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Gilligan awarded spot in American Geophysical Union’s Voices for Science program

Posted by on Friday, June 21, 2024 in News Story, Research.

Photo of Jonathan Gilligan.When Jonathan Gilligan, professor of earth and environmental sciences, thinks about climate change, they think about people. Gilligan says that climate change causes a variety of weather patterns to undergo persistent changes, and those affect every aspect of peoples’ lives, as well as the workings of our society and economy more broadly.

In March, Gilligan was awarded admittance to the American Geophysical Union’s 2024-2025 Voices for Science program to hone their communication and advocacy skills to increase understanding and support of science. The program, which only accepts about 40 fellows, trains scientists to communicate the value of Earth and space science to key decision makers, journalists, and the public, with the hope of solving some of the most critical climate-related challenges facing society.

“Being accepted into the program means a lot to me, because it provides opportunities for training to hone my communication and outreach skills,” Gilligan said. “I am able to explore ways to connect meaningfully with state and local policymakers in Tennessee and in Nashville, including both elected officials and public servants at city and state agencies who really know what happens when the rubber meets the road in implementing environmental policies and initiatives.”

Over the course of 12 months, Gilligan will conduct outreach activities aimed at Tennessee’s general public, business sector, and policymakers to convey the importance of interdisciplinary environmental science, which integrates social and behavioral sciences with natural sciences and engineering, to reduce the negative impacts of climate change and create a more informed public.

Interdisciplinary science is essential to generate new knowledge and drive innovation. Discoveries and advancements often happen at the intersection of multiple scientific fields. This allows researchers to break down nuanced, real-world issues into their respective components, such as examining ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also looking at how that affects socio-economic inequality.

“I am having conversations with people in government to learn more about how they think and to better understand the constraints they face in implementing solutions to the challenges of environmental sustainability and resilience,” Gilligan said. “This will allow me to better connect my research at Vanderbilt to the practical problems they face.”

In a recent study published in the March 2024 volume of Energy Policy, Gilligan and other Vanderbilt researchers found that investments in voluntary household actions through the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act are expected to represent 40 percent of greenhouse gas emission reductions for both laws.

“One important part of this is that individuals and households don’t make decisions in a vacuum,” Gilligan said. “They are influenced by what they see other people—friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, etc.—doing, and if we can harness this interpersonal influence, we could see a rapid acceleration of energy efficiency and emissions reduction in households. I believe that shifting the focus from partisan politics to practical policies that can protect the environment, create jobs, and protect people from increasingly severe weather has potential to break through the gridlock that has paralyzed environmental policy.”

Gilligan joined Vanderbilt’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences in 2003, where they collaborate on interdisciplinary research focused on interactions between human behavior, society, and environmental change. Gilligan has published one book and more than 100 scholarly articles, and holds two patents.

Gilligan was a recipient of a 2023-24 Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award, was named Vanderbilt’s Alexander Heard Distinguished Professor (2022), and was awarded Vanderbilt’s Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center Mentoring Award (2023).

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