Matt Dzaugis, 2017 Knauss Fellow
2017. It was quite the year to be in Washington, D.C. My time as a Knauss Fellow started with the election of a new president and ended with a government shutdown. Lucky for me, I was working in an office that coordinates global change research across government agencies so I was only ever asked one question, albeit frequently, when I told people where I worked: “So… what’s up with all the government climate change research?” In short, the answer is easy. I can point to the recently published government report on climate change that states “it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century… there is no convincing alternative explanation.”
Rewind to December, 2017: Knauss Placement Week. The Knauss Finalists (the fellows before we choose an office) hear presentations from all of the potential host offices. That week was quite a blur – 15 interviews with host offices in two and a half days – but I specifically remember the presentation for the National Climate Assessment (NCA) where the presenter said, “we are written into law, and we will publish this report.” This was only a week or two after an election in which climate change was a divisive issue. After hearing that presentation I would be remiss if I didn’t say I had some skepticism that a government report on climate change would actually be published. However, I decided to take the risk and join the NCA team and I truly believe it was the best choice I could have made.
To provide a little context, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) was mandated by Congress in the Global Change Research Act of 1990 to “assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.” My Knauss placement was with USGCRP to help coordinate the writing of the NCA, a report that is also mandated by Congress to be published every four years. The NCA is a comprehensive report that analyzes the effects of current and projected trends of global change (both natural and human-induced) on diverse fields ranging from ecosystems and biodiversity to transportation and energy production, along with regional specific information. Governments and the public can use the NCA to inform their decisions, as it contains sector specific information. For example, coastal communities can use the sea level rise projections to inform coastal development, or the agricultural sector can use the precipitation and drought projections to inform future crop selection or selection of ranges for stock grazing.
NCA4 Volume I the Climate Science Special Report (CSSR) was published November 3rd, 2017 and NCA4 Volume II Climate Change Impacts, Risks and Adaptation in the United States, which I worked on, is due to be released towards the end of 2018. This past year we went from a rough outline of 27 chapters to a full-fledged draft that was released for the public comment. Over 300 subject matter experts from federal agencies, academia, state and local governments, and NGOs served as authors on this report. As a Knauss Fellow, I coordinated the authorship of six chapters, was the Lead Author on the Frequently Asked Questions chapter, and a chapter author on the Overview chapter. This was a lot of work and it kept me very busy every day.
Since I am constantly neck deep in climate science, it is hard to be removed from the news about suppressing and cutting climate science research. We don’t do this work in a vacuum. I read the news, I see the proposed budgets, and know what some people at high levels would like to do to climate research, but the importance of our work doesn’t change based of the opinions of a few. It was in this environment that made November 3rd, 2017 was one of the most exciting days of the fellowship. On November 3rd we released the final draft of the NCA4 Vol. I the CSSR and the public comment draft of NCA4 Vol. II Climate Change Impacts, Risks and Adaptation in the United States. Our largest conference room was transformed into a situation room: we had three TVs showing stats of view, downloads, and hits on social media. The release was timed with a press conference with scientists associated with each report. As news outlets released articles, we could see the spike in hits on twitter or facebook, and an increase in downloads. One screen showed a map of the world, where we could see all of the different countries that were downloading the report. It was all very exciting.
There is still a lot of work to be done. Vol. II has several more rounds of review before it will be published in December of 2018, not to mention all of the underlying metadata, graphics, and websites that have to be developed. But the science presented in NCA4 Vol. I and II is scientifically rigorous, supported by data, and extensively reviewed. I am very proud of the work we have done over this year and I am glad I had the opportunity to contribute to the program.