Dr.Kim Cobb on Climate Science


Dr. Kim Cobb is a leader, and born scientist, who is helping steer the discussion on climate change and shape our future. She is an advance professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and has been studying climate change and paleoclimate for nearly two decades. Recently, she appeared before the House Natural Resources Committee to testify as a climate change professional and is currently a lead author for the sixth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

You can learn more about Dr. Cobb’s research at Georgia Tech and how she reconstructs the Earth’s past using corals and cave stalagmites by checking out the Cobb Lab. You can also follow her on Twitter for updates on her work and life as an Earth scientist.

Read the full interview below.

Hi I’m Alexander Greene and this is Climate Aware. Today my guest is Dr. Kim Cobb, Climate Scientist and advance professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology where she operates the Cobb Lab for Paleoclimate Research. Dr. Cobb has been studying climate change for nearly two decades, has lead over twenty research expeditions to pacific islands, and has recently appeared before the House Natural Resources Committee to testify as a climate change professional. She’s also currently a lead author for the sixth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Dr. Cobb, thank you for joining me today.

Dr. Cobb: Thanks for having me.

Alexander: So your research focuses on reconstructing tropical pacific climates, and one of the ways you do this is by coring into coral reefs. Can you tell us more about this, and how corals are used to look into the Earth’s past?

Dr. Cobb: Yeah! So when I say I use corals to reconstruct climate, it really is borrowing from a whole host of work across the globe reconstructing tree rings, ice cores, lake sediments, deep sea sediments; a whole host of things we use to peer into the past and try to understand the types of natural variability that occured, and what we’re doing today to the climate system and how the climate signals around the world are changing. That varies depending on if you’re in the ocean, or on land, or by region across the globe, so having as many records as possible. One of the most important places to get records of pre-industrial climate is from the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Where we just have so few instrumental observations of climate going back in time because we weren’t living there, and ships weren’t reliably traversing the oceans until the mid-twentieth century. So this is a hole in our understanding of global climate and it’s also the site of one of the most powerful natural climate cycles on our planet: the El-Nino Southern Oscillation. Corals are really great and a perfect match for this job because they allow us to reconstruct month by month temperatures in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and that allows us to capture all the variability, including this El-Nino Southern Oscillation phenomenon which comes and goes in a matter of 6-9 months. Working with corals allows us to really look at these ocean temperature extremes in these remote places and add that into our understanding of how climate might be changing in response to greenhouse gases.

Alexander: Now,  you know, there are many people who work on reconstructing ocean temperatures, for example I have a colleague who is working on the offshore drilling project, and they use sediment coring. To me it sounds like corals offer a more precise look into the Earth’s climate as compared to sediment cores. Is that correct?

Dr. Cobb: Well I’m not going to get into a mud slinging contest, no pun intended here, with the different proxies. Obviously I’ve chosen to work on corals, which again, are kind of uniquely well suited to look at these high-resolution features of our climate system; on short lived temperature extremes that you just can’t capture with most, if any, sediments records that are out there. Now every proxy has its strengths and weaknesses, so while the corals are exceptionally high-resolution records of ocean temperatures, they don’t extend for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. Obviously, they have limited windows that they afford us back through time. And so each window might be as short as 20 years, could be 100 years, long records of marine sediments typically extend for many thousands of years, and they may approach decadal resolutions, so one point ever decade, or even sometimes one point every century. But these records are complimentary; they all help us understand the Earth’s climate system better in more detail, but obviously one is more suited towards the study of El-Nino than another. Again, we need them all, and together they help inform the full breadth and spectrum of climate variability of the past.

Alexander: You are one of the lead authors on the 6th assessment report for the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change. What exactly is your specific role with that?

Dr. Cobb: I am a lead author amongst fifteen other lead authors on chapter one in working group one. So working group one is the physical science basis, and as chapter one we’re kind of the kick off chapter for the whole report, which I think has twelve chapters in working group one. My specific job on the team is to bring the paleoclimate expertise. I think I’m one of two people on the team who have a lot of expertise in paleoclimate. Each chapter has an expert on paleoclimate this time, which is really interesting. Last report, paleoclimate was allocated its own entire chapter; this time paleoclimate will be embedded in and woven throughout the entire report, in every chapter. So that’s a great opportunity to showcase the contributions of paleoclimate. We’re right now in the middle of drafting our second draft, if you will, as an internal team of authors, and it’s a laborious process requiring a huge amount of coordination within our own chapter team, as well as across all the other chapter teams. And so we meet roughly once per year to try, as an entire working group of 150 scientists, to try to figure out how to get this coordination done in real time in person, and try to push towards the next draft. It’s exciting, it’s exhausting, but it is one of the biggest honors of my entire life to participate in this.

Alexander: I imagine so! Now was this something that you were invited to participate in?

Dr. Cobb: Yeah, so you have to be invited to be involved in the IPCC, and that’s because they’re really looking to make sure that there is a balance of expertise on each chapter team; that it’s a workable number of people on each chapter team, and there’s also consideration for geographic balance. We don’t want all of the authors coming from Europe or North America, you want a distribution that reflects the global nature of the challenge and the global nature of the solutions. That’s why these author teams are meticulously kind of chosen head by head, so they feel they have an optimum diversity of folks and depth of expertise to tackle these topics.

Alexander: With this report, I understand you guys have a few iterations. It’s supposed to be released in what, 2021?

Dr. Cobb: Yeah! Seems like forever from now, but I know it’ll go fast.

Alexander: Seems like now everyone is jumping on board with spreading the ideas of climate change and what’s going on. Everyone wants everything to happen now but of course the research takes time.

Dr. Cobb: Yeah, I mean this is actually not even research. This is really synthesis work, and so it also takes time. And writing something that pretends to consolidate the body of scientific work that has gone on in climate science over the last ten years is a staggering feat. And that’s really what we’re doing and what we’re charged with, and that makes it a pretty high stakes endeavour. Because you do need to wrap your heads around collectively the whole body of literature and what it means for advancing our understanding of climate risk and how that can inform assessments of vulnerability, and adaptation, and of course what it means for mitigation and reduction of greenhouse gases.

Alexander: Just last month in February you gave a testimony on climate change to the House Natural Resource Committee. What has compelled you to take a more active and public stance in politics?

Dr. Cobb: Oh goodness – I mean, this is something I’ve been engaged with for quite some time to differing levels. I’ve been going to Washington DC, sometimes with students, sometimes in the context of Congressional Science Day visits, organized by my professional society, the American Geophysical Union. But I’ve been going to DC and visiting with lawmakers and staff on capitol hill for well over a decade already. This has been something that I’ve felt is the responsibility of climate scientists; to have these kinds of conversations, to understand and take the pulse of what’s going on in DC, and offer to be a resource, a continuing resource. Anybody who wants that information should have ready access to a real climate scientists from their district, from their State. So that has been my goal to be that person if they want to reach out. And so I think coming into the current administration with the more overt attacks on climate science and in some cases science in general, my participation has stepped up markedly, and in this case it’s really not about just being a resource, although that’s continuously always my offer, even to the current administration – if they want information, I’m very happy to give it and provide that data. But, more to the point, I’m really interested in making sure that scientists are involved in defending science from partisan attack, and again, I view that as a unique role for a scientist. It’s not only our responsibility, the public has a vested interest and role to play here. But it’s really important that scientists get on the front lines of this war on science, and make sure that we are there to defend the body of our lives’ work, and the body of the results that the entire community has generated over decades of rigorous and hard work and millions of dollars of public funding that have been pointed towards this kind of public interest work – which is what climate science is. Climate science works for public good, and when that is trampled upon, we are risking the welfare of the public. That’s why I am thoroughly and completely engaged in making sure that this science is not torn apart, and it is not belittled, and not set aside; it should be centered in any policy framework and be allowed to be weighed in terms of policy development.

Alexander: This is something that has really interested me because if feel like with scientists –  there are a lot of scientists who just want to do their research and also don’t have the, I don’t want to say the motivation, but I guess the capacity to go in and be an activist for the side of science. Whereas they may feel internally that it brings a lot to the table but they’re just not communicators in the sense of: ‘this is the work, this is the big impact, and I need to be active about it.’ It’s such a difference that I see in the science community.  We either have people who really want to get out there and explain what’s going on, and then you have those who are on the sidelines doing wonderful work but just don’t have that in them.

Dr. Cobb: Yeah, I mean obviously this is something I grapple with all the time, because I have many colleagues who look at the work that I do, being heavily engaged in the defence of science on a national level and in the media all the time, and they would look at that and say that I have crossed a line, and I have become an activist and advocate for political agendas, and mostly Liberal political agendas. And I would push back on that, as it is obviously not how I view my role in this space and I would say to the public, and to those colleagues of mine who view this only from a partisan lens, that that is how the far right has weaponized scientists who speak out.  They have basically said that if you speak out as a scientist you are engaging in partisan speech, and you are being an activist, and you have lost your objectivity as a scientist, and you are to be discounted, as a voice. Because otherwise scientists are one of the most trusted voices by the American public. That is how they have marginalized whole segments of the scientific community. Mostly, people who sit on the sidelines are driven by fear. Fear of being labeled a political activist, which is not what scientists want to be labelled as, that’s not why we do what we do, it’s not what we believe in, it doesn’t drive us. Also fear of partisan fueled attacks, on their work, on themselves, which is part of the toolkit that the climate denier community has used, and all of the political forces behind them have used to discredit individual scientists and whole segments of scientific research.  So it looks very scary from the outside. But you know, I obviously would say that the tide has turned. There are now not just a handful of voices to target these kinds of attacks at, which make them very effective and very damaging; but there are probably dozens of people who have stepped into this space, and collectively we are quite a force to be reckoned with. We are vocal, and we have each other’s backs, and we are really towing the lines together. So more and more people see a space for themselves in this defense of science space, and making sure that climate science results are centered in policy, and continue to be used to inform decisions at every level from cities, to states, to D.C. So that’s really been a heartening shift, and I’m really happy to be a part of that.

Alexander: Yeah absolutely. I mean it’s something that you see across the board on social media. I know for instance on Instagram we have the ‘Scicomm’ movement, and a lot of people – scientists from my generation are starting to use the hashtag #scicomm and they are outwardly expressing ‘This is what I do, I shouldn’t be ashamed as a scientist or feel like I can’t talk about it, because these are facts.  And facts should not be blacklisted, or hidden, or shunned because they don’t agree with policy.’

Dr. Cobb: Yeah. Certainly they are going to be warped by people with a political agenda, and this is so incredibly damaging to the scientific enterprise, and incredibly damaging to the American public. So, again, this is what drives those of us who are heavily engaged. We very strongly feel that scientific results are always in the public good, and are always there for public good and they will advance the prosperity and the health of Americans when we do center those scientific results on policy.

Alexander: This brings me to another idea, which is: you live, work, and teach in the State of Georgia. It’s a State whose Senators deny that humans have an impact on climate change. Do you find it difficult to communicate climate change in your hometown?

Dr. Cobb: Well, you know, my hometown is Atlanta, so (laughter) it’s kind of a special place. But obviously I’m really interested in reaching beyond the echo chambers of my college campus here at Georgia Tech, even this blue bubble of Atlanta; and Georgia and really recognize that everybody needs to understand the main findings of climate science and what it means for our State. So, towards that end, I’m always interested in talking to the Senate staffers up in D.C. about what climate change means for Georgia and how we can prepare to protect communities from the climate impacts that we know are already here at our doorstep and will get worse through time. And argue that our economy is at risk if we ignore these findings, and the lives and livelihoods of Georgians are at risk when we ignore these findings as well.  And so, very recently there has been a lot of traction on this issue in Georgia. Of course we’ve had devastating hurricane Michael rip through the southern part of the State, devastating farming communities with impacts that they say will ripple over generations of farmers in southern Georgia. Of course there’s the huge aid package being worked on by the Senators up in DC for those very vulnerable and damaged and devastated communities. And then also on the coast of Georgia we’ve had brushes with hurricane Matthew and hurricane Irma that have rattled the Georgia coast. Now, beginning to meet with policy makers down there, from across the political spectrum, to try to bring some tools and resources to these communities to help them grapple with the very current problem of coastal flooding on the coast of Georgia.  So we have episodes of blue sky flooding, quite frequently now on the on the Georgia coast. And I’m very proud to be one of the leads on a project that installs a network of sea level sensors along the coast to provide real time information about sea levels at scales that are relevant to individual neighborhoods. So when we go down to these communities and we say ‘we want to help you, we understand the problem, we can help you forecast the threats and help you prepare for protecting communities from these episodes’, people are very excited about that. People want to work with us, people want to learn more, they support our efforts. So, again, as much as people may say ‘it must be hard living in Georgia,’ I say, ‘well you know, there are a lot of opportunities’ and when you can reach people with information that’s relevant to them, here and now, you will find very fertile ground for important conversations about how to protect ourselves and how to work with the climate science findings to make them relevant for communities today.  So that’s where I am right now, and it’s a great place to be actually, and I think it has a lot of lessons for working with communities across the political divide on this issue across the U.S.

Alexander: What’s interesting to me is you’ve mentioned sea level rise on the coast of Georgia. I’m originally from Virginia, a small town called Gloucester, and the people are faced with sea level rise. We see it between all of the hurricanes that we’ve had, at least in my lifetime, before I moved out here to California. And so these impacts certainly hit home for me, and they hit home for a lot of people, because when you are seeing every couple of years a hurricane brings more intense surges, and not only that, you are watching your neighbor have to put their house up on stilts because this is the only piece of property that they have, and they are not going anywhere else.

Dr. Cobb: Yeah, I mean these are real issues for communities today and it’s not just hurricanes anymore, honestly, it can be a wind event on a perfectly sunny day and can pile up water and flood these communities. That’s what we’re seeing across the eastern seaboard from places such as Norfork where of course we have the huge naval base acutely vulnerable to this episodic nuisance flooding all the way down through Virginia Beach, Charleston, Savannah, and of course the poster child for sea level rise Miami which is, in a way, ahead of the game in terms of being one of the most vulnerable places and also advancing some of the policies that are most relevant.

Alexander: And I guess at some point we’re really going to have to face the fact that some of these people are going to have to leave because with sea level rise, with land subsidence we can’t maintain these places unless we do build barriers that are ultimately temporary.

Dr. Cobb: Yeah, I think what communities choose to do in the face of this threat is going to be a decades long process and so what they decide today may change in ten years depending on the levels of threat and what happens in the next decade or two. So it’s a long process, it definitely is going to be a tortured process, and there’s a lot at stake in terms of making sure that communities not just protect the more wealthy residents and the big pieces of valuable real estate but the most vulnerable communities there. The members of the community who are living in poverty who are already under served, who are of course the most vulnerable to these devastating flood events that can just have lasting impacts. And so rather than wait until there is acute loss of life and loss of livelihoods, better to get ahead of it and to think about managing a retreat that has equity as a foundation. And so it’s not just serving the wealthy, but making sure that those folks who may not even be aware of the magnitude of the problem, and who may not be at the table when the problems and solutions are discussed, that their concerns and that their futures are centered in the conversation and that’s not easy. But that’s obviously something that communities need to keep in mind as this transition starts to get under way in earnest.

Alexander: Something that I see a lot is people who begin to understand climate change from beginner who is just reading about it to someone who like yourself has spent decades studying it; it seems like everyone has their own wakeup call, this kind of lightbulb moment. How do you think we as science communicators can inspire the same response in policy makers and other people?

Dr. Cobb: Yeah (laughing)! I mean, it’s not a one size fits all message. It’s not that I can say to you ‘just do A, B, C’ and you’re going to flip a lightbulb in somebody’s head. It’s going to be a very different conversation if you’re sitting down with a Republican Senator from Georgia than if you’re sitting down with a resident, my neighbor, in Atlanta who is just going about their lives, kind of concerned but doesn’t know what to do. So, the scales of influence, the things people care about, their capacity to be part of the solution, at what scale; these are all things that need to shape messaging around climate solutions. So talking to the Senator involves an emphasis on what kinds of large scale policy level interventions are going to leave Georgia ahead of the game with no regrets kinds of actions that they might be able to consider and are not political suicide. That’s the message for the Senator and there are of course a large bundle of those kinds of no regrets policies that he may be able to get behind. Talking to my neighbor here in Atlanta, I’m going to be talking to them about how they can take some very meaningful relatively small steps to be part of the climate solution, whether that’s here in Atlanta, whether that’s at their kids’ school, whether that’s in their own homes. So finding out what they care about most and trying to help them understand that climate is everywhere in our lives whether we see it or not, and carbon is everywhere in our lives and that by taking some significant but relatively modest first steps they can switch from being on the sidelines, concerned and kind of depressed, to in the game, engaged, and empowered. And so that’s the kind of conversation I have with individuals in my community, and that’s where we build the groundswell of support for city policies around low carbon transportation and multimodal transportation. That’s where we build momentum around candidates who understand the threat of climate change and are ready to legislate to climate action. These are all conversations (laughter) I have many times a week it feels but that are very rewarding and usually pretty successful.

Alexander: Speaking of wake-up calls, during the testimony to the House Natural Resources Committee you said that 2016 was your wake-up call and that the events that year would change your personal and professional life forever. Can you tell us more about what happened?

Dr. Cobb: Yeah, so this was really the culmination of 20 years of dedicated research in the central Pacific chasing El-Nino events and corals, which is my life’s work in the research domain. And that year was a year where we had a very very large El-Nino forecasted that came to fruition, and during that whole – 2015 to 2016 I took part in a very large number of research expeditions to my research site, Christmas Island, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We were on those expeditions to document the before, during, and after nature of the ocean, nature of the reef, took tons of samples, put instruments down the reef to measure temperature, pH, and salinity, etc. So we really had a very close watch on this event as it rolled through and as much as I was excited scientifically, I was not prepared really to be an eyewitness to the devastation of the coral reef caused by a really protracted, exceptionally warm temperatures at the site that lasted for over ten months, the bleaching level temperatures. And so personally I was strapped in to this series of expeditions, on this train of scientific expeditions, and had the extreme misfortune to witness firsthand in April 2016 the devastation of 85 – 90% of the reef dead between expeditions. And just recognizing as I was diving those reefs that this was certainly a tipping point for this long term research site of mine, digesting the fact that it probably would never be the same, and that this was not just going to be my site but it would be the fate of many many coral reefs around the world, not in my kids’ life time, but in my life time. That kind of tidal wave of information, it washed over me and it’s never left me. Those realizations that we are just out of time. We are flat out of time, and we’ve been deluding ourselves that we have time to avoid some of the most catastrophic impacts, but we are out of time. And so right now we are just going to have to switch into damage control mode and we’re going to have to help people understand that we really need to get going on emissions reductions. Personally, what it meant for me was being back on the island November of 2016, and recognizing that America (laughter) over there across the ocean had just elected an administration that was openly hostile to climate science and climate solutions, for me was just a kind of confluence of life circumstances that kind of threw me into this new road and new dedication to climate actions in my own personal life and that’s like a sanity (laughter) exercise for me, and also of course heavy engagement in what would become very necessary defense of climate science that has continued to this day without a single letup making sure that we hold the administration to account, that we do not let them sidestep scientific findings or undermine scientific reports and findings, and that we hopefully minimize the rollback of any climate legislation that currently exists on the books. That’s where I’m at and I’ll probably be here for the rest of my life, hopefully eventually working under and cheering on an administration that is aggressively moving towards climate actions.

Alexander: It seems like it takes that sort of witnessing to really get people to understand what is happening. Because it’s hard for someone to say, living in the midwest, to fully grapple with the idea that coastal cities are flooding, we have corals that are bleaching, and sea surface temperatures warming, how do you understand that when you’re not surrounded by that, right?

Dr. Cobb: Yeah, I mean the issue is that it’s not just coral reefs dying in the central Pacific. There are climate impacts raining down on this country, grabbing the headlines and devastating entire communities, it seems like every month now. Obviously hurricane seasons 2017, 2018, absolutely devastating, every American understands that these events are not just coastal community threats. These are of course inland communities as well who are devastated by those storms and then we just need to look at the headlines over the last week to understand the devastating flooding that has occurred across the midwestern farming communities linked to climate change. Extreme precipitation is one of the most robust findings of climate science, we know it’s going to continue and this kind of inland flooding is something that we should predict and protect communities for with respect to climate change. The wildfires raging across California in recent years, this is not going to let up, this is a direct consequence of rising temperatures, rising soil temperatures, increased evaporation of water from the surface, drying out of vegetation. These are not surprises to climate scientists and I think Americans all across the country now understand, unfortunately year by year, with real time lessons being learned that climate change impacts are here on our doorstep, they are costly, and it’s not just coastal communities but it’s going to be every American who is going to be touched by climate change. It’s just a matter of when, and it’s just a matter of whether you lose your entire livelihood, you lose your life, or have family members or friends or community members that are significantly impacted. Unfortunately, we are learning this lesson right now, every year.

Alexander: Something I want to transition into is getting more people into the sciences. As a geologist myself it’s always warming to my heart to see young people who talk to me about what I do and get interested in it. So, you have led a very decorated career to date. Beginning in ‘94 with the Scripps undergraduate research fellowship, you have had the NSF career award in 2007, and the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in 2008 and that’s just to name a few. So you clearly excel in everything you do…

Dr. Cobb: (laughs) I don’t know about that…

Alexander: Can you tell us what got you interested in the sciences?

Dr. Cobb: Yeah, I mean, think I was always interested in math and science from a young age. I was very attracted to numbers, very attracted to the idea that there was some way to uncover truths about our planet, and that’s obviously been an obsession since I was very small. And focusing my attention on the planet was maybe somewhat of an arbitrary choice in undergrad and in college but I think it was very meaningful. Even at the time I recognized the nature of the threats to the Earth’s system and the scale of human intervention and damages that we were causing. And so at the time I switched from intentions to be a doctor and go to medical school to get a PhD in some kind of earth science, eventually that ended up being oceanography of course, but that was very intentional on my part and something that I know when I talk to young people today they share that concern, almost universally, and whether they’re an industrial engineer or earth science major they understand the nature of the threats to our system and they want to be part of the solution. And so I increasingly understand and want to help others understand that fixing the problems that we are facing especially with climate change, is not just the job of geologist, earth scientists and oceanographers. There is actually a role for every single profession to play in solutions. Whether you’re a business major you could help corporate America understand how to operate in a carbon constrained world and how to succeed in a carbon constrained world, or whether you are an English major who can help communicate to people about the nature of the climate challenge and climate solutions and in creative and new ways. Whether you are an industrial engineer who can help understand supply chains and how we can protect them from the impacts of climate change. They are just a few examples of how pervasive this challenge is and how it touches everybody’s lives and everybody’s work in some way and young people today have the extreme benefit and gift of being able to craft their professional trajectory solidly aimed at climate solutions. So driving the train themselves rather than being a victim to it later in their life as many people in my generation feel, who feel kind of shocked by the climate challenge and threatened by the climate challenge. This is an opportunity of a generation and that’s how I view people who are going through Georgia Tech right now; young people who are shaping their professional lives. They will solve this. I know they will solve this. I will be there to help them as much as I can, but they will solve this and what an amazing honor to be part of that.

Alexander: You’re also a strong activist for women in Science. And for me this is something that I love to see as well, watching my own younger sister pursue her career in the sciences it’s been amazing to watch. And you yourself wear many hats; you’re a scientist, you’re an activist, you’re a mother to four children. How do you juggle all of this responsibility?

Dr. Cobb: (Laughter) Well, I don’t sleep very much! But in reality, I have a really vast support network that helps me both professionally here at Georgia Tech, and on the homefront with all the kids and the demands of running a crazy household. I also have a very supportive partner, and fellow Oceanographer, Emanuele Di Lorenzo who’s a professor in the same department here, and so we have each other’s backs. And I think for young women coming up through the sciences today there are many opportunities, there are many challenges that still remain that people like me try to, you know, pave the way so it’s slightly easier for them. But these things…some of them are going to die very hard and take some additional policy at the federal level around parental leave for example, which is still dismal in this country. So to sum it up I might say that finding a supportive community for yourself as an early career scientist is extremely important. So finding people you can talk to, mentors you can bounce things off of, share experiences with, get advice from, is critically important. And as you go on through the fields you need to be able to anticipate some of those challenges, go in with eyes wide open so that you can avoid some of the lasting damage that may drive you away from the sciences. Because there are a lot of rewards to be had for being able to enact your passion and exert the freedom of being a scientist and contributing to the scientific endeavour, and paving the way for others to come. So being part of the change that we know has to take place to be more welcoming, to not just women, but many members of underrepresented groups in sciences who still struggle with, even piles on additional structural barriers in their way; having to do with bias, and racism, and unequal privilege, coming into the field of science. And so goodness me, we have our challenges, but  we need people who understand those challenges and who are ready to work together to try to solve some of those challenges. So that’s kind of why I’m so engaged in advocating for diversity in science, because I can bring my lived experience, and my passion for science together to understand some of these challenges and hopefully inspire others to work together towards solutions. That’s really what we need to do.

Alexander: Yeah and I’ve noticed this culture of inclusion happening in the earth sciences, and maybe it’s across the board. But even with our small team here at Climate Aware, we have so many different people. And it’s really great to see that we’re not just this binary group, we’re all different, and we all come from different backgrounds, and we can all speak about the changes that we’ve noticed from where we’re from and how they’ve affected, maybe if not us directly, but someone we know or our family and things like that. So it’s really amazing to watch the growth and inclusion especially as my generation is coming along and these other younger generations are kind of pushing for this idea of: ‘well we can’t just have one voice out there, we need to have everyone’s voice put together.’

Dr. Cobb: That’s right and I truly believe that it’s through a diversity of voices and diversity of approaches that we can protect the institution of science, and really make sure that it’s used to best effect in terms of advancing public good. Which is of course our shared goals as scientists and science communicators. So making sure that we have each other’s backs and that we’re supporting each other’s work and we are advancing diverse voices, and removing some of the barriers to their participation whether it’s in science or science communication it’s never been more important and I think that’s been amply illustrated in recent years with the me too movement, and some of the other challenges that have turned into some opportunities from within the scientific institutions themselves.

Alexander: You mention that you’re working on a new project there in Georgia, are there any other things coming down the pipeline that you’re maybe working on or haven’t gotten to yet?

Dr. Cobb: (Laughter) So many things I haven’t gotten to yet, but I’d love to work on. So I don’t know where to start with that list! I keep a running list of like ten things I’d really love to do. On the science front I’m trying to pivot more towards climate solutions. I’ve bceom kind of obsessed with trees, for example, and the role that they play in mitigating urban climate hot spots and heat islands, as well as of course sequestration of carbon. How that could be folded into a market based approach to climate solutions here in Atlanta and beyond. So stay tuned for that I’m kind of obsessed with that right now. I’m also really interested in advancing climate communication in some notable holes that I observe around me. One of those is our graduate student population, that I’d love to better serve with a host of climate communication skill-sets in a more focused and targeted way. So I’m hoping that a grant thats pending NSF [approval] gets funded, so fingers crossed on that. We’ve got a huge team of amazing folks here at Georgia Tech.  

And lastly just a completely different kind of project, I’m really interested in potentially writing a children’s book for elementary school kids. My  idea is to really help them envision a future where families don’t own two cars, where bottled water is not thrown around at every soccer game, and every work event that you go to. Where that’s no longer the case, when these things are literally unimaginable from the perspective of someone living in 2050 or 2060. So kind of prospect and have them as grandparents and talking to their grandkids about what life use to be like in 2020, and how crazy it was. All the things that we did to waste energy, and waste carbon. And the little kid will of course be like ‘no way, no way grandma, no way!’ This is my idea for a kids book and I don’t know what time I’ll ever find to do it but, if anybody listening out there wants to help me with that, get in touch.

Alexander: I think we may know a few people who may be interested in helping you with that actually. Yeah that sounds really interesting, and to be honest it’s not that far from what you’re doing, just because you’re really focusing around getting everyone involved, and that’s an integration. So Dr. Cobb, I really appreciate this interview and I appreciate having you with me today, it’s been wonderful. Is there anything you’d like to say or add to this before we close up?

Dr. Cobb: No, just thank you for your work of course, and that of the rest of your team who are dedicated to finding new ways to get information out there to tell stories about climate. I really appreciate it and I’m happy to be a part of it so thanks for having me.

Alexander: Thank you so much.


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