I have always enjoyed observing plants and animals do what they do. Birds hopping about in tree tops foraging for insects, turtles basking, squirrels chasing each other across a lawn. This is probably why I’ve always liked keeping critters at home as pets, I could observe them and get to know them up close and personal. The more you observe something in its natural environs, the better you are able to understand it. So it is with science. If we can observe and understand science as it happens in real life we will have a better understanding of who scientists are, why they do what they do, and the value of their work. Allow me to introduce Science in Living Color, a blog series where you will be introduced to people whose work intersects with and relies on science all over the world.
To kick things off we will meet a man who is not a scientist, but a public policy officer. Nevertheless, his work is 100% dependent on critical biological and environmental science on a daily basis.
Evidence is key
The WFP chief goal is to end global hunger and malnutrition. To get there, they have set a series of Sustainable Development Goals to keep them in action and on track. Arnold and his co-workers must make big decisions to keep making forward progress. When I asked Arnold if he uses science in his work, his response was an immediate and adamant – yes! “Evidence is key”, Arnold said, “we need research to know what to do, we can’t afford to guess, we need science!”
Arnold and the World Food Programme works directly with diverse scientists all over the world to help them make decisions. Biologists, doctors, and nutritionists to help them determine specifically what foods and supplements people need most, chemists and food scientsts that help to formulate supplements, botanists, agriculture scientists, and geneticists that develop new crop varieties, and finally environmental climate scientists that predict how changing climate and environment will impact food security in the future.
I asked Arnold if environmental science and climate change is important for the work he does, his response? “Absolutely.” In 2015 the WFP supplemented 14-million people who were impacted by climate change, spending 40% of their total budget – nearly 23 billion dollars. According to Arnold, if we don’t do something to stem the inevitable march of global climate change this number will only continue to grow. Follow this link to see an interesting interactive map of Food Insecurity & Climate Change.
Seeing it first hand ~ Chad
Arnold spent a few years living and working in Chad, one of the poorest countries in Africa, and one that is being overwhelmed by the expanding Sahara Desert due to climate change. I asked Arnold if he had seen first-hand changing climate’s impact on the people of Chad and he told me of Mongo. Chad is a politically unstable place, but Mongo, in the country’s center is one of its most stable regions, it has no war, no refugee camps. And yet, climate change is causing big problems. Year after year, the rains don’t come. The people of Mongo are driven to sell all they own in order to buy the food they cannot grow. The goat that once served to give them milk on top of the corn they grew? Sold to make up for the failed crops. Arnold told me that without nutritional assistance and new wells being dug with support from WFP these people will not be able to survive. Global climate change is real, and these people, some of the world’s poorest, are being hit hardest.
Science is something a lot of people might have trouble understanding, some people may even be unsure what to believe. But I asked Arnold, a self-proclaimed non-scientist, what he wanted others to know about the role of science in his work. He told me that step one to a hunger free world is an environmentally sustainable future.
What can we do about it?
Before ending our conversation, I asked Arnold what he would want people to know who say their actions and decisions don’t matter for people experiencing famine and hunger around the world. He said that people must understand the significance of their behaviors. “Be informed”, Arnold said, “when you change your behavior the people around you may change theirs too.” Arnold says the people who work in the fields of politics and public policy see and respond to “the individual actions and decisions of each person!”
Science is everywhere. It helps to informs our decisions, big and small. Even though science is as objective and unbiased as possible, moral and social issues, like global hunger and malnutrition, need help from scientists to make progress. As a graduate student in a large research institution I am surrounded by people who are devoting their lives to studying environmental and climatic changes in detail. This hard work is valuable! As Arnold said, the first step to eliminating global hunger and malnutrition is to strive for change as an environmentally conscious and sustainable world.