For me the environment is the most critical issue we face as a species and a nation… what are we going to do about it and when? What are the facts and what do we face? In this compelling program we speak in depth with one of the world’s leading climate scientists, Katharine Hayhoe. Dr. Hayhoe is not only brilliant, but has a gift at making extremely complex situations, understood and intellectually accessible. She is also a devout Christian who sees a natural fit between spirituality and science.
In her own words…
I’m an atmospheric scientist. I study climate change, one of the most pressing issues we face today.
I don’t accept global warming on faith: I crunch the data, I analyze the models, I help engineers and city managers and ecologists quantify the impacts.
The data tells us the planet is warming; the science is clear that humans are responsible; the impacts we’re seeing today are already serious; and our future is in our hands. As John Holdren once said, “We basically have three choices: mitigation, adaptation, and suffering. We’re going to do some of each. The question is what the mix is going to be. The more mitigation we do, the less adaptation will be required, and the less suffering there will be.”
I began my career with a B.Sc. in physics and astronomy from the University of Toronto. My first published papers were in the field of observational astronomy, on variable stars and galaxy clustering around quasars. As I was finishing my degree, I took a class in climate science with Danny Harvey, who’d just returned from working at NCAR with Steve Schneider, and he blew my mind. I didn’t realize climate science was based on the exact same basic physics – thermodynamics, non-linear fluid dynamics, and radiative transfer – I’d been learning in astrophysics. And I definitely didn’t realize that climate change wasn’t just an environmental issue – it’s a threat multiplier.
It takes the most serious humanitarian issues confronting climate change today – hunger, poverty, lack of access to clean water, injustice, refugee crises and more – and it makes them worse. How could I not devote my time to helping fix this huge global challenge?
I switched gears and headed to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to work on a M.S. in atmospheric science with Don Wuebbles, a climate scientist well known for his leadership in policy-relevant science. Working with Don, my masters research focused on understanding human and natural sources of methane, and quantifying the contribution of methane and other non-CO2 greenhouse gases to emission reduction targets. After participating in a climate change assessment for the Great Lakes, I recognized the need for high-resolution climate projections to integrate into impact studies in areas ranging from ecosystems to energy.
For my Ph.D., I refocused my research to survey and compare a broad range of the statistical downscaling methods often used to generate these projections: research that now feeds directly into my contribution to the World Meteorological Organization’s Coordinated Regional Downscaling Experiment for Empirical Statistical Downscaling, or WMO CORDEX-ESD. There’s no one like a scientist for generating long unpronounceable acronyms, is there?
To date, my work has resulted in over 125 peer-reviewed papers, abstracts, and other publications and many key reports including the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Second National Climate Assessment; the U.S. National Academy of Science report, Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts over Decades to Millennia; and the 2014 Third National Climate Assessment. In addition to these reports, I have led climate impact assessments for a broad cross-section of cities and regions, from Chicago to California and the U.S. Northeast. The findings of these studies have been presented before Congress, highlighted in briefings to state and federal agencies, and used as input to future planning by communities, states, and regions across the country.
Today, I am a climate scientist, a professor in the Department of Political Science and director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, part of the Department of Interior’s South-Central Climate Science Center. My research currently focuses on establishing a scientific basis for assessing the regional to local-scale impacts of climate change on human systems and the natural environment.
To this end, I analyze observations, compare future scenarios, evaluate global and regional climate models, build and assess statistical downscaling models, and constantly strive to develop better ways of translating climate projections into information relevant to agriculture, ecosystems, energy, infrastructure, public health, and water resources.
I am also the founder and CEO of ATMOS Research, where we bridge the gap between scientists and stakeholders to provide relevant, state-of-the-art information on how climate change will affect our lives to a broad range of non-profit, industry and government clients. We work with a broad range of organizations, from Austin Water to Boston Logan Airport, to assess the potential impacts of climate change on their infrastructure and future planning.