Katharine Hayhoe: Atmospheric Scientist

“The choices we make today and over the next decade will have a radical impact on the path we travel in the future.”
—Dr. Katharine Hayhoe

To honour the upcoming International Women’s Day on March 8th, no series of posts on important women and climate change would be complete without Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist originally from Toronto, Ontario (an hour’s drive from where I live) but who now resides in Texas with her husband.

I first heard about Dr. Hayhoe when I was trained by Al Gore in San Francisco in August, 2012 for the Climate Reality Project. Mr. Gore used a video featuring Dr. Hayhoe describing how much more moisture the atmosphere could hold the hotter it got, explaining why more intense storms and flooding were taking place as a part of global warming. But Mr. Gore liked to point out that not only was she a climate scientist but she was also a Republican and an evangelical Christian, subtly pointing out what a rarity she is.

Dr. Hayhoe describes herself thusly:

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.

Dr. Hayhoe began her career with a B.Sc. in physics and astronomy from the University of Toronto, first publishing papers in the field of observational astronomy. She then went on to complete a Masters’ degree in atmospheric science from the University of Illinois where her research focused on understanding human and natural sources of methane. For her Ph.D., she refocused her research on statistical downscaling methods that help to generate future projections.

Dr. Hayhoe is now a professor in the Department of Political Science, and serves as the director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University. Her 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. She analyzes observations, compares future scenarios, evaluates global and regional climate models, builds and assesses statistical downscaling models, and constantly strives to develop better ways of translating climate projections into information relevant to agriculture, ecosystems, energy, infrastructure, public health, and water resources.

One of the things I admire most about Dr. Hayhoe is that her faith hasn’t been a hindrance to accepting global warming and climate change, as it seems to have been for so many people of faith. She believes in the facts and doesn’t believe her faith should prevent that. As she has pointed out:

I don’t think there are any churches that have “Thou shalt not believe in climate change” in their actual statement of faith.

With her husband Andrew Farley she has written a book entitled “A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions” that untangles the complex science and tackles many long-held misconceptions about global warming.

Dr. Hayhoe will be speaking at Starmus this coming June in Norway and I’m very much looking forward to meeting her. Her work is tremendous, her perspective is extremely valuable, and her efforts are worthy of our praise. She’s an amazing woman indeed and serves as an exemplary model for International Women’s Day.

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