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Don’t Wait. Communicate!

I know of a scientist who wrote that changes in small constituents of the atmosphere-namely carbon dioxide-could greatly influence the heat budget of the Earth. He predicted Arctic temperatures would rise about 8 or 9 degrees Celsius if atmospheric carbon dioxide was increased 2.5 to 3 times its present value. He later became concerned that man-made carbon dioxide pollution could contribute to this warming, and he even published a few books on the subject. So what, right? Everybody knows about global climate change! But the scientist, Svante Arrhenius, presented his initial results, based on considerable calculations, at the Stockholm Physical Society in 1895. We have known about global climate change—and the potential causative factors—for over 100 years. Therefore, I found it surprising that while research on global warming has been out there for over 100 years, most people on the street have only been talking about it for a little over 15 years. Why did it take so long? Why are we only recently taking major steps to combat global climate change? Well, first off, everyone had to make sure the science was in order. Scientists argued vehemently among themselves whether Arrhenius' calculations were correct. Next, the effect had to be noticeable. People who were working in the area of climate change had to see for themselves that, wow, there really was something going on here. However, to attract the interest of the general public, one could argue that the scientists, managers, and policy makers had to communicate their findings effectively. They had to show easily-understandable graphs of the increase in temperature over the last decades; they had to present time-lapse photos of retreating glaciers and shrinking ice shelves; they had to convey data showing animal populations were moving to cooler climates. Once the science was effectively communicated, the interest in the subject snowballed. You probably noticed great leaps of interest in global climate change following the publication of books that were not just found in the dusty stacks of the science library, but in the stores of the mall. I'm sure you noticed great leaps of interest with the premier of Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth, simply a movie of a slide show about science, which opened at major theaters and ranked a 93% approval rating on Rottentomatoes.com! Are you a conservation professional? Are you involved in the science, policy, or management of environmental issues? Do you want to wait 100 years for your findings to make a difference? (My guess is you would probably say "no!" to the latter). If you want to be effective, you will need to learn to work with people. This includes influence, conflict resolution, negotiation and other skills. In my blog over the next couple months, we will discuss a few issues, tips, and stories about working with people—a critical skill for the environmental professional. I hope you'll join us! What do you think? Leave us a comment. ——————– Scott A. Bonar is an Associate Professor at the University of Arizona and Unit Leader of the USGS Arizona Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. He has over 25 years experience conducting award-winning natural resources research for federal and state agencies and private industry. In 2007, Island Press published his book The Conservation Professional's Guide to Working With People, which you can read about at http://workingwithpeoplebook.com.