A Utah State University professor in the College of Natural Resources recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to inform lawmakers of the latest data on climate change.
Zhao Ma, assistant professor in USU’s Department of Environment and Society, was one of about 30 scientists from across the nation selected for participation in the second annual Climate Science Day on Capitol Hill on Feb. 1, according to a recent USU news release.
This year’s event, designed to expose members of Congress and their staffs to accurate climate science from a variety of experts, was sponsored by 10 scientific societies and organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, and others.
Ma was among four academicians selected to represent NEON, the National Ecological Observatory Network funded by the National Science Foundation. USU is a member organization in the massive coast-to-coast network.
Jim MacMahon, dean of USU’s College of Science, chairs NEON’s board of directors and was an author of the original NEON proposal submitted to the NSF.
Ma said climate change “is a critical issue facing all of us,” but was unsure of whether Congress would take up climate change legislation in an election year filled with other critical issues like the White House budget.
“Our plan was to ‘put a face’ on climate scientists,” Ma said in an email to The Herald Journal. “And let them know that we’re an ongoing resource they can always call on when they need information. ... In the short amount of time we had, we learned that our job wasn’t to convince legislators to accept our point of view.”
But prior to speaking with lawmakers, the group spent two days strategizing on how to communicate their ideas.
“As scientists, we become immersed in our research and sometimes talk in jargon that’s hard for laypeople to understand,” she said. “The goal with our training was to practice
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sharing scientific information in a clear and concise manner. We can be a helpful resource to busy lawmakers and provide them with access to objective, up-to-date scientific information that will help them as they make policy decisions.”
Ma spent time talking with the local congressional delegation, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, Sen. Mike Lee and U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who represents Utah’s third congressional district.
“These representatives are very concerned about people in our state and how climate affects people’s lives,” Ma said. “For example, each expressed concern about challenges farmers and ranchers face in dealing with drought.”
Ma said in science, it’s important to be open to new ideas and challenge assumptions.
“I think regardless of how urgent we believe the issue of climate change is, as a society, we need to be prepared for the worst and make sure our agricultural communities and urban residents can be resilient to environmental changes and have the means to adapt to any changes that will affect their livelihood,” Ma said.