A New Year’s Message from EOAS Director Robert Kopp

Dear EOAS Community,

I am sure many of you have, as I have, found it difficult to focus during this extraordinary afternoon, coming at the end of a year of mass fatalities with few precedents in American history.

The videos of the ongoing but doomed coup attempt in Washington, DC, puts yet another exclamation mark on the intertwining crises facing our county and our planet.

The coup attempt highlights the crisis of democratic governance, fostered by inequality, polarization, and science denial, that has made it more difficult to tackle the public health and economic crises caused by COVID-19.

This democratic crisis has been nourished by the four-century crisis of racist violence in America – emphasized by the starkly different treatments of peaceful anti-racist protesters in DC last summer and violent white nationalist protesters in DC today – which has fostered the staggeringly unequal effects of the coronavirus in our county.

The democratic crisis has limited our ability to address the global ecological crisis, which has created conditions for zoonotic diseases like COVID-19 to spread rapidly to humans around the world.

And it is hindering our ability to address the global climate crisis, which – while slower moving than COVID-19 – threatens more deadly and damaging harms to global well-being.

And yet there are signs of hope in this new year.

I am hopeful that our new government will prioritize tackling our democratic, racist, ecological, and climate crises. I am hopeful that, thanks to an extraordinary effort on the part of the global scientific community, this year will see an end to the horrors of the pandemic. I am hopeful that that we will this year again see the friends and colleagues from whom we have been separated. And I am hopeful that the lessons learned from the challenges of the last year will leave our country and our global civilization better equipped to tackle the crises of our age.

Our planet and our country’s interlocking crises emphasize how essential systems-level perspectives are to understanding and addressing the most critical challenges of the twenty-first century. And so I am more convinced than ever of the importance of the work we do together, expressed in our EOAS community’s 2018 Strategic Plan: advancing the scientific understanding of the past, present, and future of the Earth system, and using that understanding to advance equitable state, national, and global stewardship of a healthy, sustainable, and resilient planetary environment.

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, this has still been a fruitful scientific year for the Rutgers Earth system science community. From research findings related to the evolutionary history of early proteins, to the impacts of climate change on coasts and fisheries, and partnerships to advance offshore wind energy, our next bulletin with highlight a few examples in an annual retrospective.

Personally, it is my goal to work with you to leverage Rutgers’ interdisciplinary capacities to tackle our planet’s ecological and climate crises in the context of addressing our nation’s democratic crisis.

Through the Rutgers Earth 2100 initiative and through the work of the President’s Task Force on Carbon Neutrality and Climate Resilience, I hope we can mobilize a whole-of-University effort to help create a more just, resilient, and climatically stable future for our megalopolitan and planetary homes.

Through efforts like the Coastal Climate Risk and Resilience traineeship – whose students this past semester did an amazing job this past semester working with the towns of Keansburg and Atlantic Highlands to support development of municipal resilience plans – I hope we can train our students to tackle the ecological and climatic crises in a spirit of democratic collaboration.

As Rutgers, New Jersey, the nation, and the world recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and failed assaults on our democratic institutions, I look forward to collaborating with all of you – and with partners around the university, the state, and the planet – to bring the Earth system sciences to bear to build a more just, healthy, sustainable, and democratic world.

Wishing you courage and hope in the new year,

Bob Kopp
Director, Rutgers Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences