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Bierbaum Elected into American Philosophical Society

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Rosina Bierbaum

SPP Research Professor and Roy F. Weston Chair in Natural Economics Rosina Bierbaum has been honored with an elected membership into the American Philosophical Society. This prestigious recognition acknowledges Bierbaum’s significant contributions in the field of biological science.  

The American Philosophical Society, founded in 1743  by Benjamin Franklin, is the oldest learned society in the U.S. Its mission is to promote scholarly research and interdisciplinary dialogue in various domains, including science, humanities and social sciences. Over the years, APS members have included George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and Robert Frost, and more recently Distinguished University Professor Jim Gates.

Election into this distinguished society is a testament to Bierbaum’s groundbreaking work in natural economics, which focuses on the implications of environmental sustainability. Throughout her career, Bierbaum has been at the forefront of climate change and sustainable development. She has actively engaged with policymakers at the national and international levels, advocating for evidence-based strategies to address pressing environmental challenges. “The time is short to achieve sustainable and equitable development, solve climate change and stem biodiversity,” explains Bierbaum. “To do so requires incorporating sound science and appropriate technology into policies, but grounded strongly in social science so we do not just promote an ‘ideal’ solution, but options that communities actually want to implement.” 

UMD School of Public Policy Dean
Robert C. Orr states, “Rosina Bierbaum’s election into the American Philosophical Society highlights her resolute leadership and her ability to navigate an ever-evolving landscape of science and technology. Through her remarkable achievements, she has not only fostered interdisciplinary collaboration but also nurtured the growth of forward-thinking scientists and policymakers. Her dedication and vision have successfully bridged the gaps between academia, government and the private sector, propelling society toward a more sustainable future.”

Bierbaum’s leadership and experience has a far reaching impact in the classroom. As an esteemed educator, she imparts her vast knowledge by teaching a consistently fully enrolled course, PLCY689L: Influence of Science on Policy, and of Policy on Science alongside Gates. This course serves as a magnet for students from various disciplines across the UMD campus, attracting their interest and curiosity. Delving deep into the intricate relationship between scientific and technical information and public policy, the course explores how these two spheres influence and shape one another. The comprehensive curriculum covers topics such as science and technology policy implementation, decision-making processes and key issues like climate change, energy and innovation. 

Bierbaum recalls a defining moment in her career when she became a Science Fellow chosen to assist Congress with the emerging problem of acid rain during the Clean Air Act reauthorization. She soon recognized the pressing demand for individuals who could translate and evaluate scientific information. “That experience literally changed my life. I went to a House Science Committee hearing on stratospheric ozone depletion, and the scientists testifying spoke in jargon to the one member of Congress – a lawyer – and there was no real communication. I realized that science that is not explained won’t be used and we must translate science into usable information. … Science is never the loudest voice in policymaking, but it is a necessary one. Scientists must be at the table when decisions about budgets, treaties, policies and regulations are made.”

Experiences like these have shaped a lifelong commitment for Bierbaum in tackling the most urgent environmental challenges through science and technology, playing a significant role in her recent election into the American Philosophical Society. To Bierbaum, being a “civic” scientist entails the responsibility to educate people of all ages about the current state of science and its role in enhancing human welfare. “Virtually all issues – infrastructure, education, artificial intelligence, poverty, national security, invasive species and climate change have science and technology components,” notes Bierbaum. “Improving the human condition requires understanding the short- and long-term benefits and risks of using our knowledge to ‘solve’ our multifaceted problems. Careful assessment of the potential use of science and technology can help prevent undesirable and inequitable consequences.”

Regarding current environmental challenges, Bierbaum declares, “Martin Luther King spoke of ‘the fierce urgency of now.’ We have a long way to go to equitably protect people and the planet and only a short time to prevent irreversible changes for the next generation. We now know we cannot solve the climate crisis without the help of nature-based solutions, and we cannot stop biodiversity loss if climate change continues at the current pace. This means finding solutions by thinking in a ‘systems way’ - not in silos - to ensure we do not exacerbate one problem by trying to solve another one.”

When exploring avenues for youth engagement in tackling some of our most urgent environmental issues, Bierbaum emphasizes the importance of learning about the environment, spending more time outdoors and developing an understanding of how forests and rivers function as ecosystems. Bierbaum notes that science and technology are deeply intertwined in addressing environmental challenges. Science provides the knowledge and understanding of environmental processes, while technology offers tools, innovations and solutions to mitigate and manage these issues effectively. Recognizing the urgency of addressing environmental challenges and the need for global collaboration, she emphasizes the importance of reducing our ecological footprint and inspiring others to take action, noting that each person can make a difference in creating a sustainable future. Bierbaum reflects, “The Senegalese poet Baba Dioum said, ‘In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand.’” 

Reflecting on her new membership in the American Philosophical Society, Bierbaum adds, “I am still astonished, but so honored. APS … members include scientists, humanists, social scientists and leaders in civic and cultural affairs. To truly solve problems, we need help from all these fields. … How amazing to be considered worthy to be among these leaders! APS exists for the purpose of ‘promoting useful knowledge,’ something that I’ve tried to emulate my whole career.” Between her fully enrolled PLCY689L course at SPP and her decades of field experience, Bierbaum continues to empower a new generation of changemakers across the Maryland campus and worldwide to navigate the complex interplay between science and policy, fostering a more informed and impactful approach toward creating a sustainable future for all.

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Megan Campbell
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