Celebrating climate science on ‘hug a climate scientist day’
Ever wondered about the stories behind the cardigans? In the spirit of celebrating climate science (and ‘Hug A Climate Scientist Day’), here are the personal stories of three world-leading climate scientists from the Climate Commission.
Professor Andy Pitman
Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science
I got hooked by climate science well before it was fashionable. Back in the mid to late 1980s I found myself being supervised by someone with great ideas, amazing energy and vision (thanks Ann!). It seemed a nice and quiet area to research – back then few people understood the threat of global warming.Over the years, the recognition that global warming is a clear and present threat has grown. It’s now an area where outstanding scientists in medicine, ecology, engineering, veterinary science, materials science, law and almost every area of learning contribute to understanding the problem of global warming or the solutions to global warming. My personal interests are how climate affects the soil and vegetation systems, and how these can affect the atmosphere through carbon, evaporation and heat exchanges. I am also interested in how global warming will affect the magnitude, frequency and intensity of extremes linked to surface processes.
My time is now spent leading the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science. The Centre is about world-class research, collectively building tools and collaborating on climate science. We try to give young researchers every opportunity to perform at their potential and contribute to our understanding of the science of global warming and climate change. I love the way younger researchers keep the older scientists on their toes, continually confronting our ideas and trying to find holes in our arguments.
I hope, of course, that one day I’ll wake up and one of them will have found that we were all wrong; but sadly I fear the relevance of climate science will continue to grow in the future as the impacts of global warming intensify.
Professor Lesley Hughes
Head of Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University
I grew up with a fascination of animals, and was the type of kid whose bedroom was always full of jars of snails and grasshoppers. I fell in love with the books of Gerald Durrell and then Konrad Lorenz, the great animal behaviourist. I did a science degree because it was the best way I could think of to turn a hobby into a job, majoring in zoology and ecology. After my PhD (on ant behaviour) I was looking around for something new and my then-PhD-supervisor suggested that climate change might be an area of interest.That was more than 20 years ago. While I still dabble from time to time in zoology and animal behaviour, I have become increasingly convinced that while the planet will survive in some form, the trajectory of the human species and most others is doomed without significant change, especially with regard to the climate. Working on climate change has therefore become a simple moral imperative. While conducting research into the impacts of climate change remains an important part of my working life, the communication side of the job has become increasingly important because I am convinced that we need to keep working towards increasing public understanding of climate science if we are to transition to a different way of living on this planet. Sometimes I find it hard to be optimistic about the future, but then I look at my kids and realise that there’s still hope. Ultimately, I do what I do for my kids’ future.
Professor Will Steffen
Executive Director of the ANU Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University
I’ve always been interested in systems approaches to complex scientific problems, that is, examining how the pieces of a complex system work together – the forcings and feedbacks in the system – rather than looking at a single piece of a complex system in ever more detail. During the 1980s I had the opportunity to work with a world-class group of scientists studying the soil-plant-atmosphere system at the CSIRO Division of Environmental Mechanics, one of the most inspirational periods in my life.
My move to the global level occurred in 1990 when I joined the terrestrial ecosystems project of the IGBP (International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme), a global research endeavor that, along with the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), studied the phenomenon of global change. The IGBP ecosystems project focused on the role of land systems in the climate system, especially on its role in the carbon cycle, a central feature of the climate system and one of the key policy levers that we have to deal with the challenge of climate change.
In 1998 I became executive director of the IGBP as a whole, which spanned research areas as diverse as ocean biogeochemistry, atmospheric chemistry and palaeo-climate – the climates of the past. Together with the WCRP, we carried out much international-level research on the climate system, and provided much useful input to the IPCC assessments. It was during this period that I focused my own research efforts towards synthesis and integration, often assembling teams of top researchers across the IGBP and WCRP communities to tackle key questions surrounding the behaviour of the climate system as a complex system.
- 19 June 2013 - Gold Coast Community Forum
- 17 June 2013 - Canberra Community Forum