Practice sustainability in the home. Everything helps. Talk about and practice recycling and its merits for reducing our carbon footprints and keeping plastics out of the ocean. Turn the next car purchase in the family into a discussion of the comparative merits of hybrid versus electric versus standard gas burning vehicles.
I had the pleasure of interviewing James B. McClintock , Phd. James B. McClintock is the Endowed University Professor of Polar and Marine Biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Santa Cruz (1978) and his doctoral degree from the University of South Florida (1984). In 1987, after completing a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of California at Santa Cruz, he joined the faculty of the Department of Biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He became a Full Professor at UAB in 1997 and has also served as Dean of the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (1999–2003) and as Interim Dean of the Graduate School (2003–2005). Dr. McClintock’s research has been funded continuously over the past 30years by the National Science Foundation and focuses on aspects of marine invertebrate nutrition, reproduction, and primarily, Antarctic marine chemical ecology. Over the past decade his research has also encompassed studies of the impacts of rapid climate change and ocean acidification on Antarctic marine algae and invertebrates. He has published 276 peer-reviewed scientific publications, edited and written books, is invited to make numerous scientific and popular science presentations, and his research has been featured in a variety of public media outlets including the NPR Diane Rehm Show, NPR’s “On Point” with Tom Ashbrook, NPR Morning Edition with David Green, National Geographic Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, Discover Magazine, Scientific American Magazine, CNN, the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and The Weather Channel. He has been an invited speaker for ‘TEDx’ (Birmingham) and ‘The Moth’ (Lincoln Center, New York City) and has served on workshops sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences on Climate Change and Polar Ecosystems. He recently returned from his 15th research expedition to Antarctica where over the past two decades he and his research collaborators have become among the world’s authorities on Antarctic marine chemical ecology and drug discovery and have developed an award winning interactive educational outreach web site (www.antarctica.uab.edu). His expertise on the ecological impacts of climate change and ocean acidification on marine life of the Antarctic Peninsula has garnered numerous invited lectures and he writes in the popular literature on this timely topic. His book Lost Antarctica: Adventures in a Disappearing Land (Palgrave/MacMillan) was released in September 2012 (paperback edition released in 2014 with a Foreward by Sylvia Earle) and has garnered considerable national and international praise (www.lostantarctica.com). In June 2013, a video short based on his book was produced and released by the EO Wilson Biodiversity Foundation that featured narration by Harrison Ford. His second book A Naturalist Goes Fishing (St. Martins/MacMillan), released in November 2015, combines fishing adventures with an overview of pressing needs for freshwater and marine conservation (http://us.macmillan.com/anaturalistgoesfishing/jamesmcclintock). He has been the recipient of numerous awards and distinctions including the UAB Ellen Gregg Ingalls Recognition for Excellence in Teaching and the UAB Caroline P. and Charles W. Ireland Prize for Outstanding Scholarship. In 2001 he was given the Wright A. Gardner Award for the most outstanding scientist in the state of Alabama and he was selected in 2012 to serve on the Advisory Board of the EO Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. In June 2018, the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR), represented by 43 member nations, awarded him their inaugural SCAR Medal for Education and Communication. In December 2018, he became the national face of the Nature Conservancy’s ‘Can We Talk Climate’ campaign. He is an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, an elected Trustee of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and an elected Fellow of the Explorer’s Club. On March 16, 2019, the Explorer’s Club presented him with the Finn Ronne Memorial Award for Advances in Antarctic Science. In 1998 the United States Board on Geographic Names designated the geographic feature “McClintock Point” in honor of his contributions to Antarctic science.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up on the coast of California in Santa Barbara in an academic family. My house was near a creek where I spent countless hours as a child exploring the banks, turning over rocks looking for critters and trying to catch frogs and fish. My family visited the beach often and I loved searching the wave-washed wet sand for burrowing mole crabs and the rocky tidepools for colorful sea slugs and the like. As I grew to my teenage years, I took up photography and backpacking and spent many a weekend in the backcountry taking images of wildflowers and landscapes. All this primed the pump for a trigger in my freshman year at the University of California, Santa Cruz to become the natural scientist and environmentalist I am today. I attribute my trigger to a remarkably gifted professor, John Pearse, a professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at USCS, whose words and deeds stirred in me a desire to follow a path of solving the riddles of marine biology and pathways to conservation.
Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?
My ‘aha’ moment follows on my true mentor, the very professor who triggered my focus on marine biology, John Pearse. His advice? Spend an entire semester as an undergraduate living and studying at Bodega Bay Marine Station located on the rocky coast of California north of San Francisco. Twenty University of California students would join me from UC Berkeley, Los Angeles, San Diego, Davis, among others. All of us immersed in marine biological research. I lived and breathed ocean air and marine biology, carrying out a project in the rocky wave swept intertidal on the population biology of sea urchins. By the end of the course, my ‘aha’ moment had come. I was going to become a marine biologist no matter the long odds of finding a job.
Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?
Yes, I would tell young people to seek out and take the opportunity to immerse themselves in environmental experiences. Take a class at a marine laboratory or mountain field station, volunteer at an environmental non-profit for several months, attend lectures and workshops on environmental science and sustainability, and be sure to introduce yourself to keynote speakers to establish your networks.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
I have been working in global climate change educational outreach for approximately the last fifteen years. I represent the University of Alabama at Birmingham in these efforts, and also the National Science Foundation in the sense that they continue to generously funded my Antarctic research program over the past three decades. My initiatives are grounded in the narrative of having personally witnessed dramatic climate change impacts along the western Antarctic Peninsula. These include writing two books for the general public that use storytelling to teach about climate change and ocean acidification, numerous invited public lectures, an award winning web site, UAB in Antarctica, regular interviews from Antarctica on NPR’s Morning Edition, writing op-eds that have appeared in national and state newspapers, expert appearances on television, leading workshops on climate change and spirituality, where I cover the science and a priest provides biblical interpretation of care of creation, leading middle school science teacher workshops on curriculum to best teach climate change, among others.
Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks things that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?
First and foremost, go to the polls and vote. And vote for candidates that have strong sustainability platforms. This is by far an individual’s greatest asset to foster sustainability. Call and write your elected representatives. Everyone underestimates the impacts of that personal touch. Walk or ride a bike when possible. Consider a hybrid next time you buy a car, I love my 50 + mpg Prius, or an electric car if you happen to live somewhere where electricity is not generated largely by fossil fuel. Access to electricity is not as available in Alabama where electric cars might aptly be called ‘coal cars.’
Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
The request to speak to the students organizing the Birmingham, Alabama climate strike reached me just as I was departing to San Francisco to give three back to back keynote lectures on Antarctic climate change. I told the students I would have been honored to speak — and they told me they’d get me next time! Arriving in San Francisco, I reminded the three separate audiences or medical doctors, members of a parish, and residents of a retirement community that the student climate strike was a perfect backdrop for my talk on Antarctic climate change and what it means for all of us everywhere.
I would suggest the following five things that parents should do to inspire the next generation to engage in sustainability and the environmental movement.
1. Get your children engaged in the topic by bringing them to lectures by notable scientists or citizens speaking on climate change. After my climate lecture at Saint Matthews in San Francisco, a father and his teenage son introduced themselves. The son asked me some pressing questions he had about climate change.
2. Encourage your children to get involved in the issue at their school. By now, many middle schools and high schools have environmental clubs, sustainability clubs, sustainability projects organized by schools, etc. The young man whose father introduced him to me was the proud president of a student sustainability club at his high school. He was their Greta.
3. Practice sustainability in the home. Everything helps. Talk about and practice recycling and its merits for reducing our carbon footprints and keeping plastics out of the ocean. Turn the next car purchase in the family into a discussion of the comparative merits of hybrid versus electric versus standard gas burning vehicles.
4. Encourage your children to spend time outside. As an ecologist in my 60’s, I have borne witness to an era when the simple pleasures of childhood, exploring the neighborhood creek, turning over rocks and looking for the myriad of life that live below, fishing (I catch and release), camping, are not as popular as they once were. My experience as a college professor is that those students that have strong environmental ethics are often those provided opportunities in their youth to be outdoors.
5. Share your excitement about the growing global youth movement that is engaging in climate change and its growing societal impacts. This movement is unprecedented and does not necessarily have to have political overtones. It should be bipartisan. Everyone is impacted: young, old, wealthy, poor (especially hit hard), democrat, republican, members of different faith, and atheist. When your children sense your support of the youth climate movement, they will be much more likely to engage in the movement themselves.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
Even here is Alabama there are increasing numbers of examples of corporations demonstrating sustainable environmental practices. Wal-Mart just opened a new store that required our major electric utility to build a three-acre solar field next to the store to provide renewable energy. This is all the more remarkable because our local power company has largely resisted solar development. REI is building its first store in Alabama and even before opening its doors has already embraced some of the local environmental organizations, including the Cahaba River Society, an environmental organization for which I serve as a trustee. I am confident that their support of local environmental non-profits such as the CRS will resonate with the local community and increase their profits. Amazon is building a center in northern Alabama and the electric utility in the region is working with them to provide renewable energy to entirely offset their carbon footprint by building neighboring solar fields. And perhaps most remarkable, a subsidiary company of BP is building an 80-acre, 80,000 panel solar field near Montgomery, Alabama capable of powering over 20,000 homes.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My mentor in graduate school, Professor John Lawrence, is that person. John is a scholar in every sense of the word and has a gift for engaging students in the excitement of discovery, the careful thinking and hard work that goes in to designing and carrying out scientific research in the laboratory and field, and the rewards of analyzing the data and publishing the study in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. John always said that a study was never completed until it was published, for only in this case did the work contribute to the incremental growth of science as a whole. These incremental advances build upon one another to provide a large compelling picture, for example climate change. Scientists from all over the world have added incrementally to the body of knowledge that led ultimately to incontrovertible evidence of the existence and growing impacts of global climate change.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I like to think that in some small way I have exploited my lifetime of experience in Antarctic science, and bearing personal witness to dramatic polar climate change, to leverage a movement. I have spoken across Europe and America telling stories of Antarctic adventure and scientific discovery woven into a narrative of climate change and ocean acidification. My book “Lost Antarctica” and my appearances on radio and television take a similar approach. I have a following of those who tell me this approach to educating the public about climate change is extraordinarily effective. I will continue to do all I can to engage the public. Currently, I am focusing new efforts on reaching those immersed in a life deeply seated in religion here in the South. I believe that appreciating and addressing climate change is a wonderful fit for those who care about the biblical constructs that teach to the care of creation.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him (or her) the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
Thank you for all of these great insights!