Gary Machlis FES ’79, who served as Science Advisor to the Director of the National Park Service under President Barack Obama, visited the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies on Wednesday in an effort to change the conversation about conservation.
Machlis, who recently co-wrote a book entitled “The Future of Conservation in America: A Chart for Rough Water” with former Director of the National Park Service Jonathan Jarvis, devoted most of his talk to describing how conservationists can make a difference in the world and condemning the Trump administration and the “alt-right” for their hostile attitudes toward scientists and climate science.
“When the election happened, we saw President Trump’s intentions to dismantle many of the environmental regulations, policies and advances that had been made in the previous decades, under both Republican and Democratic governments,” Machlis told the News. “We felt the need to write a small book from our point of view that really showed, ‘Here’s the assault, here’s what can be done about it and here’s why we’re optimistic about the future.’”
The half-hour talk was followed by a 45-minute discussion in which Machlis engaged many of the approximately 30 audience members in conversation about their own views and beliefs. Machlis’ talk was one of the few Yale events to take place on Wednesday, after a snowstorm cancelled many of the day’s activities. He was scheduled to head to the Yale Bookstore for a book signing after the talk but had to cancel that event as a result of the bookstore’s early closure in preparation for the impending storm.
Machlis said he would have considered canceling the talk only if safety was a serious concern, adding that he is from Idaho, where, he joked, “We have snow.”
In their book, Machlis and Jarvis list 14 key strategies conservationists should implement across the board to change both policy and opinion in the U.S. To make change, Machlis said, conservationists need to “not just act, but act smart.” Institutions need to compile and store climate science data in “data havens” as the Trump administration works to scrub it from government databases. Scientists must study how to communicate their work, especially in legal contexts. And most important, climate advocates need to understand people’s priorities and meet them where they are.
In his talk, Machlis spoke at length about the need for local engagement in conservation, often returning to fellow conservationist Lucas St. Clair’s theory of “1,000 cups of coffee.”
“If you want to do a local conservation activity, if you really want locals to be engaged, you need to sit down in a local cafe, with farmers, with workers, with leaders, and commit to 1,000 cups of coffee,” Machlis said. “Anything less is coercion, manipulation and only a temporary victory; with 1,000 cups of coffee, you can actually change hearts and minds.”
Conservation can be addressed through a variety of lenses that reflect Americans’ differing values and priorities, whether that be green jobs, equality or security and safety, Machlis told the News; but you can’t just helicopter in and say you know what’s best, he added.
Many attendees were conservationists or aspiring conservationists looking for guidance from someone who has reached one of the highest ranks of the field. In speaking to them, Machlis cautioned against joining the government bureaucracy in an attempt to change the situation from the inside, adding that at the moment, resistance from the outside can be “more transparent and more effective.”
Scott Gray, a local naturalist, came to Machlis’s talk to hear his views on conservation but also to hear from Yale students and find out how young people are approaching the climate issues facing the nation. Gray, who works in conservation, said he was particularly interested in Machlis’s emphasis on the importance of finding common ground with those who hold different views on conservation-related topics.
Lexi Smith FES ’19 expressed similar sentiments, saying that conservation can only be achieved from a “multidimensional perspective” that takes into account the voices of the environment’s many stakeholders.
“What Gary does is he kind of pushes the boundaries on things, especially when it comes to science and science’s role in policy,” said Brian Lee FES ’18. “We don’t have to adopt everything he says, but we can definitely take bits and pieces of what he thinks we should do.”
The National Park Service was founded in 1916.
Maya Chandra | email@example.com