Farewell to Edward L. Miles (1939-2016): Friend, Colleague, Force for Science-based Policy

May 13, 2016 | 4:07 pm
Peter Frumhoff
Former Director of Science and Policy and Chief Climate Scientist

I was saddened this week to learn of the passing of the remarkable Ed Miles, who died on May 7 at his home in Seattle, Washington.

I first came to know Ed in the late 1990s, when we were both developing early regional assessments of climate change impacts in the western United States. Drawn to tackling big environmental problems, Ed was fearless about working across disciplines—a marine and climate scientist with a Ph.D. in international relations; a professor who sparked a passion for ocean conservation and climate resilience in countless students over a long career; and a tireless contributor to science-based environmental policy, from the Law of the Sea Convention to fisheries governance to climate change.

Ed joined the Union of Concerned Scientists’ board in the summer of 2008. Throughout his tenure, he was a gentle and supportive presence at board meetings. Consistently humble, he rarely spoke of his accomplishments: one of the first four African-Americans to be inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, in 2003; fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; international leader in marine and climate science policy.

Photo Credit: University of Washington

Edward L. Miles (1939-2016). Photo: University of Washington

His many contributions to climate science and policy included lead authorship of a seminal paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2006. There, he laid out a compelling vision for a federally supported National Climate Service, akin to the National Weather Service, to ensure that climate science serves local and national information needs to anticipate, plan for, and adapt to climate variability and change.

Former NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco ran with the idea, all the way to Congress in 2011, where it passed the Senate and was denied by the House. While some elements of Ed’s vision are now slowly taking shape, the political atmosphere is still fraught for meaningful Congressional action on sensible policies to protect our nation from climate change.

A great and fitting tribute to Ed would be to muster the political courage to stand for a true national climate service under a future administration and Congress.

My colleagues at UCS are also feeling Ed’s loss. From former board chair (and Harvard professor of biological oceanography) Jim McCarthy:

He was a very gentle and humble person with strong convictions—and a fierce advocate for wise use of our oceans. He played a major role in international negotiations around sustainable ocean use and fisheries. I was thrilled when he agreed to join the board.

From Director of the Center for Science and Democracy Andy Rosenberg:

He mentored so many people at the University of Washington, bringing them into ocean science and policy. That was a tribute to his gentle nature—he had a way of talking to students and drawing them out. He was a force in the fisheries world.

Ed founded the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington, where he was Bloedel Professor Emeritus of Marine and Public Affairs. In his absence, the group will carry out Ed’s mission to build science-based climate resilience for communities.

Ed, we’ll greatly miss you.

If you are moved to honor Ed’s legacy, his family requests making a donation to the funds set up at the University of Washington: the Ed Miles Memorial Scholarship Fund, in support of students researching the effects of climate on environment and society, and/or the aforementioned Climate Impacts Group.