Last year this time around, I enjoyed sharing my work week with you, and in turn benefitted myself realizing what a fun rollercoaster each day of work brings. Numerous reports, articles, talks, panels, meetings, and staff hires later, I stay as excited and optimistic about our work now as I was one year ago.
We secured several small yet important wins along the way, and I hope you’ll read on to get a flavor of the many areas that the Center for Science and Democracy made progress on. A personal highlight for me was giving a plenary talk at The Wildlife Society annual conference in Pittsburgh where I addressed approximately 1,500 scientists and federal managers on the Perils and Promise of Science in Public Policy. This allowed me to both share why its critical that we demand that our decision makers consider science and evidence in developing public policy solutions that serve the public interest, as well as tease out the inherent challenges in making this proposition a reality.
We saw momentum building on our advocacy to improve the public’s right to know about the health implications (obesity, diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay, etc.) of our current over-consumption of added sugar from not only usual culprits like soda and candy, but also from healthier sounding options like yogurt and whole wheat bread. For this we mobilized thousands of concerned members of the public, scientists and public health professionals to secure an intermediate victory: the FDA supplemented its original proposal to include a line for ‘added sugar’ with a percent daily value requirement for the ubiquitous Nutrition Facts label you see on food packages. The reason a %DV is important is because it helps the consumer find out the sugar content present in a food item in context of the recommended daily limit. Related, on food, after roughly eight months of planning, we convened a group of researchers, community leaders, and policymakers to better understand how science and public health can serve as a stronger ally for low-income communities trying to secure affordable healthy food for themselves and their families.
We fought back against several attacks in Congress on the science base of some of our key health and environmental regulations and protections. In fact, we published a seminal paper in Science to draw attention to how the current attacks corrode the very basis of our regulatory decision making, and why not only people like us, who watchdog these issues, but also scientists and academic institutions across the country should be concerned about the recent developments, and speak up against them. We also released a report and drew attention to the abuse of our country’s open records laws as a way to harass scientists who work on policy-relevant science.
In California, we connected local scientists with five different communities that are wrestling with questions around oil and gas development. The scientists and technical experts we linked with the Los Angeles county towns are helping residents answer questions on how drilling for oil could affect their water quality and resources, soil and air quality, health of their families, and the integrity of their homes and town infrastructure (e.g., through truck traffic and seismic impacts), and what economic and environmental trade offs they should consider as they decide on the fate of resource expansion in their jurisdictions. As an extension of our earlier work on fracking, we released a useful guide for local officials to understand the kinds of regulatory, non-regulatory, and fiscal tools they have at their disposal as they try to reduce the impact of oil and gas development in their localities.
Staying on climate, our analysis and advocacy continued to shine the light on how fossil fuels companies hide behind trade and other groups that obstruct progress on action on climate change, ultimately even driving companies like BP and Shell to publically acknowledge the incongruity of their acceptance of climate change and membership in groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group that opening and covertly develops model legislation to delay any action on climate change. We extended this line of work to expose the workings of the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and its distortion of science in obstructing reforms in our outdated and ineffective chemicals’ policy and regulation.
And remember the climate rally I was so excited about joining in NYC? It surpassed everyone’s expectations; there were almost half a million people in attendance, and it built the momentum for the international climate talks right after as well as public support for forward-looking policies proposed by the White House since, e.g., the Clean Power Plan Rule, proposed measures to cut methane and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) emissions from the oil and natural gas industry, new government standards that will cut U.S. oil use by more than 3.5 million barrels of oil per day by 2030, etc.
And then there are the constants like the annual planning season again. Since you’ve caught me in the midst of another annual planning season, I should share that a few areas of expanded and stronger focus for us in the coming year will be to raise the profile of independent science in public policy as a way to democratizing knowledge; chemicals policy and safety reform; equity and justice; and reinvigorating our 18,000+ strong Science Network by providing engagement and training opportunities for its members; and investing in community-scientist partnerships. If any of you are looking for staying abreast of the science policy issues that affect us on a daily basis, and looking for outlets to become part of the solution, I encourage you to sign up!
But lest you think last year was all work and no play, I’d like to set the record straight. I also helped organize our all-staff retreat, which by all accounts was a huge success, and fun (now how many times have you heard people say they had fun hanging out with their colleagues for 2 days outside of work and they’d like it to be longer next time!); traveled extensively for work and pleasure to places as wide ranging as Duluth, Culver City, Edinburgh, and Oxford; and found rejuvenation in a weekend meditation and yoga retreat, surrounded by the beautiful hills and lakes of western Massachusetts.
In the near term, I’m looking forward to attending a week-long course at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government on Creating Collaborative Solutions. This will be invaluable in helping me expand and strengthen our connections to strategically aligned organizations and partners because the tremendous challenges of our times cannot be solved by one individual, one organization or one government– we need a diversity of committed participants to secure a future that we can be proud of handing over to the care of the next generation.
Start from the beginning – Read Pallavi Phartiyal’s “Week in the Life”