Credit: Courtesy

Tackling climate change is going to take some teamwork. Environmental researchers are answering the call.

A major brainstorming session brought together more than 120 environmental scientists and ecologists from around the world for a virtual workshop at UC Santa Barbara in February 2021. They united to organize and prioritize themes for synthesis research, which combines the vast array of ideas, data, tools, and knowledge between the separate disciplines. 

Ben Halpern | Credit: Courtesy

The resulting report, published on January 11 of this year in the journal Ecosphere, can act as a guide for future collaborations between disciplines to address our planet’s most pressing environmental questions and help steer humanity off the path of environmental and self-destruction. 

Ecologist Ben Halpern, the director of UCSB’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, led the group of 127 natural scientists from various backgrounds around the globe through the virtual workshop. 

“Over the next decade we will be facing huge environmental challenges and need to galvanize global efforts to address them,” Halpern told UCSB’s The Current. “We brought together a diverse community of ecologists and environmental scientists … to share ideas and key questions and help boil all that down into a set of priorities to guide the research community in the coming decade.”

They came up with seven priorities for where synthesis research can be most beneficial in addressing key environmental questions: diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice; human and natural systems; actionable and use-inspired science; scale; generality; complexity and resilience; and predictability.  

For improving the general process and practice of synthesis research, they identified the need for “increased participant diversity and inclusive research practices,” as well as “increased and improved data flow, access, and skill-building,” as stated in the Ecosphere report.  

“We hope that the priorities we identified will help focus research from all sorts of people from around the world on pressing topics that could make a huge difference on how research can help make the world a better place — for the planet, but also for the people doing the research and the people affected by the research,” Halpern told the Independent.

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Halpern said that among the number of key themes that emerged, what really stood out to him was the “strong focus on diversity, equity, inclusion and justice (DEIJ) as both a focus area for research and key to the process of how research is done.” 

Researchers emphasized that equitable engagement and inclusion of diverse perspectives and participants can help reduce social barriers within research. A main goal they identified was the importance of integrating local and Indigenous knowledge to make research and its outcomes more relevant and impactful for broader communities. 

According to the Ecosphere report, “Costs of conservation measures and environmental policies are rarely borne equally.” The integration of DEIJ into research, the report says, “could improve knowledge by addressing topics of relevance and importance to historically underrepresented groups, and support efforts that simultaneously promote human well-being and conservation.” 

Halpern said that, although it was challenging to organize the workshop virtually and they often couldn’t see the face of who was speaking, the researchers had a great team so the process was able to run smoothly and everyone was able to share ideas.

“It is exciting but of course challenging to genuinely try to listen to, include, and represent the ideas and voices of over 120 people,” Halpern said. “I learned so much, and was excited to see so many similar ideas emerge from such diverse people and perspectives.”

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