AGU Helps Science and Scientists Make a Local Impact


Several students and early career members of AGU have told me that they chose a career path in science for both the excitement of curiosity-driven science and the feeling that science can help them contribute to making the world a better place. Indeed, AGU’s mission includes both promoting discovery in Earth and space science and doing so for the benefit of humanity. Figuring out how to do that second part—benefiting humanity—can be challenging and even frustrating, especially when we are confronting large and urgent problems that need deployment of solutions quickly. Climate change is a good example. Scientific discovery of the Earth climate system has clearly identified an anthropogenic cause for much of the climate change observed during the last several decades or century, and that knowledge is clearly a great benefit, but individuals and communities often struggle to find how they can best contribute to on-the-ground solutions.

Community-engaged science can serve as a fresh, new approach—and it was the hallmark of September’s Science to Action Day in San Francisco, California. This meeting, facilitated by both AGU and the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, was an affiliate event of the larger Global Climate Action Summit, and helped connect science to a larger purpose. The very idea of embedding a science-focused meeting within a larger convening is at the heart of community-engaged science. Science to Action Day facilitated discussions among scientists, business leaders, utility and sustainability managers, nonprofit leaders, as well as leaders in national, state, and local governments. That broad engagement is an important element of community-engaged science and helps foster concrete action.

Fortunately, community-engaged science isn’t entirely new to AGU. The Thriving Earth Exchange, which helped lead AGU’s participation in Science to Action Day, has been facilitating community-engaged science for nearly five years. A growing number of AGU members are engaging with communities and working with decision makers to help communities thrive by increasing science engagement to improve daily life and to confront concerns posed by extreme events, climate change, and natural hazards. In fact, an emerging community of members—also called Science to Action—is organizing a track of scientific sessions and grassroots meetings at the 2018 Fall Meeting that explore all aspects of community-engaged science. In addition, AGU’s recent work in Geohealth was inspired by a broader interest in the health impacts of climate change and other environmental considerations. We are also spurring conversations about what academic institutions can do to acknowledge and reward faculty for participating in activities like community-engaged science, such as convening the panel on tenure and promotions scheduled during Fall Meeting.

In partnership with other professional societies, AGU is promoting and enabling community-engaged science. New meetings, including the Climate Solutions Conferences and the Geoscience and Society Summit, will explore the intersection of Earth and space science and community priorities. And as we celebrate AGU’s Centennial, our commitment to community-engaged science will only increase as new research, findings, and solutions to important real-world issues are proposed.

As I said at Science to Action Day, I believe that we are at a tipping point, where we double down on our commitment to work with communities to co-create solutions to pressing challenges, particularly climate change. As part of the Science to Action Day planning, the program committee developed a comprehensive declaration to address the impacts of climate change in societies across the globe, and invited all participants to sign it. AGU is promoting this declaration as a way of sharing and advancing our commitment to community-engaged science. The declaration is available online for additional signatures, and I hope AGU’s passionate, talented, and involved members will consider adding their signatures.

Signing this declaration would be a great start, but I also urge any member motivated to make the world a better place to explore further at our Science Is Essential website and to take advantage of the numerous opportunities to engage through the many related sessions and events described above for our upcoming Fall Meeting.

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