2018 Edward T. LaRoe III Memorial Award: Joel Clement

Climate policy expert and whistleblower Joel Clement receives Society for Conservation Biology’s prestigious LaRoe Memorial Award


Joel Clement, the former Department of Interior (DOI) climate policy expert who blew the whistle on administration efforts to suppress climate science, has been chosen to receive the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB)’s prestigious LaRoe Memorial Award, for his “extraordinary contributions to climate adaptation science and landscape-scale conservation, and for courage in upholding the highest standards of scientific integrity in government service.”.  The award, which honors the late Edward T. LaRoe III, a DOI official instrumental in founding the National Biological Survey, is given to an individual who has been a leader in translating principles of conservation biology into real-world conservation via innovative application of science to resource management and policy.  The award will be presented at SCB North America’s NACCB conference in Toronto, Canada on July 24. Past award recipients include notable scientists such as David Schindler, Daniel Pauly, and Stuart Pimm.

Dr. John Holdren, Presidential Science Advisor under the Obama administration, noted that the award was testament to Clement’s ability to “integrate multiple dimensions of conservation science into strategies for landscape-scale management, and his ability to engage proactively with representatives of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic”. Carlos Carroll, past-president of SCB North America, noted that Clement “provides a strong example of a conservation science hero in the mold of Ted LaRoe, through his devotion to advancing conservation science and practice and promoting scientific integrity in government. By honoring Clement, SCB demonstrates the importance we give to protecting colleagues in government service from threats to scientific integrity”.

Joel Clement led the Office of Policy Analysis at DOI under the Obama administration, following earlier work in forest ecology and conservation philanthropy. At DOI, he authored DOI’s first climate change adaptation policy, and led development of an international program of Arctic climate resilience activities. He also led related efforts to address threats to Arctic coastal villages and ecosystems from climate change. Clement co-authored several high-profile publications while at DOI, including a White House report on climate adaptation linking adaptation priorities to landscape-scale conservation, community resilience, and invasive species. He also co-chaired an authoritative international assessment of Arctic resilience. Clement’s work contributed to on-the-ground conservation successes involving DOI agencies. For example, Clement established an interagency Resilient Lands and Waters program to demonstrate the effectiveness of landscape-scale conservation strategies. He also developed a DOI policy reforming landscape-scale mitigation practices, which led to a Presidential Memorandum establishing “net conservation benefit” standards for habitat mitigation.

Clement’s public engagement resonates strongly with the LaRoe criteria involving leadership in government service. With the advent of the Trump administration, the US federal government publicly disavowed the reality of anthropogenic climate change and stripped adaptation goals from the mission of land management agencies. In the face of this trend, Clement continued to work to advance climate adaptation science and advocate on behalf of Alaska Natives facing the impacts of climate change. Although as a civil servant not a political appointee, Clement was theoretically protected from retaliation, he and several other DOI executives were involuntarily reassigned as retaliation for work on climate change. Reassigned to a new position with no duties, Clement, alone among his colleagues, chose to file a whistleblower complaint and publicly expose illegal efforts to muzzle federal climate scientists. His courageous efforts led to national and international media coverage, multiple investigations, and a report from the DOI Inspector General condemning the actions of the political appointees responsible for the involuntary reassignments. Since leaving DOI, Clement continues to advance scientific integrity, climate change policy, and Arctic issues through public speaking engagements and as a Senior Fellow at both the Harvard Belfer Center and the Union of Concerned Scientists.