Dr. Rosina Bierbaum's involvement in environmental issues began at a very young age, when she was subjected to serious air pollution. She grew up in the town of Bethlehem, PA, just two blocks away from a steel plant. This was the pre-Clean Air Act era; Dr. Bierbaum and her siblings had to dust particulate matter off the car and the windowsills – every day.
Today, she remains deeply involved in environmentally issues professionally. "What once seemed inconceivable – that humans could impact the global cycles of water, nitrogen, carbon sulfur, has now become well-established," says Dr. Bierbaum.
She should know – she is uniquely situated to discuss these issues. When Dr. Bierbaum graduated with a PhD in Ecology and Evolution from SUNY Stony Brook, she was planning on staying in academia, as "a marine scientist in a beautiful coastal setting." But her career took an unexpected turn when, shortly after graduation, one of her mentors badgered her into applying for a Congressional Fellowship. When she arrived on the hill, she was dismayed to learn that fewer than a dozen of the 535 members of Congress have advanced degrees in environmental science or technology, even as they made decisions which had profound impacts on the environment. She kissed the beach dream goodbye, rolled up her sleeves, and spent the next 20 years in Washington at the critical nexus of science and policy, doing her part to inform policymakers about environmental science.
It was during her time on the Hill that she first encountered the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI). According to Dr. Bierbaum, "The 1980s were a flurry of environmental awareness and activity in Congress. The bipartisan Environmental and Energy Study Conference, which formally became EESI in 1984, was very eager to tackle the emerging issue of acid rain and our small Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) team interacted with Dick Ottinger and George Brown almost daily to craft 19 different acid rain bills in a two-year period." The rest, as they say, is history.
Dr. Bierbaum's professional policy chops include 13 years at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and eight at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (including a year as Acting Director). In 2001 she took leave of Washington to take over as the Dean of the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan. Her time in DC had convinced her that there was a need for a new kind of environmental leader: scientists who could "speak the languages of economics, policy, law, engineering and negotiation."
During the decade she spent as a dean she also she co-directed the World Bank's World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change, and was named to the President Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). In 2011 the World Bank made her one of their first Fellows, specializing in adaptation. This year, Dr. Bierbaum was named Chair of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel of the Global Environment Facility.
In short, Dr. Bierbaum has extensive experience serving up science policy. That's part of what makes her such an outstanding contributor to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute's Board of Directors. "In the 20 years since I worked for Congress, environmental issues have become more complex, increasingly global, and interconnected," said Dr. Bierbaum. "In the 1970s, at the first Earth Day, we did not even know about acid rain, stratospheric ozone depletion, or climate change. Now, global issues must be factored into local decisions. We must think about how efforts to address any one problem can exacerbate or ameliorate others. This makes EESI's work informing Congress on ways to achieve clean and reliable energy generation while preserving our environment increasingly important. EESI is a very effective educator and communicator to the body politic and to the public at large, and I am very proud to serve on their board." We're lucky to be standing at the intersection of policy and science with Dr. Bierbaum to guide us.