Department of Defense Scholar to develop policy to build climate resilience
Outside her childhood home in Boulder, Colorado, Kimberley Rain Miner used to cover one eye to block from her sight the utility box located among trees and the boulders dropped by glaciers.
Miner, now an Earth and climate sciences Ph.D. student at the University of Maine, imagined being in a completely natural environment.
And for years, she has been striving to find one.
She rock climbed after school and taught children to grow their own food. And while earning her bachelor’s in environmental science and ecology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, she lived in a hollowed-out portion of an ancient redwood that overlooked a river.
Miner, who has traveled to and learned on six continents, hasn’t located many places on Earth where people, their inventions and their impacts aren’t tangible. Even on glaciers that appear pristine.
For her doctorate, she’s developing a framework to assess the threat of pesticides — including DDT and other persistent organic pollutants — that for years were trapped in glaciers but are entering watersheds due to melting. She’s interested in quantifying downstream effects of the pollutants.
Miner recently returned from the 15th Swiss Climate Summer School in Grindewald, Switzerland in the Bernese Alps. Instructors were leaders of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report and researchers from around the planet.
A Think Swiss International Scholarship, which supports motivated and qualified students, paid for Miner to participate.
As part of the experience, Miner, other alumni and a representative from the U.S. State Department, will be attending a November event at the Swiss Residence in Washington, D.C.
It’s one of a number of honors and distinctions Miner has earned. In addition to being a National Science Foundation IGERT (Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship) at the Climate Change Institute and a Switzer Foundation Fellow, she was awarded a Fulbright.
Miner says she’s appreciative of and has benefited from professor and adviser Karl Kreutz’s support and from UMaine’s exploration culture and student-first mentality.
She seeks to similarly positively impact and support others and recites Emily Dickinson’s poem, “If I can stop.”
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
“Individuals make the difference in the long run,” she says. “There’s always something we can do to make a situation better, our lives better and the health of the ecosystem stronger.”
Personal acts, she says, can range from planting pollinator flowers, to fighting wildfires to handing out water after a hurricane or other disaster.
In late October 2012, Miner was pursuing an M.P.A. in environmental science and policy at Columbia University in New York City when Hurricane Sandy made landfall along the Jersey Shore.
While her graduate apartment never lost power, Miners says she felt powerless watching TV coverage about the devastation occurring just a few blocks away.
“I wasn’t a part of anything that was helpful,” she says.
Soon thereafter, Miner took part in several projects, including mapping shelters in New York City that are ADA-accessible and won’t flood during a 100-year storm.
She developed an interest in the intersection of nature, human-caused climate change and emergency preparedness and worked with scientists at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and emergency managers at the New York City Office of Emergency Management.
And now, Miner is a Department of Defense (DOD) Scholar in addition to volunteering as a Research Fellow at the Center for Climate and Security in Washington, D.C. Funding is through the ASEE (American Society for Engineering Education) SMART (Science, Mathematics And Research for Transformation) program.
The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Geospatial Research Laboratory (GRL) in Alexandria, Virginia is Miner’s sponsoring agency and is supporting her doctoral education at UMaine.
Miner, a first responder and wilderness firefighter, will work at the Geospatial Research Laboratory this summer and for two years after she graduates from UMaine in May 2018.
The GRL project on the intersection of climate and conflict that Miner will be working on with the DOD is strongly in alignment with a Sept. 21 memorandum that President Barack Obama issued about climate change and national security.
Miner participated in a conference call with the White House about the memorandum that directs federal agencies to ensure “that climate change-related impacts are fully considered in the development of national security doctrine, policies and plans.”
It’s encouraging, she says, that 20 federal agencies — from the Department of Energy and Department of Homeland Security to the Department of Agriculture and NASA — now are collaborating to strategically identify priorities, exchange data and build climate resilience.
One portion of President Obama’s memorandum explains the rationale for the working group:
Climate change poses a significant and growing threat to national security, both at home and abroad. Climate change and its associated impacts affect economic prosperity, public health and safety, and international stability. Extended drought, more frequent and severe weather events, heat waves, warming and acidifying ocean waters, catastrophic wildfires, and rising sea levels all have compounding effects on people’s health and well-being. Flooding and water scarcity can negatively affect food and energy production. Energy infrastructure, essential for supporting other key sectors, is already vulnerable to extreme weather and may be further compromised. Impacts of a changing climate can create conditions that promote pest outbreaks and the spread of invasive species as well as plant, animal and human disease, including emerging infectious disease, and these can further undermine economic growth and livelihoods. Impacts can also disrupt transportation service, cutting off vulnerable communities from relief immediately after events and reducing economic output. These conditions, in turn, can stress some countries’ ability to provide the conditions necessary for human security. All of these effects can lead to population migration within and across international borders, spur crises, and amplify or accelerate conflict in countries or regions already facing instability and fragility.
“If there’s the slightest risk, it’s worth planning for,” Miner says.
While watching fog drift peacefully above a river with her rescue dog Darby, Miner is aware that avoiding people’s impacts on the planet is not an option.
And both her eyes now are wide open and eager to develop policies that mitigate climate-related impacts on water, food, energy, people, health and security.