By Paige Welsh
This fall, I had a conversation with Lindley Mease, who was recently promoted to senior research analyst here at the Center for Ocean Solutions. If there ever was a people person, it is Lindley—she has devoted her life to thinking about how people in her community, nation and planet make decisions. She takes her role as a global citizen seriously, and isn’t afraid to pause and really think about a question so she can give a thoughtful answer, as she often did in our interview. Talking to Lindley gave me insight into why she’s a great fit for her position at the Center—as well allowed me to learn about some of her lesser-known skills, including making pickles and spinning balls of fire in the art of poi.
As a Senior Research Analyst, Lindley leads organizational change-making efforts and manages interdisciplinary science and policy projects designed to create real change on the ground. She is currently involved with research on cumulative impacts and ecological tipping points to improve marine management, effective stakeholder engagement strategies, policy tools to mitigate and adapt to coastal ocean acidification and collaboration strategies between environmental scientists and managers to enhance crisis response. She wields her expertise in design thinking, interdisciplinary collaboration, conflict resolution and strategic planning to tackle ocean challenges and portfolio management at the Center. She also mentors and teaches at Stanford University’s Institute of Design. She received her masters degree in environmental science and policy from Stanford as well.
What drives your research interests at COS?
My system of interest is humans and how we operate, how we make decisions and ultimately the impacts of those decisions on ecosystems. I’m meeting with the people that make decisions. My curiosity in what motivates and drives their decisions runs very deep. That’s what makes my job so interesting. And it means I always get to be in the field!
Based on your research, what’s the greatest advantage and greatest disadvantage of addressing ocean problems through law and policy?
I’ve been excited and grateful over the past couple years to take a deeper dive into how our legal system works. I have been continuously astounded by what a creative endeavor it is. People think of law as this cut and dry manual of how our society needs to work. But it’s not. Interpreting the law means working with people on the ground and deciphering how to sculpt lawmakers’ visions to create the society we need. [The greatest disadvantage is] that law is constrained by what’s currently in the books. The problems that we’re facing as a society are so much bigger than what the law is capable of solving. We create new laws, but given that law dances with politics, there’s not a lot of wiggle room for creating the change we need with what we have. It’s just not enough, and it doesn’t operate fast enough. We need more regionalization and localization of action because that’s where we can enable proactive and progressive action more nimbly. As we connect to each other, local governments can listen to and amplify that connection.
Why is the Science Partnerships Enabling Rapid Response (SPERR) project trying to bridge communication between lawmakers and scientists?
This was a fascinating initiative. It was catalyzed after a number of government decision makers identified a lack of collaboration between the government and the broader scientific community as a key shortcoming of the response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Mirrored in other large-scale disasters, there was a missed opportunity to leverage the enormous amount of scientific bench strength in the U.S. to inform decision-making while preparing for crises in the heat of the moment. There are so many questions that emerge around disasters that require sound science—everything from the human health impacts to how we communicate risk to how we track ecosystem changes over time to what are the most appropriate actions for restoration. Our project used the human-centered design process to explore the behaviors and motivations of these two culturally disparate communities. We worked directly with key government decision makers and academics to identify possible solutions for bridging their worlds for disaster decision-making. The outcome of the project was a solution grounded in the real-world motivations of scientists and decision makers, and focused on cultivating relationships between those communities. At its heart, this is what COS is all about: linking science and policy through durable and meaningful partnership.
Why should the average person be worried about ocean acidification?
Ocean acidification is one of the greatest impacts of climate change that is already having far-reaching impacts on our natural and social systems. Even though there’s a large amount of scientific uncertainty about the impacts that we’re likely to see, the science is clear that the effects will alter how we can and will benefit from ocean resources. Acidification will impact people directly—by changing the food webs, fisheries, and coral reefs on which so many depend—and indirectly—by compromising food security and cultural livelihoods. It will influence what sea food is available at the grocery store, and then there’s the indirect impacts of how ocean acidification affects ecosystems and food security in developing nations, which may lead to migrations and potentially influence social cohesion of communities in the United States.
In her spare time, Lindley spins balls of fire.
If you weren’t doing marine science what would you be doing?
A lot of things flood to mind. In this moment, I would love to be more directly supporting grassroots movements for climate justice in the bay area. At COS, we work much more on the policy level. We’re a couple steps removed from those that are directly impacted by the stressors and the environmental changes we care about. I value that step removed because it means we’re thinking bigger picture and, hypothetically, we can sometimes have more far-reaching impacts. At the same time, there’s moments when I want to be closer to the ground.
What are you doing when you’re not working on ocean policy?
I love adventures in the kitchen whether it’s bread, or making cheese or pickling. I host monthly skill-shares [community workshops] in San Francisco, so my hobbies often oscillate in tandem with those skill-shares. I absolutely love dance and spinning poi—which are balls at the end of strings which can also be lit on fire—is hugely important to me. I do performances, but mostly it’s something that I do for myself every day. And I’m an avid backpacker. You can often find me happily exploring the wilderness on the coast or in the Sierras.
I’m also a mediator for the city of San Francisco. I mediate neighborhood and residential disputes, which is important for me to be involved in my community and working towards interpersonal peacebuilding. Conflict resolution is a really powerful way that I believe humans can evolve and tackle some of things we tackle at COS.
Message to the world?
Love yourself and love those around you. Pretty much everything else falls from that. Foster wonder and be curious. Do what you love.