Global temperature anomalies for 2015 compared to the 1951-1980 baseline. Photo by NASA Visualization Studio.
It’s easy to think of the Earth of being so big it can take care of itself. It’s a gentle giant who lets us walk all over it, prod it, poke it, and rearrange its parts. But now we know our actions over the centuries have had an effect. How do you convince the world to make course corrections? That’s just one of the challenges that Professor Katharine Hayhoe tackles as an atmospheric scientist who studies climate change. She directs the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University and hosts the PBS Digital Studios web series Global Weirding.
Earlier in her life, thinking science is cool, Dr. Hayhoe aspired to be an astrophysicist. While studying quasars, she took a class in climate sciences and discovered that modeling the climate IS all about physics. When she realized she could also help people, her destiny as a climate scientist was sealed.
With two-thirds of the population living in areas that will be flooded when sea levels rise, she realized the importance of researching climate effects and then getting society to put mitigating solutions in place. She believes we have an obligation to lessen the misery of the people who will be effected. Many of these people are some of the poorest in the world.
It hasn’t been easy to convince people to act, or even to agree that climate change is real. Just take a look at the recent withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord. During an interview with Evan Smith on KQED, Professor Hayhoe discussed the challenges of explaining climate science.
Weather, she pointed out, goes up and down, but climate has cycles 20 to 30 years in length. So short term weather trends can trick people into ignoring the long term cycles. She says people often reach the wrong conclusion and gives this example:
“The Titanic can’t be sinking because my end just went up 200 feet.”