Scientists Advocating for Climate Action in Oregon: Why we are stepping up and speaking out

June 5, 2019 | 11:52 am
Photo: BLM Oregon
Sharon Delcambre & Frank D. Granshaw

We are two climate scientists, currently teaching about climate change at two universities in Portland, Oregon. We are also two concerned scientists who understand the severe threats that climate change is posing to human well-being, as well as two concerned parents (and one concerned grandfather) who are worried about the future of climate extremes that our children and grandchildren must bear. As members of the UCS Science Network, this year we have used our voices as scientists and experts to speak with Oregon state legislators and advocate for strong climate action in Oregon. Here are our stories.

Sharon Delcambre’s Story: Inspiring (and inspired by) frontline students

I am a climate scientist, teacher, mother, and North Portland resident for the past 6 years.  I am a physical scientist through and through, and worked hard to gain the credentials to call myself a scientist (MS in atmospheric science, PhD researching the impacts of global climate change on weather systems). I am currently a 2-year Visiting Instructor of Environmental Studies at the University of Portland. In my prior position at Portland Community College, I spearheaded development of a “Global Climate Change” course taught online and in-person that reaches hundreds of students each year.

Some of the science I teach is about how climate change is a real threat to our collective ability to live the good life we all desire.  Globally, carbon dioxide concentrations are higher than they have been during the past 800,000 years, primarily due to human emissions.  Where I live in the Pacific Northwest, we are witnessing less winter snowpack, leading to water shortages and increased risk of damaging summertime wildfires.  We see impacts to our fish and other marine life from changes in ocean and river temperature and chemistry.  We see the very personality of our region changing, as our abundant waters, forests, and farmlands irreversibly change.

Upon consideration of these depressing statistics, most of my students immediately ask for solutions.  And thus began my own journey of learning about the intersectional nature of climate change.  While solutions such as a decarbonized electrical grid and solar panels for everyone are powerful and worthy aspirational goals, any solution must address those most vulnerable populations in our society.  For instance, in the Pacific Northwest, just like in most regions globally, “frontline” communities are the first to experience harm due to our changing climate.  In the 2018 National Climate Assessment, Pacific Northwest frontline communities are defined as “tribes and indigenous peoples, those most dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods, and the economically disadvantaged.”   People in these communities do not have as many resources with which to prepare or respond to climate changes and are thus inherently vulnerable.  In fact, climate change has been said to be a multiplier of injustice, compounding co-existing gender, racial, or economic injustices that exist in our communities.

I tell my students that whether they fight for gender, racial, or climate justice they are helping prevent climate change, and I truly believe this.

I tell my students that whether they fight for gender, racial, or climate justice they are helping prevent climate change, and I truly believe this.   As a white woman with economic and educational privilege, I see my role as more than just a scientist.  If I want to be an ally for those with less privilege, I need to infuse this social justice lens into my classroom, but also step outside of my classroom and work to affect change in our society. And as a mother of a young child, I want to advance solutions that will help to avoid some of the worst climate impacts my child may have to live with.

That is why I am finally stepping up to publicly ask my legislators for action on climate and to serve as a resource on the climate science I know so well.  That is why when Union of Concerned Scientists asked me to sign an expert letter in March, urging the Oregon legislature to take strong climate action in 2019, I did it.  Then, when they asked me to visit Salem to speak with my legislators in April 2019 and again in May 2019, I did it.

The Oregon Clean Energy Jobs Bill addresses climate change at the root cause by capping carbon emissions in the state of Oregon in order to reduce the state’s emissions to 80% below 1990 values by 2050.  But it does not forget about the frontline communities in our state and invests profits in low-income and rural communities, as well as communities of color, affected workers, and Oregon’s tribal communities.

While it was my own frontline students at Portland Community College who first alerted me to this bill in spring 2018, it is the Union of Concerned Scientists who has enabled me to make a difference as a scientist.  They have kept me abreast of updates from Salem and told me what I can do to support the work my legislators are doing.  They educated me on how the political process works and where I can play a role.

Frank Granshaw’s Motivations for Climate Advocacy: Being a glacial geologist and a grandfather

Frank Granshaw delivers a letter from 71 Oregon scientists calling for strong climate action in 2019 to Logan Gilles, the Chief of staff to Oregon state senator Michael Denbrow, the co-chair of the Oregon Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction.

I’m a retired community college geology instructor now doing climate and sustainability work with Portland State University and several community organizations in Portland Oregon.  I have also done climate advocacy work with the UCS Science Network and have participated in several UN climate conferences as a citizen observer.  Being originally trained as a physicist and a Methodist minister, I eventually went on to become a geologist and geoscience educator. As a researcher my work has been in glacier monitoring, glacier/climate interactions, and the design and use of virtual reality in geoscience education.  During my 40+ years of teaching, much of my work has revolved around helping non-scientists understand, appreciate, and care for earth systems.

During a recent visit to the state capital with UCS, a legislative staffer asked me what brought me to the capital.  I explained that I was there delivering to individual legislators a letter signed by 71 Oregon scientists supporting the Clean Energy Jobs bill (or HB 2020).  She next asked what motivated me to do this.  I answered simply that I’m a glacial geologist and a grandfather.  At which point she simply smiled and said “that definitely explains it.”

In my work as a glacial geologist in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve been part of a community monitoring the decline of the region’s numerous alpine glaciers.  Some of the recent work being done by this community indicates that at current rates we may see entire ranges like the Olympics and North Cascades rendered ice-free by the latter half of this century.  While concern about this trend may seem like a nostalgic luxury, there are a host of unsettling issues involving water resource management, forest and stream health, natural hazard mitigation, and rising sea levels that come along with it.

As an elder geoscientist, I am constantly seeking ways to create a better legacy for my grandchildren and their peers.

As a grandfather, I’m aware that what I’m seeing as a glacial geologist is part of a larger package of escalating climate changes that my twelve year old granddaughter and six year old grandson will have to contend with as they become adults.  Like many grandparents, it is hard to look into my grandchildren’s eyes and not feel a sense of sadness about the world they may inherit because of our inaction.  So as an elder geoscientist, I am constantly seeking ways to create a better legacy for my grandchildren and their peers.

For this reason I started visiting the Oregon legislature with the UCS Science Network about two years ago.  It was a very new and somewhat intimidating experience to talk with legislators and their staffers.  Like other science types who have engaged in advocacy, I can find it frustrating that I have to reduce complex issues and concerns to “elevator speeches.”  But at the same time, I’ve learned a lot about the legislative process and how to listen to the spectrum of different and often competing voices.  More than once I’ve been surprised by unexpected instances of genuine support and all the serendipitous windows into being able to “talk across the divide.”

During the past year much of my conversations with Oregon legislators have been about the Clean Energy Jobs bill (HB 2020).  I am a strong supporter of this legislation in large part because of my experience with the UN climate negotiation process.  Although process at the international level has slowed to a crawl, many stakeholders feel a sense of hopefulness about change coming from the subnational level.  I believe that the Oregon Clean Energy Jobs Bill is a critical example of such a movement.

Advocating for more scientists to step up and speak out

Through our advocacy as scientists, we have learned some lessons we hope will help our fellow scientists to step up and speak out for science-based solutions to climate change. On the practical level: wear comfortable shoes! Stepping up for advocacy means you do a lot of walking around the state capital.

Expect surprises and enjoy what those surprises can teach you. Spend some time looking at the photos and other memorabilia on the walls of legislators’ offices. These will tell you a lot about what they value and make for interesting casual conversation that you can connect to your issues and values.

As you speak out, you have to practice and get comfortable with short conversations, sharing your story authentically, and be capable of speaking to legislators’ real concerns quickly and succinctly. As scientists we are comfortable speaking in detail about methods, complexities, and uncertainties. UCS has resources to help you hone in on your message and share your expertise in simple and credible ways. [For example, see the resources in the Science Advocacy Toolkit, like “How to Give a One-Minute Pitch” to your elected official.]

Oregon’s Clean Energy Jobs bill has passed out of the Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction and is being considered in the Joint Ways and Means Committee. We will continue to raise our voice as scientists and urge Oregon legislators to pass this bill and show the leadership that our country and the world needs to see: that solutions are within our reach if we work together.

We look forward to many more opportunities to create a peaceful, sustainable future by serving as a resource on climate science for UCS, for our communities, and for our legislators.

We encourage you to try it too – if not us, then who will?

Sharon Delcambre is an atmospheric scientist currently teaching Fluid Earth systems classes in the Environmental Studies Department at the University of Portland and Portland Community College.  She believes in the importance of hands-on learning, field trips, and community-based learning and loves watching students make the connection between the theory and application while in the field. In off hours, she is most often found in her garden, walking her extra-large dog, or exploring local parks with her family and friends.

Frank D. Granshaw PhD, is an adjunct professor of Geology and University Studies and Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Sustainable Solutions at Portland State University. He is retired Geology Faculty at Portland Community College, and active in the National Association for Geoscience Teachers, Geological Society of America, American Geophysical Union, and Northwest Glaciologists. He considers himself a fiercely proud Oregon native, an insufferably proud grandfather, and an occasional beekeeper, gardener, carpenter, hiker, and general wanderer.

The UCS Science Network is an inclusive community of more than 25,000 scientists, engineers, economists, and other experts, focused on changing the world for the better. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the authors alone.