Environmental policy subject of Mitchell Lecture

“As we’re about to graduate from a pioneering initiative to permanent center of sustainability, it only feels right to have Bill [Clark] to illuminate the road ahead,” said David Hart, the director of the Senator George J. Mitchell Center.

On Oct. 2, guests gathered in the Hauck Auditorium for the 2014 Mitchell Lecture on Sustainability, which featured keynote speaker Dr. William C. Clark, an American ecologist and environmental policy analyst, and Harvey Brooks, professor of international science, public policy and human development at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

First and foremost, Clark’s lecture weighed heavily on the importance of sustainable development, while asking the question, “How can we improve the well-being of humanity while at the same time protect the planet?”

Clark explored this question by describing his methods of how to produce “influential knowledge” in four concepts: collaborative enterprise, systems enterprise, adaptive enterprise and political enterprise. These are points of systems thinking that Clark has worked on with colleagues of the Nation Academia of Science that aim to aid people in successful sustainability projects, as well as gain dedicated supporters on the road to finding solutions to real-world sustainability problems.

“This isn’t a cookbook, it isn’t that we know how to do this, but some properties that relatively successful efforts seem to share broadly, and therefore perhaps form a foundation on which any of us could base our next effort in our own community and in our own business, in our government circles to move-on to the next step without making all of the mistakes of the past for ourselves,” Clark said.

For his first point of collaboration enterprise, he described the importance of hearing the needs of others rather than drowning them out with your voice. Clark gave an example from his time in Kenya when he suggested that the locals build bigger windows, which would allow the smoke to leave their homes, but described a look of pity on their faces when they told him that this installment would leave room for leopards to enter the home. On this point, Clark also suggested that people get away from scientific communication and jargon and learn to use simple words.

As for systems enterprise, or to a businessperson, “project management,” Clark described the hype of taking on the “cool” or “unique” jobs in science and how it limits scientists from solving a problem in a particular area of society. Clark noted how he thinks this will be one of the greater challenges at the Solution Center at UMaine: “How well you can assemble and sustain teams that are not only doing the really interesting stuff, but the mundane conductivity.” He gave an example of how a team could spend hours to put together “cool features” of a car but not actually get down to the mundane work that makes the car move from point “A” to point “B.”

Next he described his idea of adaptive enterprise, which encourages people to adapt to ways of learning faster, rather just building their work around simply getting answers. He encourages us to be flexible in our experiments because “they never work out the way they’re suppose to.” Clark also critiqued “risk aversion,” a type of psychology that he believes is often taught in our universities, and basically says, “Only do the safe stuff.” Adaptive enterprise also refers to assessing the future outcomes, Clark used the dams of Maine as an example, and how some people probably wish they came with a “takedown” manual.

Lastly, he touched upon political enterprise. He stated how people engaged in the science world are heavily fostered on facts, but almost all of the knowledge that is fostered is born political.

“Sustainability at its core is a redistribution agenda,” Clark said. “It’s saying, ‘Are we benefiting in the present at the cost of future generations and if so, should we change that?’”

Clark believes that in a political argument, these facts are the biggest “weapon” one can bring to the table, but often people don’t like the political aspects of the facts that are set forth because there is a suspicion of a hidden agenda for the “enemy.”

In this realm of political enterprise, Clark thinks that universities should at least be granted “safe spaces,” where students can do work without living in fear of having a grant taken away or any of the sorts for doing something wrong.

Clark spoke a bit about shuttle diplomacy, which he says is a characteristic of people who willingly spend their time and energy doing the hard work of looking for cooperative solutions between people whose natural tendency is not to listen to one another. He then answered a couple questions asked by members in the audience and turned the microphone over to Senator George Mitchell.

Mitchell brought out his snide sense of humor, poking fun at Clark, who lives in Boston, over the long history of the relationship between Maine and Massachusetts. He also joked about one of his two siblings in the audience, Paul Mitchell, who has the UMaine baseball batting pavilion dedicated in his name. Mitchell joked that Paul began his baseball career by hitting triples in his first two at-bats, only to get picked off third base both times.

On a more serious note, Mitchell added to the discussion on sustainability. He expressed deep disappointment toward those officials who are in the denial of science or discredit science discovery in order to protect their political position.

Mitchell added to Clark’s cooperative enterprise note by discussing the barriers that impede the efforts from connecting knowledge to action, particularly when one fails to listen to and understand another’s ideas before imposing their own thoughts. Speaking from his own experience of dealing with issues as senate majority leader, conflict-resolution in N. Ireland or the Middle East or conflict in Maine, he expresses that he has tried his best to always find a way to work together.

Mitchell thanked the scholars and faculty that have been making a difference in the realm sustainability by their efforts of “articulating a common vision, by building partnerships, by focusing on the needs of others and listening to and respecting others- in particular those with whom you disagree,” Mitchell said.

“You’re helping to create a brighter future for Maine, the nation and the world.”

The lecture was sponsored by the Senator George J. Mitchell center for Sustainability Solution, Maine EPSCoR and the National Science Foundation.

Read more here: http://mainecampus.com/2014/10/05/environmental-policy-subject-of-mitchell-lecture/
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