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Climate change poses existential crisis for alumnus

By Debbie Farris

Climate change research on the field

Zoology alumnus Greg Serrurier (’79) has shifted his perspective on climate change over the years and is now evaluating how he can make the biggest impact on it in the future. We caught up with him on his recent travels to Argentina, where he was eager to make time and space to share his reflections. Serrurier offered introspective remarks and observations grounded with a keen sense of self-awareness and the weight of personal and social responsibility.

After graduating with honors in biology from Oregon State, Serrurier went on to work at Friends of the Earth, a nonprofit environmental firm. He retired last year as senior vice president and shareholder of Dodge & Cox, an investment management firm in San Francisco emphasizing independent ownership, stability and high ethical standards. Last summer, he joined the board of Earthjustice, the nation’s original and largest nonprofit environmental law organization.

Here’s where the former investment manager, now full-time environmental champion, has landed, grappling as many of us are, with how to foster environmental and social justice. “In 1979, climate change was conceptual,” Serrurier reflects. “Today, we’re experiencing the consequences of it. And the pace at which it is changing is forcing us to adapt and mitigate its impact.”

When asked about the importance of communicating science, Serrurier weighs his words.

“Science communication is a difficult issue. Scientists have done their jobs. And the legislators are confused. A majority of legislators don’t want to face the risks or dangers of climate change. I just do not see enough politicians embracing it.”

Serrurier points to OSU’s deep expertise in climate change with many leading researchers.

“The science at OSU is a leading light to understanding what we face in climate change. Much credit goes to scientists across disciplines at OSU, including prominent leaders such as Jane Lubchenco [globally renowned marine ecologist, former NOAA Administrator and current U.S. Envoy to the Oceans] and Peter Clark [College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science].”

“It is encouraging and refreshing to see the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science), other leading science organizations and top scientists at OSU and around the world speaking out and advocating so strongly for science. I think they are all speaking out of frustration that science communication has been inadequate. Not because it hasn’t been expressed well, but because it hasn’t been listened to. The gulf between politicians and scientists is material and the dialogue is tribal.”

“The science is clear: humans cause climate change. But to what extent?” He praises the College of Science and others in the scientific community for illuminating the existential problems we face.

Serrurier invokes the sage words of Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who said we are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change and the last to be able to do anything about it. “Individuals must become more engaged,” he adds. “The United States has a chance to lead and pursue great economic opportunities and jobs while also addressing one of the greatest issues of our time.”

But the discourse can be divisive.

People deeply and inherently interested in impacting change can follow a number of paths, reflects Serrurier. “People can channel their time and resources to political systems, legal efforts, or education and research.

“I believe that education and research bring about a very powerful sense of change. This approach allows us to continue to inform ourselves and those willing to learn about climate change.”

The questions that hang in the air unanswered and seduce those willing to ponder them are: How do we reach those across the chasm, across the aisle, down the block? How do we participate in civil discourse to explore a defining issue like climate change? The answer just may lie in science, research and policy, beacons of hope. How can we encourage serious discourse on one of the greatest issues of our time while bringing the insights of scientists to bear on this issue?