Ed Miles, a professor whose work pushed the University of Washington to the front lines of climate-change research, has died. He was 76.
In an academic world where many focus on a single field of study, Ed Miles was a restless man.
Dr. Miles earned his bachelor’s degree in history, got a doctorate in international relations and then trained in the sciences during the course of a remarkable career that helped push the University of Washington to the front lines of climate-change research.
“He thought a lot about the problems of the global commons,” said Amy Snover, director of the Climate Impacts Group that Dr. Miles founded at UW. “How we have organized our society and our governments. Who is in charge, and what they are rewarded for doing, and how that completely shapes how we interact with the natural world.”
Dr. Miles died May 7 at his Seattle home of complications from Lewy body dementia. He was 76.
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Dr. Miles was a gentle man endowed with a warm laugh that invited others to join in. During more than 35 years at UW, Dr. Miles helped to mentor, inspire and prod UW colleagues and students to think in new ways about big problems that — in addition to climate change — in his later years included ocean acidification.
His own studies included oceanography, fisheries and the atmosphere. He never obtained formal diplomas in any of those fields but his research gained broad recognition, and in 2003 he became one of the few without a science degree to be inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, according to an academy profile.
At the time of his death, he was Bloedel Professor Emeritus of Marine Studies and Public Affairs at the UW.
Dr. Miles grew up on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, where he was drawn as a youth to the sea.
“I spent a lot of time on, in and around the ocean, and I’m absolutely fascinated by it,” Dr. Miles recalled in a 2004 interview with the National Academy of Sciences.
He received his bachelor’s degree in history at Howard University and his doctorate at the University of Denver, where his early research looked at how international law was developed to regulate outer space and the oceans.
In 1974, he moved to Seattle to help found what was then the UW’s Institute for Marine Studies, where much of his early work focused on the law of the sea and fisheries.
By the 1990s, he was convinced that the buildup of greenhouse gases caused by the combustion of fossil fuels was “the single most serious problem we face in the long term,” and he served on a working group of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change that assessed likely impacts.
Dr. Miles believed that the global-climate models didn’t give policymakers enough information to decide on how to cope with the changes that lie ahead. In 1995, he formed the UW Climate Impacts Group, which was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and became a model for other regional centers to study the effects of climate change and what could be done to prepare for them.
The group’s faculty members were drawn from engineering, forestry, fisheries, hydrology and other academic areas. Dr. Miles encouraged them not only to talk with each other but also with policymakers in government.
“He was a really humble person who was not trying to push his own point of view,” said John M. Wallace, a UW professor emeritus of atmospheric sciences. “Behind the scenes, he provided the venue for that (dialogue) to happen, and was giving encouragement and feedback.”
Dr. Miles wanted to inform policymakers about what was at stake, the level of uncertainty in forecasts, and the possible courses of action that could be followed.
“We have to walk a fine line between advocacy — and we should never cross that line — and education,” Dr. Miles said.
Over time, he became increasingly concerned about the future that would be left to his grandchildren, and frustrated by how little progress had been made to combat climate change.
“We really haven’t made any significant inroads on this massive problem we face,” he said in the 2004 interview.
In his final years, he turned his energies inward as he battled the cruel effects of a disease that combines progressive dementia with tremors and other symptoms of Parkinson’s.
Anthony Miles, his son who practices law in Seattle, said his father — over his last 12 to 18 months of life — pivoted from a focus on work to accepting “the love that surrounded him because of who he was, not what he did.”
As he was cared for at home, family members would relay news of the outside world, such as the historic December international agreement in Paris to limit global warming.
“What he actually processed, I don’t know, but his face lit up,” recalled his wife, Adrienne Karpov. “?‘How about that,’ he said.”
Dr. Miles is survived by his wife of 10 years, Karpov; children Anthony Miles and Leila Miles; and children by marriage Miriam Karpov, Mia Karpov, Aneil Singha, Jeramy Jiracek and Maile O’Hara.
His first marriage, to Wanda Numen, ended in divorce. His second wife, Margaret O’Hara, died earlier.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m., July 9 at Meany Hall at the University of Washington.