As a child, Kate Marvel never dreamed of being a scientist; an actress or a writer perhaps, but something other than science. (She thought it was “so boring.”) Just an hour of astronomy in college, however, would change her trajectory forever.
Today, Marvel is a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Research Institute (GISS) and Columbia University, where he examines the big picture of climate change using supercomputers and satellite observations. She received her PhD in Theoretical Particle Physics from the University of Cambridge in 2008.
Much of her time is also devoted to talking and writing about climate change. On a column for Scientific American called “Hot Planet”
Marvel hides reserved optimism about the future of the Earth (her favorite planet) and the climate crisis, which she defines as a “problem to solve”. She believes that we as humans control our destiny and it is up to us to work together to prevent the worst.
The following interview, edited for clarity and brevity, is part of Inverse Future 50 series, a group of 50 people who will be forces of good in the 2020s.
Your doctorate was in theoretical physics, but now you work as an air conditioner. How did this transition happen?
In general, I loved physics; I loved using math to find out about the universe. I studied everywhere in the universe and then I realized that the Earth is the only good part.
It was a much easier transition intellectually than I thought. I use math and statistics and physical theories to understand things about the world. Right now I am studying this planet, unlike all planets.
“We can shape the future what we want. “
You have said before that the Earth is your favorite planet. Why so?
I love space, I have always been interested in space and cosmology. But the thing about space is that it totally wants to kill us. You leave the planet and there is no oxygen, no water.
This planet is so special because it is the only place we know for sure that it has absolutely perfect living conditions. And I really like life; I like people, I like societies, I like animals, I like ecosystems and all these things happen this planet.
What were you like as a child?
I have many great, supportive parents. And they always encouraged me to be interested in things; I was one of those kids who did super dinosaurs for a month and then super marine biology.
But from the age of about 12, I was adamant that I did not want to be a scientist; I didn’t want to be someone doing something with math or science because I thought it was so boring. And many of the reasons for that are that the way they taught me was really boring. I was like, “Why would anyone be interested in physics?” I wanted to be a writer; I wanted to be an actress.
And then I got to college and took an astronomy course for non-majors. I remember sitting in class and thinking, “Oh my God, this is amazing; Could I know more about this and all I have to do is overcome my fear of math? ”
Participate in a new collection of essays in Everything we can save. What motivates you to reach out to the general public, and does this ever work against you in academia?[Writing] It helps me as a scientist to be able to think, “Okay, why is this really important? Why would anyone be interested in this? How can I explain this thing I think about in a way that someone without this particular experience would understand and find appropriate? “
I have a lot of criticism of the traditional structure of academia, where you are a physicist or a biologist, or you can only study this thing. If you really care about the planet and climate change, you do it can not just learn one thing. Some areas of academia perceive it better than others.
You are quite active on Twitter.
Twitter can be really useful for broadcasting, and I’ve met a lot of real-life people I first knew on Twitter. Overall, if someone looks really great on Twitter, they really are great in real life.
But sometimes it’s more like if there was a machine that you would introduce with a scientific fact or a silly joke, then the machine will offend you in many different ways – I feel that sometimes it’s Twitter.
How do you unwind these days?
I have a new person in my family, so there isn’t much fuss. The weather was stressful for all of us and I found that I was really worried when I tried to read or watch something where someone was in any danger for any weather – which actually means I can’t consume anything. with a plot.
I watched a lot The British Baking Showthat I love; just having really strong opinions about people’s cakes and if someone has a baking accident and needs to go home, that’s fine.
TED’s talk of Marvel’s clouds and climate change in 2017 received more than a million views.
You talked about clouds as an understudied variable in climate change.
I am interested in the question of exactly how much the planet will heat up. And to a large extent we don’t know how hot it will be – because we don’t know what people will do; we do not know what the concentrations of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases will look like at the end of the century. So, this is the biggest wild card.
But even if we knew that, we still wouldn’t know exactly how much. And that’s because of what we call feedback processes. As the Earth warms, the climate changes. We get changes in the patterns of precipitation, in the atmospheric humidity, in the clouds, in the ice cover. And all of these things can change the rate of warming.
And clouds are one of the biggest substitute symbols there. Because clouds are incredibly complex – difficult to obtain properly in a global climate model – and are extremely important for the planet’s energy balance; clouds play a really important role in regulating current planetary temperature. So, the reason I’ve been working on clouds is not that I’m essentially interested in clouds – I actually hate clouds, I just want it to be sunny all the time. But the reason is that they can really affect the planet’s response to increased concentrations of carbon dioxide.
You are confronted with some optimism that humanity can fight the climate crisis.
I wouldn’t say so optimistic, mandatory.
We know why it is getting warmer and we know where these greenhouse gas emissions come from.
And we as a society can choose to do something about it – at any time.
I think a lot of people are choosing to do something about it.
I would not say that this is as much optimism as just understanding that this is a problem with a solution.
„С science plus action, things can happen Better. “
What is your biggest concern about the climate crisis?
As we have seen in the Covid-19 crisis, this notion that we have science, however, is simply not enough.
It is not enough to oppose people … who are resistant to hearing these messages.
You can tell people to stand apart and wear a mask, and some people will do it, and then other people, for a whole bunch of different reasons, will say, “No way, you’re not going to tell me what to do. I do. “
And it’s the same with climate change. There is the idea that “Oh well, we will respond to climate change by reducing the carbon in the atmosphere and adapting to the new climate, whatever it is, using the best available science.” And since when have we ever done this? ?
The thing that keeps me awake at night is this kind of irrational human response to rising temperatures. This is not something I understand, because I am a physicist – I do not teach people. But the thing makes me the most scared.
This series is related to the 2020s. What is one big forecast you have for this decade?
I’m a climatologist, so I use climate models to say:
“If we do that, this is the realm of opportunities that could arise from this choice.
“So, if we take this seriously; if we decarbonise the electricity sector by 2035, if we change our transport system, if we find viable alternatives to factory-raised meat, I think we could look at that with pride, saying, ‘Hey, we’ve seen this problem come, and we did take steps to remove it. ”
There will still be climate disruption, the world will continue to warm – but we have really hit the worst of it.
But if we don’t take this seriously, if we don’t prioritize it, then who knows what this next decade will bring?
I’m not just talking about climate change; I am talking about a social disorder that also arises in response to this. So, things can be really bad.
This is not a coin inversion. This is not something we just have to wait and see how it will shake – we can shape the future we want.
Given that we are almost done with 2020 and it was so awful – sorry, historical – year, what moment will you remember from him?
I mean, I live in New York. And I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sirens. I don’t think I’ll ever forget to walk around the refrigerated trucks parked in front of the hospitals. So, I will remember it; to note how horrible this year has been.
But I will also remember how everyone wears a mask in New York. You go out on the street in my neighborhood, everyone is wearing a mask; people have changed their social life outdoors. And although the cases are on the rise now, we are not back where we were in April. And I remember one day in May when you could hear the birds again. There were fewer sirens – and more birds.
So it gives me confidence that with science plus action, things can get better.
Kate Marvel is a member of Inverse Future 50,, a group of 50 people who will be forces of good in 2020.