Science Wednesday: EPA Science Has an Attitude

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Sarah Blau

I was recently asked if I knew EPA conducted research before I came to work here last October. “Yeah, sure…but I guess I never really thought about it,” was my response. So, I started to think about it…

What strikes me more than the fact that EPA does, in fact, perform research, is the attitude with which EPA performs research. In my own work—interviewing scientists, attending presentations, and participating in communications meetings, I have found that almost unfailingly, EPA scientists and staff confront environmental changes and threats with a determinedly optimistic approach.

Climate change, contaminated water and polluted air, oil spills and birds falling dead out of the sky… these things are quite terrifying. Confronted with these eventualities, I find myself wanting to run into the woods, hide in a cave, and pretend it will all go away.

These past few months I have realized that, in stark contrast to my flight instinct, EPA researchers exhibit the exact opposite reaction. EPA employees confront environmental problems with a “let’s tackle this problem, let’s find a solution” type of attitude. Nearly all of the EPA scientists I have been in contact with are motivated and optimistic, searching for the right questions and the right answers to solve environmental problems.

I have found that at EPA, even daunting environmental challenges drive a search for knowledge and foster an impressive attitude that with the right science, all our obstacles can and will be overcome. In a previous “Science Wednesday” post EPA’s Dr. Paul Anastas even introduced himself as a “strategic optimist.” I’m sure this attitude has served him well during his 20-year effort to promote green chemistry, as featured in a “Q&A” section in NatureNews.

Surrounded by this type of optimism, I am encouraged to run away less, to think more, and to attempt to confront more of the problems I encounter.

So, yes, EPA does a lot of important research. EPA research has had great effects on our society in the past, and undoubtedly will have in the future. Just as important as the research itself, however, is the attitude behind the research: that with science, these problems can be solved. Confronted with a daunting possibility? Hold your head high, be proactive, and believe that a solution is out there for us to find…and EPA researchers would bet we will find it.

About the Author: Sarah Blau is a student services contractor working with the science communications team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development, the science arm of the Agency.

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