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by Patrick Rynne, PhD November 02, 2020 10 min read

I dislike politics, especially in 2020! The word itself makes me cringe like scraping my nails on a chalkboard or seeing a wet band aid floating in a pool. It’s just not my thing. But why is that? As a scientist and environmental advocate, the mount Everest of “impact” is using scientific findings to guide policy, and to influence policy, one must jump into the political pool…band aids and all. Over the years I’ve realized that if I really want to influence positive change, I had to reframe my negative attitude about politics, governance and social service. So in 2017, I put my reluctance aside and accepted an invitation to serve on the City of Miami’s Climate Resilience Committee (CRC), an advisory board tasked with guiding policy that will help the Magic City thrive in the face of climate change.

I dislike politics, especially in 2020! The word itself makes me cringe like scraping my nails on a chalkboard or seeing a wet band aid floating in a pool. It’s just not my thing. But why is that? As a scientist and environmental advocate, the mount Everest of “impact” is using scientific findings to guide policy, and to influence policy, one must jump into the political pool…band aids and all. Over the years I’ve realized that if I really want to influence positive change, I had to reframe my negative attitude about politics, governance and social service. So in 2017, I put my reluctance aside and accepted an invitation to serve on the City of Miami’s Climate Resilience Committee (CRC), an advisory board tasked with guiding policy that will help the Magic City thrive in the face of climate change.

That's me on the right with my arms crossed listening to Miami Mayor Francis Suarez during our December 2018 monthly CRC meeting. We hold our meetings in different neighborhoods to increase engagement and make it easier for folks to attend. These days, it's all on zoom! Photo by: Alissa Farina

Serving on a public governmental advisory board, especially one that tackles a mixture of environmental, social and economic issues in a diverse community like Miami, has taught me a lot about communication. As you may recall,I started Waterlust to communicate science creatively and effectively, and the creative part of that mission is highly subjective; creativity means different things to different people. It’s impossible to quantify creativity, which in a sense, is what makes it such a refreshing and special pursuit. But to be effective, that’s much easier to define. Science communication is like a person speaking in a room and effectiveness can be determined by two factors: 1) what the person says and 2) who is in the room listening. An intelligent and inspiring speaker with the wrong people in the room is as ineffective as a misguided and dull speaker with the right people in the room.

Serving on a public governmental advisory board, especially one that tackles a mixture of environmental, social and economic issues in a diverse community like Miami, has taught me a lot about communication. As you may recall,I started Waterlust to communicate science creatively and effectively, and the creative part of that mission is highly subjective; creativity means different things to different people. It’s impossible to quantify creativity, which in a sense, is what makes it such a refreshing and special pursuit. But to be effective, that’s much easier to define. Science communication is like a person speaking in a room and effectiveness can be determined by two factors: 1) what the person says and 2) who is in the room listening. An intelligent and inspiring speaker with the wrong people in the room is as ineffective as a misguided and dull speaker with the right people in the room.

"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" I think the age-old proverb also applies to science communication.

The ecosystem of the CRC is composed of an eclectic collection of members, city staff, elected officials, and engaged citizens. Our monthly meetings attract a diverse group of participants with strong opinions about what problems the city needs to address and how they should be fixed. We debate, disagree, and re-examine different issues, repeating as necessary until a consensus is reached and a succinct recommendation can be passed onto policymakers. From updating building code to pollution runoff, climate gentrification to economic security, we tackle a wide variety of subjects that are impacted by the environmental crisis. And sure, it can be exhausting and frustrating at times, but it is also enriching and immensely thought-provoking. I’ve learned that when the right people are in the room, great progress can be made.

The ecosystem of the CRC is composed of an eclectic collection of members, city staff, elected officials, and engaged citizens. Our monthly meetings attract a diverse group of participants with strong opinions about what problems the city needs to address and how they should be fixed. We debate, disagree, and re-examine different issues, repeating as necessary until a consensus is reached and a succinct recommendation can be passed onto policymakers. From updating building code to pollution runoff, climate gentrification to economic security, we tackle a wide variety of subjects that are impacted by the environmental crisis. And sure, it can be exhausting and frustrating at times, but it is also enriching and immensely thought-provoking. I’ve learned that when the right people are in the room, great progress can be made.

In many ways, Miami is the front line in the battle to address the environmental crisis. Sea level rise, ocean pollution and acidification, extreme hurricanes, droughts and deluges, powerful economic forces and a globally diverse electorate make the Magic City an interesting place to live and run our business!

Having the wrong people in the room is much harder to realize and is a pervasive problem in environmental conservation. If you surround yourself with people that think like you do, it may be comforting, but it's also limiting. Social media amplifies this problem and can turn organizations and their communities into virtual echo-chambers that champion a certain kind of thinking and villainize those that challenge it. The internet is a funny space in that sense, I cannot imagine people showing up to a CRC meeting and saying face-to-face the kinds of things they type behind the security of a screen. Sprinkle a pandemic, social distancing and a presidential election on top of that, and we are losing our ability to have respectful discourse with those we disagree with.

To illustrate this slippery slope, here at Waterlust when we release a new line of advocate apparel that supports a certain species or ecosystem, it is inevitable those products will attract a certain kind of person, specifically somebody that cares about the subject the garment represents. I would not be surprised if the majority of our customers that buy whale shark printed gear already loved whale sharks before discovering us. But what about people that don’t love whale sharks or sea turtles or coral reefs or dolphins or any of the causes we support? What about people that deny the realities of global warming or ocean pollution? Don’t we need to engage with them too? Don’t we need to engage ESPECIALLY with them if we hope to lead positive change? If we only fill our room with people that already think like we do, what are we really accomplishing?

Having the wrong people in the room is much harder to realize and is a pervasive problem in environmental conservation. If you surround yourself with people that think like you do, it may be comforting, but it's also limiting. Social media amplifies this problem and can turn organizations and their communities into virtual echo-chambers that champion a certain kind of thinking and villainize those that challenge it. The internet is a funny space in that sense, I cannot imagine people showing up to a CRC meeting and saying face-to-face the kinds of things they type behind the security of a screen. Sprinkle a pandemic, social distancing and a presidential election on top of that, and we are losing our ability to have respectful discourse with those we disagree with.

To illustrate this slippery slope, here at Waterlust when we release a new line of advocate apparel that supports a certain species or ecosystem, it is inevitable those products will attract a certain kind of person, specifically somebody that cares about the subject the garment represents. I would not be surprised if the majority of our customers that buy whale shark printed gear already loved whale sharks before discovering us. But what about people that don’t love whale sharks or sea turtles or coral reefs or dolphins or any of the causes we support? What about people that deny the realities of global warming or ocean pollution? Don’t we need to engage with them too? Don’t we need to engage ESPECIALLY with them if we hope to lead positive change? If we only fill our room with people that already think like we do, what are we really accomplishing?

I got my first experience in science communication in graduate school. Talking drones, oil spills, and nearshore hydrodynamics with a news crew in Florida's panhandle during the SCOPE Experiment.

I got my first experience in science communication in graduate school. Talking drones, oil spills, and nearshore hydrodynamics with a news crew in Florida's panhandle during the SCOPE Experiment.

As a science communication brand, I think we have a responsibility to make it clear that all are welcome here. You can be an environmentalist and also be fiscally conservative. You can eat seafood and also advocate for animal rights. You can commit yourself to helping end global warming and still fly in an airplane or eat a hamburger once in a while. Solving complex social issues doesn’t require an all or nothing attitude because most of us live somewhere in the middle. As my Dad once wisely told me, "just because you order a spicy appetizer doesn’t mean you’re signing up to eat every spicy dish on the menu" just as advocating for a particular liberal policy or a conservative policy doesn’t mean you have to be liberal or conservative on everything!

In an effort to engage an audience outside our typical bubble, we decided to enter this year’s US Chamber of Commerce Dream Big Awards, an annual contest that celebrates the best in American small business. We entered the contest tentatively, knowing the Chamber has a questionable track record of lobbying for policymakers that often aren’t aligned with the findings of environmental science. We wondered when the Chamber shifted its climate change position in 2019, identifying for the first time in the organization’s history that anthropogenic climate change is real, whether it was an authentic or strategic move? We figured, if all of this was for show, they would never chose a company like ours. But then they did, naming us the Green/Sustainable business of the year!

It got us thinking…maybe they are interested in what we have to say?

As a science communication brand, I think we have a responsibility to make it clear that all are welcome here. You can be an environmentalist and also be fiscally conservative. You can eat seafood and also advocate for animal rights. You can commit yourself to helping end global warming and still fly in an airplane or eat a hamburger once in a while. Solving complex social issues doesn’t require an all or nothing attitude because most of us live somewhere in the middle. As my Dad once wisely told me, "just because you order a spicy appetizer doesn’t mean you’re signing up to eat every spicy dish on the menu" just as advocating for a particular liberal policy or a conservative policy doesn’t mean you have to be liberal or conservative on everything!

In an effort to engage an audience outside our typical bubble, we decided to enter this year’s US Chamber of Commerce Dream Big Awards, an annual contest that celebrates the best in American small business. We entered the contest tentatively, knowing the Chamber has a questionable track record of lobbying for policymakers that often aren’t aligned with the findings of environmental science. We wondered when the Chamber shifted its climate change position in 2019, identifying for the first time in the organization’s history that anthropogenic climate change is real, whether it was an authentic or strategic move? We figured, if all of this was for show, they would never chose a company like ours. But then they did, naming us the Green/Sustainable business of the year!

It got us thinking…maybe they are interested in what we have to say?

Sharing our perspective on the environmental crisis and how science and business must work together on a recent virtual call with the Chamber of Commerce.

Sharing our perspective on the environmental crisis and how science and business must work together on a recent virtual call with the Chamber of Commerce.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s the importance of communication. Whether at your family dinner table discussing the election, commenting on a friends social media post, or forming a new business relationship, we will only make progress as a society if we’re willing to work together, and the first step in having a meaningful and respectful conversation is deciding that you’re willing to have one. Oversimplification of issues and the polarization it creates makes this much, much harder to do; we become less willing to fill our rooms with the right people and do the difficult but necessary work needed to improve the world.

At Waterlust, we will be keenly focused on this in the year ahead. While continuing to champion science and evidence-based decisions in the pursuit of solving the environmental crisis, we will also be mindful that environmental advocacy comes in many forms from people with different backgrounds and perspectives. That is the essence of inclusivity and I look forward to sharing the adventure together…regardless of whether you agree with us or not.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s the importance of communication. Whether at your family dinner table discussing the election, commenting on a friends social media post, or forming a new business relationship, we will only make progress as a society if we’re willing to work together, and the first step in having a meaningful and respectful conversation is deciding that you’re willing to have one. Oversimplification of issues and the polarization it creates makes this much, much harder to do; we become less willing to fill our rooms with the right people and do the difficult but necessary work needed to improve the world.

At Waterlust, we will be keenly focused on this in the year ahead. While continuing to champion science and evidence-based decisions in the pursuit of solving the environmental crisis, we will also be mindful that environmental advocacy comes in many forms from people with different backgrounds and perspectives. That is the essence of inclusivity and I look forward to sharing the adventure together…regardless of whether you agree with us or not.

Patrick Rynne is the CEO and Founder of Waterlust.

PhD in marine physics and a masters in Ocean Engineering. Hates spreadsheets but is learning to live with them. Avid kiter, sailor, surfer and teller of stories. Frequent wearer of flip flops in socially inappropriate settings.


7 Responses

Alexia Skrbic
Alexia Skrbic

November 03, 2020

Wow, Patrick your words resonate so strongly with how I and so many others feel about our current world, politics, social interactions, and how science fits into it all. I greatly respect and look up to you as a scientist, science communicator, and human being. Thanks for sharing your wonderful words! :)

Marcella Grunert
Marcella Grunert

November 03, 2020

Thank you for this beautiful article!

Jacque Cran
Jacque Cran

November 03, 2020

Thank you Patrick it is so important to be inclusive In this current world wide political climate polarisation is indeed the biggest challenge to the evolution of humankind
“Divide and conquor” has been a well know strategy for war since history has been recorded
Before any one can speak their personal truth with effective change to be possible there also needs to be receptive ears ,empathy,for this connection ,caring is vital.
Some how waking people up from the dream state of work- eat -tv -sleep.
Interaction with the natural world through recreation/ adventure is what seems to inspire a feeling of connection to the natural world .Rather feeling seperated from Nature .
You are doing so well designing garments that are beautiful comfortable and practical
Thankyou for caring!
You are inspiring

Jacque Cran
Jacque Cran

November 03, 2020

Thank you Patrick it is so important to be inclusive In this current world wide political climate polarisation is indeed the biggest challenge to the evolution of humankind
“Divide and conquor” has been a well know strategy for war since history has been recorded
Before any one can speak their personal truth with effective change to be possible there also needs to be receptive ears ,empathy,for this connection ,caring is vital.
Some how waking people up from the dream state of work- eat -tv -sleep.
Interaction with the natural world through recreation/ adventure is what seems to inspire a feeling of connection to the natural world .Rather feeling seperated from Nature .
You are doing so well designing garments that are beautiful comfortable and practical
Thankyou for caring!
You are inspiring

Sydney C Dillon
Sydney C Dillon

November 02, 2020

Your perspective is always so refreshing and timely! Thank you for sharing such an important message that I feel we all should be able to come together on, especially right now. Wholeheartedly agreed!

Thad Foote
Thad Foote

November 02, 2020

Species evolve because they’re exposed to the changes, the elements and the perpetual growth around them. Difficult, uncomfortable and challenging situations and conditions allow and force species to adapt… or they don’t and they go away. On a parallel course, the human mindset and decision outcome evolve among the challenges and discourse that are sometimes uncomfortable and difficult. Growth happens when one is pushed out of one’s comfort zone… so says the red mangrove, the anhinga and the human trying to consume, digest and navigate the current political realm. May we all grow and evolve to a better place.

Karen
Karen

November 02, 2020

What an awesome post! Thank you so much for choosing to champion true inclusion And acceptance of people of all backgrounds, political leanings etc. I agree with you 100% and hope your message resonates with many others too. I have purchased the Whale Shark leggings for my daughter previously but am placing an order for the spotted ray leggings for her today!!!

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