Our ocean and coasts affect us — and we affect them. Almost 40 percent of the country’s population lives in coastal shoreline counties. And these counties contribute more than 9 trillion dollars to the U.S. economy. But there are many challenges facing our coasts, like climate change, sea level rise, more intense storms, and population growth. So we need to make good decisions today to help our coasts continue to thrive tomorrow. This is the third podcast in a three-part series from the U.S. Global Change Research Program that explores how we make these decisions. In this episode, a panel of government experts share their unique perspectives and experiences regarding the science of coastal decision making, and how the future could look if effective decision making is adopted.
Though home to almost 40% of the U.S. population, coastal areas account for less than 10% of the total land in the contiguous United States. View Transcript.
Dr. Kandis Boyd is the Director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program. The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States, and its watershed spans 64,000 across portions of six states and the District of Columbia.
Dr. Lisa Clough is the Ocean Section Head at the National Science Foundation. She’s been fortunate to always have a coast nearby- growing up near Lake Erie and then migrating to locations along the Long Island Sound, the Inner and Outer Banks of North Carolina, and the mighty Potomac River.
Dr. Libby Larson is a support scientist in the Carbon Cycle & Ecosystems Office at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. She represents NASA in several interagency working groups at the U.S. Global Change Research Program, helping to envision and coordinate federal government research investments. She is also the coordinator for the North American Carbon Program, a community of practice for researchers studying carbon sources and sinks in North America and its adjacent oceans.
Dr. Gyami Shrestha led the U.S. Carbon Cycle Science Program Office from 2011-2022, catalyzing multi-disciplinary interagency opportunities and collaborations spanning terrestrial, oceanic, atmospheric and societal dimensions of carbon, climate change and pertinent environmental themes with the U.S. and global science community. She currently serves as program director at Lynker Corporation for its carbon/greenhouse gas portfolio and NOAA Center for Environmental Modeling contract.
This is the third installment of a three-part series exploring how we make decisions about developing, protecting, and conserving our coastal areas. The podcasts were developed collaboratively with the U.S. Global Change Research Program's Coasts Interagency Group and funded by the Adaptation Sciences (AdSci) Program in NOAA's Climate Program Office.
The three-part series explores how we make decisions about developing, protecting, and conserving our coastal areas -- home to about 40 percent of the U.S. population. In the first episode of this series, we learned about equity and justice in coastal planning. In the second episode, we explored what the latest behavioral science research can tell us about how we make conservation and environmental decisions. The series was developed in collaboration with the Coasts Interagency Group of the U.S. Global Change Research Program — this is a federal program mandated by Congress to coordinate research and investments in understanding the human and natural forces shaping the global environment and their impacts on society. Members of the program include people from NOAA, along with NASA, the National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, and other agencies. The series was funded by Adaptation Sciences, or AdSci for short, a group out of NOAA's Climate Program Office.
HOST: This is the NOAA Ocean Podcast, I'm Marissa Anderson. Today, we are rounding out a three part series from the Coasts Interagency Group of the U.S. Global Change Research Program. The series shines a light on the process of decision making for developing, protecting, and conserving our coastal areas. The first episode discussed equity and justice in coastal planning, and the second explored what behavioral science research can tell us about making conservation and environmental decisions. In the final installment, a panel of government experts share their unique perspectives and experiences regarding the science of coastal decision making, and how the future could look if effective decision making is adopted. Our panelists include Dr. Lisa Clough, Ocean Section Head at the National Science Foundation; Dr. Gyami Shrestha who serves as program director at Lynker Corporation for its carbon/greenhouse gas portfolio and NOAA Center for Environmental Modeling contract; and Dr. Libby Larson, a scientist in the Carbon Cycle & Ecosystems Office at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. They are interviewed by Dr. Kandis Boyd, Director of the Environmental Protection Agency's Chesapeake Bay Program.
Be sure to check out our show notes for more information on our guests, the previous episodes in this series, and links for more information. Let's jump right into today's discussion.
KANDIS BOYD: Welcome to the podcast. My name is Kandis Boyd, and I am so excited that we have an awesome panel of dynamic women with us today. We have Lisa, we have Libby, and we have Gyami. So let's start with our conversation. So here's the first question for our panelists. Panelists, why do you think it's important to understand the science of decision-making along the coast? And, having considered this for a while now, what are some key things to include that support effective decision-making? Let's go in alphabetical order by last name. So Lisa, the floor is yours.
LISA CLOUGH: Great, thank you so much, Kandis. I love the coast, right? And I think most people do. It's so beautiful, but it's so dynamic. And unfortunately in this climate change environment, it's only going to continue to get more dynamic. So we have to get to a place with safe and effective decision-making, so we can have a safe and inclusive coast. I think for me, trained as a scientist, what I really now think a lot about is recognizing the emotional side of those decisions that are being made. Not just the giving people more facts to get them to change their behaviors. Because to change behavior, making what we need to do to get to that safe and inclusive coast happen, it is so important to understand the individuals and the decisions that they're making based on emotions.
KANDIS BOYD: Lisa, I couldn't have said it better that this is not just a scientific issue, but it's also emotional and it's also behavioral. So when we give the facts, we need to make sure that we understand all of the above. Thank you so much. Let's go to our next panelist. Libby, what are your thoughts?
LIBBY LARSON: Well, the first thing that comes to my mind is that part of the reason that this is such an important question is that I believe more than the majority of people globally live pretty close to coastal areas. We're really talking about decisions that are affecting huge swaths of populations and peoples and communities. So it's really from that point of view, a crux of where that decision-making is going to happen. Then on the other side, in thinking about the effects of climate change that are happening, coasts are one of the frontlines that are going to be experiencing, and have already been experiencing, some really dramatic changes to the environment due to climate change and other factors. So those two things combined, I think, are part of what makes coasts themselves specifically important. And then thinking about the context of, well, how do you make decisions based on different types of communities, different communities in different areas, communities that are experiencing different impacts. Not all coastal areas are going to be experiencing the same issues. So there are lots of local and regional things that need to be taken into consideration.
Great points. Libby, I want to touch on what you just said, that when we think about coasts, coasts are not a monolith. Coastal communities are unique in terms of their needs, in terms of their resources, and also the effects that they are feeling as a result of climate change. So thank you so much. Gyami, what are your thoughts?
GYAMI SHRESTHA: Thanks, Kandis, and I wholly agree with what Lisa and Libby just said. I personally, was born in a landlocked country, so coasts are really sacred to me. I jump at any opportunity to visit coasts in different areas of the United States whenever I can. Coasts are vital to millions, billions, really around the world. For many parts of the world, coasts are needed for business purposes, for importing food, and for exporting food. So there are so many aspects of coasts that many people are not thinking about, in addition to anything that we do (like, you know, going there to get a tan, or to go have fun in the ocean). When thinking about decision making, we need to be thinking about all these factors.
Coasts are vital ecosystems supporting vital life on earth, storing carbon, promoting sequestration of carbon (blue carbon), and removing carbon. And they're a vital component of the climate system. So we need to understand connections between each and every component in this system. We need to pay attention to also equity, justice and diversity. When developing any decision-making plan for any kind of project, activity, or development that we need to carry out or that anyone's trying to plan in the coast, we need to be careful that the decision making processes are inclusive of the impact of the environment. We need to understand both the co-benefits and also the tradeoffs of any environmental solutions in regard to both the impacts to the local people and communities, and also the local environmental ecosystems and biodiversity.
KANDIS BOYD: Yeah, you mentioned a really good point that it's not just one aspect that we need to look at, it's the intersectionality of so many things. When we think about coasts, coasts are important from an economic point of view, coasts are important from an environmental point of view. And then as you said before, we also need to think about DEI, which is diversity, equity, and inclusion as well. So thank you so much. All right, we're going to move to our next question. Question number two: you all work for different agencies. Could you give an example of a project or program, ideally, with ties to the coast that includes input from different groups? And again, we'll go in alphabetical order. So let me first start with Lisa.
LISA CLOUGH: Great, thanks again, Kandis. I'm going to talk about a fairly new program for the National Science Foundation, which is where I'm at. We refer to it as "CoPe", which is short for coastlines and people. What we're doing with CoPe is funding hubs of convergent efforts focused on solving a problem for a particular coastal area. And the unique thing about our CoPe hubs is that we're looking to bring together cutting-edge social and natural science, and we're requiring that there be a component of broadening participation within each of the hubs. So those "how do people behave" questions are in the mix. The "how does the landscape change in the face of this very dynamic area that we're talking about, the coast". And I do want to say that our coasts are both Great Lakes as well as ocean coasts. So we have lots of coasts within the United States. And these coastal hubs, these CoPe hubs, will be addressing problems from mega-cities to rural communities to "how do we include indigenous ways of knowing". I can't wait to see what they wind up coming up with. Our oldest CoPe hubs are only approaching the end of their first year. So we're really excited to see where they're going to take us and change the transformative social and natural science, but also build communities and build trust.
KANDIS BOYD: Lisa, that CoPe program sounds like an awesome, awesome opportunity to broaden participation. And I really liked what you said that the CoPe program is more than just our coast on the east and the west coast. I was born and raised in Chicago, so I'm glad you mentioned the Great Lakes, because Chicago is right on Lake Michigan. But also we have various communities. We have the mega-cities that you mentioned. We have Indigenous, uh, tribes and groups that call the coast their home. And then we have a lot of rural populations as well. So understanding how each "copes" with our coastline is really important. So thank you, Lisa. Now let's go to Gyami. What are your thoughts?
GYAMI SHRESTHA: So, I would say there are so many good examples. I don't work for a particular federal program, but I'm aware of several excellent programs that do include input from different groups. In the past, since my involvement is mainly with scientific communities, such programs have done a really good job in soliciting input from scientists and different scientific institutions during the process of formulating the groundwork to establish research programs along the coast. I do have to comment that some of these programs may not have done such a good job in soliciting or actively including feedback from local communities or local groups. But I'm glad that this is changing. Federal agencies and many funders, companies, and organizations have this rising awareness of the fact that local communities have to be included. And like you said, Indigenous communities have to be part of these discussions and have to be part of the solution development where those indigenous communities live, if those activities are taking place there. And again, I won't mention any specific project or program, but those are my two cents on this topic.
KANDIS BOYD: Thank you so much, Gyami. You really brought up a good point that, even though we have a lot of federal programs that are working on expanding and going into communities, we also need partners. We need partners from our academic research institutions, and then we also have research centers around the country that are fueling this effort as well. So I like what you said that we really need to think about the end user, which is actually the local community. So we need to think about the various ways that we can contribute to the communities and who our partners will be before, during, and after the entire process. So thank you. Alright, let's go to our next question. Our question is, please give an example of a federal project that you think effectively includes stakeholders. What do you like about it and do you think it's applicable to other places or scales? And again, we'll start in alphabetical order. Lisa, the floor is yours.
LISA CLOUGH: Great. I'm going to use an example from one of my sister agencies. So I just love NOAA Sea Grant. So National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, their Sea Grant program has really put stakeholders front and center, and they've done it with really three thrusts. They have a research emphasis, so they do involve those academic partners and community partners, but it's in research that is directed towards the problems of the coast. They have an education piece, and some of it is about training undergrads and grad students (they have some amazing fellowship programs that the Sea Grant program sponsors) but they also do education and they do outreach within the community. So they have education practitioners associated with each of the Sea Grant offices. And finally they have an underappreciated, in my opinion, corps of extension agents: the NOAA Sea Grant offices; there's one for each of the states. So it is at a local level, even though it's a federal program. Those extension agents might be someone with extensive experience in fisheries or aquaculture. And so they're available for the community to interact with and to really get to those coastal activities that need expert opinions. And those extension agents are there for the community, for the stakeholders when it comes to solving real problems that are happening throughout our very dynamic coasts.
KANDIS BOYD: Thank you so much, Lisa. I'm a former employee of NOAA, myself, specifically OAR [Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research]. And I can tell you this three-pronged approach for Sea Grant has had a really impactful presence in a lot of our communities. You said that you have to have a research emphasis, you need to have an education piece, especially with practitioners, and then you also need to have a corps of extension agents that have boots on the ground at the local level, on the state level so that they can make sure that many of these programs are executed. So thank you so much. Alright. Libby, the floor is yours. What are your thoughts?
LIBBY LARSON: Well, I'm going to do something similar to what Lisa did and talk about a program at a sister agency to mine. Um, and that's actually at her agency, NSF. It is not a program that's specifically associated with coasts, but they do have a cross directorate program, so it involves many different disciplines, called Navigating the New Arctic. And they have done quite a lot of really important and exemplary work in figuring out how to better serve the needs of not just stakeholders but rights-holders. So Indigenous peoples in Arctic regions across the world have more than just a stake, but they actually have a right to the land that they live on. And so the Navigating the New Arctic program has done some really important work in terms of figuring out steps that can be taken to de-colonialize what used to be quite extractive science, where researchers would come in from the south, study something, write a report, just give it to somebody and hope that it got used in some decision-making context.
Instead, [Navigating the New Arctic is] thinking about the fact that really producing usable and useful knowledge involves, as we've mentioned before, really engaging with and collaborating with the communities that are relevant to the places where the research is going to happen and what it means. But the thing is, those types of research and research to inform decision-making in that way doesn't... those relationships don't just happen overnight. So what I think is especially admirable about the Navigating the New Arctic program is that they have set up a sort of community clearinghouse for helping to connect researchers with all of the relevant groups and people who are interested and decision makers in the region. They are given actual money to work together to develop research proposals and plans about what is going to be most impactful for them in their decision making and the choices that they have in front of them. And that's a big shift, I think, in terms of thinking about funding research just generally and especially from the federal science perspective.
KANDIS BOYD: You made an excellent point, Libby, that I really want to touch on. And that is, even though we're doing scientific work, it's all about relationships and specifically providing information in an easy to understand manner so that decision-makers can make those very important decisions. So thank you. So as I'm looking at the time, it's time for us to wrap up, but I want to hear from each of our panelists one more time. So here is our final question. Fast forward 10 years, what will our world look like if we adopt effective decision-making tactics? So we'll start with Lisa.
LISA CLOUGH: And I'm going to start off with a bit of a downer. Ten years from now, because we didn't change in the last 10 years, an unfortunate truth is some people on the coast are not going to be able to be home 10 years from now. We are locked into change. So to me, the effective decision-making, what we have to get to is what we've been touching on: developing the relationships so that we can have effective transitions. We're not going to be able to fight everywhere, so we're going to have to adapt. To make effective decisions to get to the transitions and to get us to effective adaptation, that is going to require that trust and that respect and that justice piece that we've been talking about. So I think by understanding how everyone makes decisions, getting to a point where it's "what's in it for us", not "what's in it for me" is really going to be critical for us to, to get to a better place. And I know we can do it. Humans can change their behavior really quickly. So if we got one another's back, we're going to get there. So maybe that's a good ending point a bit on a high note, rather than the bummer that I started out with.
KANDIS BOYD: Well, I do think that's a high note because it's recognizing that this is not just a science challenge, it's a people challenge, and like you said, the word that I love that you used was "trust". It's about building trust in our communities so that we can make informed decisions to move forward. So thank you, Lisa. Next I'm going to Libby. Libby, what are your thoughts?
LIBBY LARSON: Similarly to Lisa's answer, I hope that in 10 years we, all as a community across all different kinds of levels (whether we're talking about the federal government or at state and local governments as well), will be really learning how to better have all kinds of relationships together to be able to make decisions that are more just and equitable and solve the problems that we're facing (which in fact, as Lisa pointed out, are in many places quite challenging). I think recently one thing that I've been thinking a lot about, and actually it goes a little bit to the prior question, which you asked, but we didn't really talk about: are things applicable? Can you take a solution from one place and apply it someplace else or scale it?
I think it's really important to, to be thinking about scaling and transferability. But more and more I personally have become convinced that the specific solutions themselves are not the pieces that work and that will get us to a good place 10 years from now, but more about refining and expanding the process that we use to be able to engage with each other, to answer questions, and to make decisions. I think that those are the parts that I hope will really flourish in the next 10 years.
KANDIS BOYD: Yeah, absolutely. It's more than just the science, but it's the process of getting to the actual goal. So thank you so much, Libby. Alright, and our last words for this podcast. Gyami, what are your closing thoughts?
GYAMI SHRESTHA: Thanks, Kandis. I tell my daughter all the time, life is about choices for those who have the privilege to make those choices. And it is undeniable that in 10 years, in fact, many coasts may not be there anymore. Those coastal cities may not be there, those coastal habitats may not be there. Those of us who can make those choices, who are in those places, or are in those privileged situations can make choices or push for choices to avoid such a scenario. I would say that with effective decision-making tactics in 10 years, the world might get to a path where coasts and all ecosystems with human habitats or human activities are sustainably protected, maintained, or managed with a holistic, equity-centered, and science-based approach that is focused on mitigating climate change impacts and solving some of, or most of, humanity's most pressing problems.
KANDIS BOYD: I think that is a great place to leave our podcast conversation. That the decisions that we make need to be equity- centered, they need to be based on trust building, relationships, applicability, and of course life is about choices and making sure that we have sound science to make those choices. So again, thank you to Lisa, thank you to Libby, and thank you to Gyami for a great podcast discussion today. Have a great day, everyone.
HOST: Today's panel discussion was moderated by Dr. Kandis Boyd, Director of the Environmental Protection Agency's Chesapeake Bay Program. The panelists were Dr. Lisa Clough, Ocean Section Head at the National Science Foundation, Dr. Gyami Shresthra, program director at Lynker Corporation for its carbon/greenhouse gas portfolio and NOAA Center for Environmental Modeling contract; and Dr. Libby Larson, a scientist in the Carbon Cycle & Ecosystems Office at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Make sure you check out the show notes for details on our guests, the other episodes in this series, and additional links.
This interview was edited and produced by Ashley Scarlett of Absolutely Smashing Events and Consulting. This podcast series was developed in collaboration with the U.S. Global Change Research Program's Coasts Interagency Group and funded by Adaptation Sciences, or AdSci for short, a group out of NOAA's Climate Program Office. Ideas expressed in this podcast do not necessarily reflect the position of the U.S. Global Change Research Program or its member agencies.
We hope you enjoyed this series and thanks for listening. We'll be back next month with the NOAA Ocean Podcast.