David Friedman, Union of Concerned Scientists
Wednesday, 10 Oct 2001
Meetings, meetings, meetings. Today was all about meetings. First, I talked with colleagues in the environmental community, then it was off to visit the staff of a U.S. senator.
My work last week with the National Academy of Sciences and their fuel economy study was about trying to get the science right; today it was about trying to get the policy right. The best science in the world does no good unless enough people can come together and agree on a clear message that distills the results for policy makers. And the best message does no good if it is not communicated effectively to those same policy makers.
One of the ways UCS works to get the message right is through coalitions with other environmentally-oriented groups. Today’s coalition meeting was focused on following up on the NAS meeting by encouraging Capitol Hill to substantially increase the fuel economy of cars and trucks. To do so, we have to answer questions such as, what does the science say is possible, what is the mood in the government, what policies are politically feasible, and who is interested in pursuing them? Within the coalition there is a diverse set of views and experiences; this diversity helps make sure our message is not only correct, but also effective. Without such coalitions, too many inconsistencies appear among the various groups’ positions, making it more difficult for policymakers to sift through it all and decide on the best course. Most importantly, coalitions help strengthen and deepen the information we bring to policymakers by drawing on the combined experiences of many different individuals and organizations.
My next meeting was with a staff member of a U.S. senator. It was the first step in developing a relationship with senator and staff alike and sharing the information we have put together on fuel economy. One of the things I really like about the time we spend with staff members and elected officials is that I feel like I am participating in a vital part of the democratic process. The opportunity to share our information on a subject and discuss our perspectives helps make sure that the many voices on a particular subject are heard. The key is to make sure that we do this effectively. The staff members we meet with talk to between 20 and 30 people each day on issues ranging from air conditioners to fuel economy, and the majority of those people represent the polluting industries that we oppose. We need to communicate our information efficiently, providing accurate and focused material. We also need to make sure to listen to staff members’ feedback and perspectives so that we know how we can be most helpful to them in their deliberations. With a lot of work and a little luck, this kind of communication will help make some changes for the better.
Today felt like a pretty successful day. After spending the last few months analyzing and distilling information and thinking about policy directions, it was good to communicate our thoughts and findings both to our colleagues and to the people who will make key decisions about the environment.