Climate impacts and action with Dr. Kim Cobb
Dr. Kim Cobb on climate impacts, action, and how to swap, share, and speak up
This month, Kim Cobb is my guest editor. Kim is a climate scientist at Brown University, where she directs the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society.
When I first got to know Kim, she was studying past climate conditions, using coral to track changes in sea surface temperature over time. However, she was overcome with grief after witnessing firsthand the wholesale loss of the coral reefs on Kiritimati Island in the Republic of Kiribati, during a 2016 marine heat wave linked to the largest El Niño event on record. This grief propelled her towards shifting both her life and her career to focus on climate solutions.
In her own words, Kim became “unapologetically obsessed with carbon.” She began to experiment with low-carbon living, seeking to enact the kind of climate-stable lifestyle that we will all need to live in 2050. As a mother to four teenagers, Kim is keenly aware that not everyone is drawn to this, but she finds that more and more people are curious and eager to start their unique low-carbon path.
However, Kim understands that fixing this problem goes far beyond personal choices and there’s a lot more she can do through her job. Universities across the world, in her view, have two powerful levers of change: they conduct research, and they train the next generation of change-makers. These days, a wave of innovation is sweeping across universities, fueled by faculty, staff, students, and alumni eager to apply their unique skills and passions to climate solutions.
In her role at Brown, Kim now focuses on developing and implementing durable, scalable, replicable, and equitable climate solutions. In both her personal and professional life, Kim also consistently factors in a topic I’ve been talking about a lot in this newsletter: how we can work to advance climate justice (and avoid perpetuating climate injustices) through both personal choices and collective action on climate across a range of scales. For her, that includes regularly participating in media coverage of climate change, telling stories and sharing impactful facts that help catalyze action. You’ll find many great examples of Kim doing this in links above.
Take it away Kim!
The Fifth National Climate Assessment, released earlier this month, is chock full of good news (with, yes, a hefty helping of not-so-good news packed within it, too.) But I argue that this latest assessment – the biggest and boldest yet – is a document that is primed for engagement, action, and impact.
It’s true the report contains plenty of dire projections of our climate future: but they hit home in a new way, because the report is focused on the many ways that climate harms communities from coast to coast, from rural to urban, by compromising our health, our jobs and economic security, and our national security. This effort to connect the dots is extremely important, and a massive step forward in the ongoing National Climate Assessment framework.
Also new, and in the “good news” column, is the report’s assessment of the state of climate action across the nation. It’s growing quickly -- albeit somewhat unevenly, from a geographic perspective. California, New York, and Florida lead the nation-wide 32% increase in city and state-level adaptation plans and actions since the last assessment was published in 2018; and every state has added new state-level mitigation activities since then as well.
Climate change poses an “urgent threat” to pregnant women, babies, and children, several UN agencies declared in a “Call for Action” report issued last week. As a mother to four, this news crushes me, even though its core finding seems obvious: mothers, babies, and children will suffer outsized harm from climate change.
Like so much in climate change, external confirmation of our worst fears often makes it hard to digest on a day-to-day basis. But even in this “not-so-good” news, there is an opportunity to recognize the many benefits of fully integrating climate change into public health and climate resilience planning, as they are inextricably linked. So it’s encouraging that, for the first time, the upcoming U.N. Conference of the Parties (COP 28) will feature health as a core theme.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
There are a vast array of personal solutions out there you can adopt, but figuring out where to start can be overwhelming. As a mom who is also a scientist, I love the framework that Science Moms provides: you can SWAP dirty energy for clean energy in your lives, you can SHARE facts, concerns, and solutions with family and friends, and you can SPEAK UP to share your climate concerns with policymakers.
Whatever you have to offer right now, it is enough. For example, my journey began with biking to work (and yes, I’m still biking to work in Rhode Island, where it’s 40F today). But try to increase your ambition over time, on your own path towards our just and stable climate future.
Don’t forget about climate action within the organizations you are part of – your workplace, your kid’s school, or your place of worship. Make sure they have a climate goal aligned with the science, and a plan to bring it into reality.
This is one area where the tired and false dichotomy between individual and collective climate action has obscured critical levers – when individuals come together in large numbers as key stakeholders, they can move an organization forward on climate action. For example, check out how undergraduate students have partnered with a wide range of organizations to avoid millions of pounds of carbon emissions as part of the annual Carbon Reduction Challenge at my former university, Georgia Institute of Technology.
Lastly, it’s also critically important to VOTE. You can support organizations (with your time and/or money) that have proven extremely effective in getting out the votes of people who care about climate, such as the Environmental Voter Project. I volunteered with this group during the last U.S. election cycle and loved it!
Thank you Kim for sharing your good news, not-so-good news, and your many ideas about what each of us can do to make a difference. As a Science Mom myself, I love the simple framework of "swap, share, and speak up." Want to hear more from Kim? Find her on Twitter @coralsncaves and LinkedIn here.
The big international climate meeting known as COP28 begins this week, and I'll be bringing you regular updates both here and in my newsletter over the next two weeks.