Tributes to Ed Miles – Scholar, Humanitarian, Teacher, Friend and Mentor 1939-2016

Ed Miles
FrEd Miles, 1939 – 2016

From a former student

Professor Miles’s (“Ed” as he encouraged his students to call him) first words of advice to our IMS 500 class were less than inspiring. “Study ocean policy because you find it interesting in and of itself, not to change the world.” It was 1978, a few short years after the first Earth Day. I was at IMS to learn how to save the world, at least the watery portion of it; Ed’s admonition seemed too cautious, maybe even cynical. It took more than 30 years for Ed’s wisdom to become clear.

Clarity came in 2012 when I was working on a thorny question regarding climate change. I bought Ed lunch and broached my question. After providing his usual insightful commentary, Ed allowed himself a moment to express his disappointment with the human species’ difficulty in coming to terms with climate change’s exigencies. I then realized that Ed’s decades-old counsel regarding saving the world was really to himself. How else could he persist in his efforts to bring intellect and reason to problem solving, if not by carefully managing his own expectations of our ability to make the difficult choices needed for change?

Ed, since the start I have admired your intellect, humor and your exhaustive reading lists and assignments. Your most important lesson to me, however, has been how to apply one’s mind and heart to our most difficult problems without becoming overwhelmed, bitter, or complacent.

From Ed’s Colleagues

The world has lost a giant in the fields of marine affairs and climate change. Edward Lancelot Miles died on May 7 after a long bout with a degenerative disease. With a deep curiosity and formidable intellect he addressed some of the world’s most complex international science, technology and environmental management challenges.  His exuberant spirit elevated everyone around him. Ed’s impact was wide-ranging, personally as well as professionally.

Ed attended Howard University as a major in History and Political Science, graduating magna cum laude in 1962 having grown up in the British colony of Trinidad where he had distinguished himself as an excellent student and an exceptional steel drum player and leader. Among other things, to pay for his education, Ed joined a steel band that proved highly popular in the Washington, DC area, including performance at the Kennedy Center.   Ed continued his education at the University of Denver Graduate School of International Studies, earning a Ph.D. degree in International Relations and Comparative Politics in 1965.  Between 1965 and 1974, Ed advanced from Instructor to Associate Professor of International Studies at his alma mater.

One can characterize Ed’s long career as always being ahead of the curve in tackling large and complex resource commons issues through both research and policy engagement. Ed identified emerging issues, studied them thoroughly (including thirty years’ study of ocean and fisheries science and management, and over fifteen years studying the physical and natural science of the planetary climate system), and provided incisive advice on how to advance management of those issues across complex and interrelating management regimes. Ed’s early research and engagement included the allocation of electronic spectrum in outer space. He then focused on negotiations designed to restructure and significantly expand the entire legal regime for the world ocean, negotiations that led ultimately to the Law of the Sea Convention.  This marine focus continued with projects on regional ocean governance, global tuna management, sub-seabed disposal of high-level radioactive wastes, the employment of social sciences in ocean management, the effectiveness of international environmental regimes, and finally assessment of global climate change with specific application to the Pacific Northwest. As Ed said, “I like to work on large, difficult problems of an interdisciplinary nature that combine the natural sciences, the social sciences and lawSeattle Times, 1997

Ed’s research method was that of the participant-observer. People involved in the laborious and often tense Law of the Sea negotiations from which he, as academic researcher lacking official status was excluded, learned to trust him to the point where they willingly kept him informed on what was transpiring from session to session and day to day.  He developed strategies for fact checking what he heard but never revealing his sources to anyone was the cornerstone of how he built and maintained trust. He writes in the preface to his 1998 book on the formation of UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), “I am greatly indebted to my interlocutors over this ten year period. The relationship between us was essentially one of an exchange of analysis for information.” (Miles, 1998 p. xi). These became hallmarks of Ed’s long career as researcher, colleague and friend—trustworthiness, an ability to listen, possessed of great insight, in short, a brilliant analyst who could put problems big and small into proper perspective and point down the road toward the logical next steps.

Ed was recruited to the University of Washington’s Institute for Marine Studies (now the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs) in 1974. He came by way of a two-year stint (1973-74) in which he played dual roles as Warburg Fellow at Harvard’s Center for International Affairs and as Senior Fellow at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. At Woods Hole he advised Director Paul Fye on the founding of WHOI’s Marine Policy and Ocean Management Program, now the Marine Policy Center.  At UW he served as IMS’s Director 1982-1993. In 1994 he was awarded the Virginia and Prentice Bloedel Professorship of Marine Studies and Public Affairs, which he held until his 2010 retirement. In addition to his SMEA appointment Ed held joint appointments in the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs, and School of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences, and was Senior Scientist at the Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Ocean and Co-Director of the Center for Science in the Earth System. Further, Ed was a member of the University’s Steering Committee on Global Change and was Chair of the University Committee on Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education.

In the latter capacity Ed worked to expand the opportunities for University of Washington graduate students interested in problems that involve human-environment interactions. His founding of the collaborative graduate certificate program in the Interdisciplinary and Policy Dimensions of the Earth Sciences (IPDES) created a forum for bringing together scientific and policy research approaches. The IPDES program provides an invaluable – and previously unavailable – opportunity for graduate students in the earth sciences to acquire expertise and credentials in the policy dimensions of their chosen problem.  This program, and the students it has produced, is a testament to Ed’s conviction of the need for interdisciplinary research to address environmental issues, his skill at envisioning the appropriate institutional structure by which to enable this research, his commitment to improving graduate education and enhancing opportunities available to graduate students, and his ability to convince eight different departments or schools across the University to support his effort.

During Ed’s tenure as IMS Director, IMS became SMA and later, SMEA.  The field of marine affairs was expanding, adding new topical areas like tourism studies, but Ed was already anticipating much greater change to come.  The problems of the oceans were getting bigger too and growing in complexity. As he constantly reminded us, human influence was now capable of altering ocean systems at planetary scales and not just the biology – the chemistry, the oceanic cycling of energy, the works.  We had entered the era of human-dominated ecosystems and the Anthropocene and the field and our program needed to respond accordingly.  Ed relinquished SMEA’s directorship in 1993 in order to concentrate on his efforts to build the Climate Impacts Group.  But he continued to agitate for change at SMEA and more broadly in the way UW structured research and education around problems that demanded both interdisciplinary approaches and a focus on societal implications, in short, sustainability science as it was coming to be known.  He chaired committees within the school and at college and university levels focused on the institutional change necessary to better deliver on these themes.

Having in 1995 persuaded UW President Richard McCormick to create the President’s Task Force on Environmental Education (with Ed Miles as chair), Ed organized what was arguably the first UW-wide discussion on how better to engage in environmental problem solving.  A two-day symposium took place on campus in May 1996, the first use of a major new endowment from the Hewlett Foundation, and organized by Ed’s home department, the School of Marine Affairs (School of Marine Affairs, 1996).  While the creation of the IPDES program was the most tangible immediate outcome of these efforts, they also can be said to have laid the seeds for the eventual creation of the UW College of the Environment (in 2008).  Ed’s chairmanship of SMA’s Curriculum Committee during the early 2000s likewise led to reorganizing the School’s academic program around the theme of coupled human and natural systems, the most substantial curriculum retooling since the program’s inception in the 1970s and ultimately leading the School to change its name once more to School of Marine and Environmental Affairs.

Stimulated by his work as marine policy lead for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s second global assessment, and the gap he saw between the scale of information being produced and the actual needs of decision-makers, Ed founded the UW Climate Impacts Group to enable identification of climate risks and response options at the regional scale (originally defined as the Pacific Northwest’s Columbia River basin). The Climate Impacts Group merged climate dynamicists, hydrologists, forest and aquatic ecologists, coastal managers, social scientists and lawyers into a single integrated group that analyzed the effects of climate variability and climate change on the Pacific Northwest and partnered with external stakeholders to help residents, businesses, and local government anticipate, plan for, and manage climate risks. Scaling up from these experiences, and based on his decades of insights into effective environmental management approaches, Ed and colleagues proposed the creation of a National Climate Service that could aid citizens, businesses, and governments in making the best use of emerging knowledge about the consequences of climate variation and change, while stimulating the continued development of decision-relevant climate science. As a result of these efforts, both the UW and Pacific Northwest are considered leaders in the development of regional approaches to climate change.

Ed’s deep study of climate issues led him to the emerging problem of ocean acidification. Indeed, Ed was among the first social scientists to recognize the threats to environment and society posed by ocean acidification, and he took bold steps to quickly advance understanding of this issue. Ed convened early meetings at UW that motivated an ocean acidification research agenda spanning natural science, social science, and the policy domain. Ed served on the Washington Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification, convened by Governor Christine Gregoire, which established Washington State as a leader in governmental response to ocean acidification.  In retirement, Ed planned to focus even more intently on ocean acidification and the associated suite of environmental stressors now facing the ocean. It’s a testament to his foresight and early action that, just this week, a group of 250 ocean acidification experts from around the globe met in Hobart, Tasmania to further an international ocean acidification research and response agenda.

Throughout his career, Ed provided expert leadership nationally and internationally in many ways, e.g., Chair, Ocean Policy Committee, National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council (1974-1979); Executive Board of the Law of the Sea Institute (various positions including President); consultant to the United Nations – Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO and the Department of Fisheries for the Food and Agriculture Organization. He served as consultant to the South Pacific Fisheries Forum Agency and Ed was joint appointee and chief negotiator for the Micronesian Maritime Authority, Federated States of Micronesia; chairman of the Advisory Group on the International Implications of Disposal of High-Level Radioactive Waste into the Seabed, Nuclear Energy Agency, OECD, Paris; chairman of the Advisory Committee on International Programs and Member of the Advisory Committee for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences, National Science Foundation;  Senior Fellow, Fridtjof Nansen Institute; Member, Climate and Global Change Advisory Panel, NOAA, Office of Global Programs; Member, Advisory Committee on Applications , International Research Institute for Climate Predictions, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory; Trustee, John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment; Board of Directors, Union of Concerned Scientists;  and Member, Science Advisory Panel, US Commission on Ocean Policy.

Other awards include Member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2003 (one of the few NAS members without a formal background in science), and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2005) and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2009).  His commitment to marine affairs was also demonstrated by his serving on the editorial boards of Reviews in Aquatic Sciences, International Organization and for many years Ocean Development and International Law.

In addition to all this global engagement and leadership, Ed was a masterful teacher and mentor. A former student recalls: “Ed’s first words of advice to our class were less than inspiring.  ‘Study ocean policy because you find it interesting in and of itself, not to change the world.’  It was 1978, a few short years after the first Earth Day.  I was in school to learn how to save the world, at least the watery portion of it; Ed’s admonition seemed too cautious, maybe even cynical.  It took more than 30 years for Ed’s wisdom to become clear.  Clarity came in 2012 when I was working on a thorny question regarding climate change.  I bought Ed lunch and broached my question.  After providing his usual insightful commentary, Ed allowed himself a moment to express his disappointment with the human species’ difficulty in coming to terms with climate change’s exigencies.  I then realized that Ed’s decades-old counsel regarding saving the world was really to himself.  How else could he persist in his efforts to bring intellect and reason to problem solving, if not by carefully managing his own expectations of our ability to make the difficult choices needed for change?”

On the evening of June 4, 2010, following an all-day symposium held in honor of Ed Miles as he retired from the University of Washington, a gala dinner was held.  The day was marked not only by thoughtful and provocative speeches touching on all aspects of Ed’s career, but by the gathering of colleagues, friends and family to celebrate with fine food and wine, with toasts and gifts and words of appreciation.  The day’s events blended the professional and the personal, and celebrated them both.

The Symposium, titled “Environmental Governance Challenges in the 21st Century”, was fittingly directed toward the future.  The topics spanned Ed’s career: Law of the Sea, Fisheries Challenges [in the 21st Century], Climate Impact Sciences and Services, and Sustainability Science.  Ed’s keynote lecture addressed the future of the newly formed College of the Environment, which he considered uniquely positioned to provide the necessary integration of earth and social sciences to assist decision makers and the public to deal with the complex issues facing the planet now.

Ed’s legacy will live on in the Law of the Sea, fisheries management, global international organizations, the study of climate impacts, and in his many students, his faculty colleagues and a host of national and international friends and collaborators.

Selected Publications

Miles, EL, S Gibbs, D Fluharty, C Dawson and D Teeter [with W Burke, W Kaczynski and W Wooster]. 1982.  The Management of Marine Regions: The North Pacific. University of California Press, Berkeley. 656 pp. (And accompanying Atlas of Marine Resource Use: North Pacific).

Miles, EL. 1989.  Concepts, approaches and application in sea use planning and management. Ocean Development and International Law Journal. Vol. 20, No. 3: 343-357.

Miles, EL and WT Burke. 1989. “Pressures on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982 Arising from New Fisheries Conflicts: The Problem of Straddling Stocks,” Ocean Development and International Law Journal, Vol. 20 No. 4, pp. 343-357.

Kuribayashi, T and EL Miles (eds.). 1992. The Law of the Sea in 1990s: A Framework for Further International Cooperation. Law of the Sea Institute, University of Hawaii, Honolulu.

School of Marine Affairs. 1996. Enhancing the University of Washington’s Contribution to Environmental Problem Solving. A Report on a Special Symposium, May 14-15, 1996. School of Marine Affairs.

Miles, EL. 1998. “Personal Reflections on an Unfinished Journey Through Global Environmental Problems of Long Timescale,” Policy Sciences, Vol. 31, pp. 1-33.

Miles, EL. 1998. Global Ocean Politics: The Decision-Process at the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, (The Hague: Kluwer Law International), 750 pp.

Callahan, B, EL Miles, and D Fluharty. 1999. “Policy Implications of Climate Forecasts for Water Resources Management in the Pacific Northwest,” Policy Science, Vol. 32, pp. 269-293.

Miles, EL, AK Snover, AF Hamlet, B Callahan, and D Fluharty. 2000. “Pacific Northwest Regional Assessment: The Impact of Climate Variability and Climate Change on the Water Resources of the Columbia River Basin,” Journal of the American Water Resources Association, Vol. 36, No. 2, p. 399-420.

Miles, EL, A Underdal, S Andresen, J Wettestad, J Birger Skjaerseth, and E Carlin. 2002. Environmental Regime Effectiveness: Confronting Theory with Evidence, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press).

Downey, P. 2006.  Profile of Edward L. Miles. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Vol. 103, No. 52 (December 26): 19613 – 19616.

Miles, EL, AK Snover, LC Whitley Binder, ES Sarachik, PW Mote, and N Mantua. 2006. “An Approach to Designing a National Climate Service.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Vol. 103, No. 52 (December 26): 19616 – 19623. Reprinted in PNAS, Vol. 103, No. 45 (November 7, 2006), Special Issue: “Highlights in Sustainability Science”.

Miles, EL. 2009. On the Increasing Vulnerability of the World Ocean to Multiple Stresses. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 34:18.1-18.25. DOI:10.1146/annurev.environ.33.041707.110117.

School of Marine and Environmental Affairs 2010. Environmental Governance Challenges in the 21st Century: Proceedings of a Symposium on the Occasion of the Retirement of Edward L. Miles, June 4, 2010.  School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, University of Washington, 118 pp.

At the request of the Miles-Karpov family, if you, or others you know, wish to make a gift in tribute to Ed Miles, please consider donating to the Ed Miles Memorial Scholarship Fund (UW School of Marine and Environmental Affairs) in support of students studying the effects of climate on environment and society, and/or the Climate Impacts Group Innovation Fund (UW Climate Impacts Group) in support of science-based efforts to build climate resilience for ecosystems and communities. 

Gifts can be made online at the UW Foundation website, via check, or via a securities transfer.  For online giving, please click on the following links to access these two funds:

If you prefer to send a check or make a gift of securities, please contact Kyle Funakoshi in the College of the Environment at or 206-221-6808.

Version, May 9, 2016