With the help of Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., and other prominent environmental policy advocates, the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions debuted its Washington, D.C., office Nov. 16.
The opening, which featured a luncheon and a public discussion spearheaded by institute director Tim Profeta, was attended by approximately 400 people, said a spokesperson for the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences.
A non-partisan academic institution, the Durham-based Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions was established in 2005 to coordinate academic research and policymaking.
Officials hope the D.C. office will help facilitate communication between policymakers and researchers and provide students interested in environmental policy with an opportunity to engage in these issues.
The institute has four main focuses: climate change and the economics of limiting carbon pollution, oceans governance and coastal development, freshwater concerns at home and abroad and emerging environmental markets.
"We have to be in Washington, D.C., to really fully appreciate our audience, to make sure what we do is most useful to those making decisions," Profeta said. "The institute will be a great benefit for Duke University... [it] creates a two-way conversation between the government and researchers on Duke's campus."
McCain, who spoke briefly before the discussion began, highlighted the importance of seizing the moment, explaining that concerns about global warming and reliance on oil are currently in the public eye.
"We've reached a tipping point in this debate-long overdue," he said. "We still have... members of the administration who are simply in a state of denial-or at least if not in denial, not ready to take significant action. It's our job to continue to push this administration as well as fellow members of Congress."
McCain added, however, that he is heartened by the enthusiasm of students and young people to address these issues.
Profeta said he hopes the new office will eventually be a site where students interested in environmental policy solutions can complete summer internships.
"It's important for students to work on real-world issues and for us to have the useful, creative energy from students," he said.
William Schlesinger, dean of the Nicholas School, said the institute currently functions as a place where obscure academic texts are translated into real policy solutions.
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With the opening of the new office, discussion can flow both ways, he said.
"The institute could function the other way by having strong eyes and ears in Washington and in state capitals and in the international arena to hear from policymakers what they lack-what they'd most like to see from academic institutions," Schlesinger added.
Profeta, who already travels to Washington twice a month, said he will be in "constant communication" with the new branch to make sure operations run smoothly.
The office will be headed by Nicole St. Clair, associate director of the D.C. office of the institute and a prominent leader in the environmental policy community, Schlesinger said.
At the launch, St. Clair stressed the importance of the D.C office for policymakers and scientists alike.
"Duke has a strong tradition of applied research, research that doesn't just live in the University but is meant to solve real-world problems," St. Clair said. "What we'd like to try to do is lead that effort now."