efforts to tell the scientists one true thing: what people most want from them are stories. [Read more…]