WHO I AM
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.”
WHAT I DO
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 had previously been a postdoc at NCAR with Steve Schneider, and that class completely shocked me – and ended up changing my life. 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 do everything I could to help 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 the Chief Scientist for The Nature Conservancy and I am also a Paul Whitfield Horn Distinguished Professor and the Political Science Endowed Chair in Public Policy and Public Law in the Department of Political Science at Texas Tech University, where I am also an associate in the Public Health program of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. I am also a principal investigator for the Department of Interior’s South-Central Climate Adaptation Science Center and the National Science Foundation’s Global Infrastructure Climate Network. 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.
In 1997, I founded ATMOS Research, where I worked for many years to 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. Over the years, I worked 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. I no longer do this work today, but it is being continued capably by my former postdoctoral fellow and experienced colleague, Dr. Anne Stoner.
Together with my husband Andrew Farley who is a pastor, a Sirius XM radio host (you can find him at 7PM central on Family Talk 131) and the best-selling author of eight books including The Naked Gospel, I wrote A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions, a book that untangles the complex science and tackles many long-held misconceptions about global warming.
I frequently give public talks on climate science, impacts, communication, and faith. Many of my past talks are archived on the POSTS page, and I share future events on my Facebook and Twitter pages. My TED talk has close to 4 million views and my new book, Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World, will be released in September 2021. Order your copy today!
ORGANIZATIONS I SUPPORT
I am proud to serve as a scientific advisor to Citizen’s Climate Lobby, the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, the Evangelical Environmental Network, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, and the International Women’s Earth and Climate Initiative.
I am an Oxfam America Sister of the Planet and currently chair the Earth Science Women’s Network Advisory Council, and also serve on the TED Countdown initiative, American Geophysical Union’s Climate Communications Prize Committee, the National Center for Atmospheric Research Walter Orr Roberts Distinguished Lecture Committee, the advisory board for the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s How We Respond project, the science advisory board for the Environmental Resilience Institute at Indiana University, the Editorial Committee of Texas Tech University Press, the scientific council for Engie, the international advisory board for the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, and the advisory board for the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.
I have served on the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s What We Know panel to communicate the “Three Rs” of climate change: Reality, Risk and Response, and their Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion; the American Geophysical Union’s Hydrology Committee on Uncertainty; the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climate Predictions and Projections team and the NOAA Climate.gov advisory team; the National Center for Atmospheric Research Climate and Global Dynamics Laboratory Advisory Panel; the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research President’s Advisory Committee on University Relations; the steering committee of the International Drawdown Conference, “Research to Action: The Science of Drawdown;” the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s Anthropocene Advisory Council; and have contributed my research to and served as an expert reviewer for the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
WHAT I’M WORKING ON NOW
Together with our local PBS station, KTTZ, I write and produce a PBS Digital Studios short series, Global Weirding: Climate, Politics and Religion that runs from October to March every year. You can subscribe to our YouTube channel to get each episode in your inbox as soon as it’s released. I also participated in a new documentary on climate change in Alaska, Between Earth and Sky, that was released in 2017, and contributed to Seasons 1 and 2 of the Years of Living Dangerously, which aired on the National Geographic channel in 2016.
I serve on the Executive Summary Committee and was a convening and lead author for several chapters in the first and second volumes of the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Fourth National Climate Assessment. The first volume was released in November 2017, and the second volume was released in November 2018 on Black Friday. Volume 1 is over 400 pages, so if you’d just like to read a one-page summary, click here!
I give a lot of talks, and during the pandemic they are all online. I try to list them all on my Events page and my Facebook page. Once life returns to normal, I’ll be collecting my invitations, organizing them carefully, recommending a local scientist or request a video talk wherever possible (about 90% of the time!), and when I do travel, trying to do as many talks as possible in the same location to minimize the carbon footprint per trip — since, like many scientists, travel is the biggest part of my carbon footprint. I’m very grateful for the amazing work of Climate Stewards, who I use to offset the remainder of my travel-related carbon emissions. As soon as details on these events are available, I post them as events on my Facebook page.
What do I do with the rest of my time? I research – here’s a webinar that talks about some of it – and write papers. I teach graduate classes and run the day to day activities of the Texas Tech Climate Center. And I spend a lot of time interacting with cities, stakeholders, and decision-makers to provide the climate information they need to prepare for the future. There’s never a dull moment.
HONOURS I’VE RECEIVED
My work has been featured on the documentary series Years of Living Dangerously and The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers, and in articles appearing in many outlets, from Texas Monthly to Macleans.
In 2012, I was named one of Christianity Today’s 50 Women to Watch. In 2014, I was awarded the American Geophysical Union’s Climate Communication Prize, and named one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People and the Foreign Policy’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers. In 2015, I was named one of the Huffington Post’s 20 Climate Champions, and honoured with the President’s Mid-Career Faculty Award at Texas Tech University and a Headliner Award from the Association for Women in Communication Lubbock Professional Chapter, while 2016 I received a Chancellor’s Council Distinguished Research Award from Texas Tech University, the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award, and the National Center for Science Education’s Friend of the Planet award, and together with Bob Inglis from RepublicEn, was named to the POLITICO 50 list of thinkers, doers and visionaries transforming American politics.
In 2017 I was named one of FORTUNE’s world’s greatest leaders (along with two other women in academia in Texas!), and one of Working Mother’s 50 Most Influential Moms (which of course I loved). In 2018 I was awarded the eighth Stephen H. Schneider Award for Outstanding Climate Science Communication and was named a YWCA Woman of Excellence in science. I also received an honourary doctorate from Colgate University. Fun fact: our Texas Tech mascot is the Red Raider and guess what theirs is? It’s the Raider too. No switch in allegiance needed. In 2019 I was honoured to be named to Foreign Policy’s list of 100 Global Thinkers for the second time and also to make Apolitical’s list of the 100 Most Influential People in Climate Policy and Elle Magazine’s list of 27 Women Leading the Charge. I was very honoured to receive an honourary doctorate from my alma mater, Victoria College at the University of Toronto, along with my aunt Ruth Hayhoe, as well as being named a finalist for Texan of the Year, a Canadian Woman of the Year, and the United Nation’s Champion of the Earth in the category of Science and Innovation.
These are all tremendous honours, for which I’m enormously grateful (and constantly surprised). What means the most to me personally, though, is when just one person tells me sincerely that they had never cared about climate change before, or even thought it was real: but now, because of something they heard me say, they’ve changed their mind. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.