Acting Now for the Future We Want

Thursday, March 17, 2022

On January 1, I was welcomed as ELI’s new president. I’m extraordinarily excited and deeply honored to lead this remarkable organization. It is special for me because I began my legal career at the Institute many years ago, an experience that shaped some of my core values around integrity and impact. I continue to be inspired by ELI’s mission and I’m delighted to be back, working with this wonderful group of people and our partners.

Mountains landscape

For the past twenty years, I’ve focused on developing environmental law and policy that is grounded in science and knowledge. I’ve worked to foster open dialogue and ensure that these processes adequately represent the voices of all stakeholders. I’m deeply committed to using the best available information to make the most targeted policies, draft the most effective laws, and achieve the most equitable implementation.

This focus on evidence-based decisionmaking is something that has always been central to ELI—and it resonated with me long before I entered the field of law. Until the tail end of college, I was planning to be an environmental scientist. I envisioned a life in a lab, plastic goggles in tow, surrounded by pipettes and filtration devices and a mass spectrometer or two. My focus was still on environmental protection, but back then I thought I would approach it by collecting data that would lead to groundbreaking findings and trigger decisions that could change the world.

Just before graduation, however, experiences outside the lab spurred the realization that while good information is needed to make good decisions, it does not guarantee them. The right information might never make it to the right people—and even if it does, you need the right system in place to ensure its use. That perspective led me to shift from science to law, and ultimately to the Institute and back again.

Since its founding, ELI has helped shape our environmental governance systems through its research, publishing, education, and convening functions. And it has done that by emphasizing impartiality over angle, truth-telling over spin, and long-term commitment over short-term sensationalism. This integrity resonated deeply with a science major trained to follow the data, and still does today. And in an era when we are wrestling with a dangerous tide of misinformation that fundamentally threatens the rule of law, it makes ELI’s voice more compelling and vital than ever.

This has been particularly evident to me over the past two years, spending the pandemic at home with my toddlers. Two takeaways have stood out to me. First, as does every parent, I adore my children, even when they are dancing on my last nerve—they inspire me to work harder, smarter, and better, because what I’m working for is their world. From the places I want them to see to the conditions I want them to live in, from the disasters I want to protect them from to the growing inequality we must fix. When my first child was born, a student asked if my outlook on the world had changed. I responded honestly that no, I still thought the same things and was working toward the same goals; someone had just cranked up the urgency dial.

Second, the world needs credible, reliable sources of information. We’ve seen this time and again in recent years. I believe the use of partial truths to be one of the most insidious and difficult challenges to address, whether in the form of biased selection of statistics or de-contextualized information. But when you read something from ELI, you know the staff looked openly at an issue and conducted an honest, unbiased assessment. You know that they’re telling the whole story, including all relevant information and all affected voices. Not because they say so, but because they have done so for decades.

We face enormously complex environmental challenges, that require equally complex solutions. They defy simple answers, and the stakes are too high not to act. I’m deeply grateful to return to an organization known for bypassing superficial fixes in order to support meaningful long-term progress. For facilitating open conversation that will unlock new approaches. For following the evidence, wherever it leads, and standing by it. I look forward to continuing that mission and partnering with you to forge a path to the future we all want.

This blog originally appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of The Environmental Forum and is republished with permission.