Science Mums: Tackling Climate Change One Mum at a Time
Nine scientists and mothers—including Dr Melissa Burt and Dr Rosimar Rios-Berrios—have joined forces to teach other mums about climate change.
I have a five-year-old daughter, Mia, and we live in Fort Collins in Colorado with my husband, Stacy. I work as an atmospheric scientist, and my research focuses on the Arctic and understanding climate and climate change in that region. In my free time, I work as a Science Mum.
I’m a research meteorologist, mainly working in hurricane science or tropical cyclone science. I mostly write computer code to understand how tropical cyclones form and how they become powerful with intense rain. I live in Colorado with my husband, Falko, and our one-year-old boy, Loki, and I’m one of nine Science Mums.
What is Science Mums?
We’re a nonpartisan group of scientists and mothers who all study very different areas of science, but our research intersects at climate change. Our group ranges from women who are grandmothers down to mothers of babies and toddlers. Together, we aim to provide evidence-based information from a trustworthy and credible source that demystifies climate change for mums.
Why do you want to provide information for mums specifically?
Research tells us that in America, roughly 60 per cent of adults are concerned about climate change, but when you deep-dive into the demographics of those statistics, it’s about 83 per cent of mums who are worried how climate change will affect their children’s lives and the planet.
But mums, and working mums especially, are busy people. They don’t have time to read through pages of dense reports. Plus, there’s a lot of rhetoric that makes climate science confusing to understand. Instead, Science Mums read the reports, do the research and compile the facts into short, bite-sized chunks of information, like videos, that busy parents can listen to or watch very quickly.
We also know mums get things done. So, if we can educate mums, they’ll share that information. I ask my mum friends for advice all the time, and we hope that mums will share this information and empower each other to take action. We should be talking about climate change to our friends and families, and having conversations at school drop-off or playdates. It’s positive to see climate change has become a topic of conversation, but it’s not nearly as common as it should be.
Why did you choose to study climate science?
I grew up on a small Caribbean island called Puerto Rico, and every summer, there were hurricanes. I was always very curious about them and wanted to know why we couldn’t predict them perfectly. I was also interested in how Mother Nature could make such a powerful storm.
As a kid, I was always really fascinated by the weather. I wanted to know how it worked, why the wind blows, and I was constantly phoning up this weather hotline for the national weather forecast. Then, when I was an undergraduate, I learned about a huge meltwater pulse about 8,000 years ago. I wanted to know more about ice and melting ice, and we already knew the Arctic was warming significantly more than the rest of the earth. So I focused my research there.
What has changed during the time you’ve studied climate science?
During the last twenty years, quite a lot changed in the Arctic. When I first began my studies, we said the Arctic was warming two times faster than the rest of the earth. But now, it’s almost three times as fast, which is terrifying. Especially if you consider that the Arctic serves as a giant air conditioner for our planet. It helps keep our planet cool. And if the Arctic continues to warm, we have less cooling on the earth.
Thankfully, we have seen a positive change in mindset over those two decades, particularly with younger generations. And we already have many solutions to these problems.
I’ve worked in climate science for about a decade, and I think when I first started, people were still questioning whether global warming was real. Especially because of events that didn’t align with the idea of warming, like extreme winters and snow in Europe. People didn’t understand how we could have extreme cold if the planet was warming. But we have learned over those years that climate change causes all types of weather extremes to become even more extreme, and that includes cold as well as heat.
Can you share any personal experiences of climate change?
I lived through many hurricanes in Puerto Rico, including Hurricane George. More recently, my family and friends still living in Puerto Rico were impacted by Hurricane Maria. There was so much destruction. My family didn’t have power for exactly 100 days and had no water for half a year. Climate science predictions tell us we could see more hurricanes like Maria in the future. So now, many of my friends and family have left Puerto Rico and moved to the United States to live somewhere with less threat from future hurricanes. I think only one or two of my high school friends are still there.
But even here in Colorado, there are effects. Last year had lots of wildfires. And even though I was not directly affected by the fires, the air quality was terrible. I had a four-month-old baby, and because the air quality was so bad, we couldn’t go outside for days. I was so worried the delicate lungs of my baby would be affected by all that smoke. And that’s truly terrifying because climate predictions tell us we may see bigger and more frequent wildfires in the future.
I know from talking with many people who live in the Arctic, they are having conversations about whether they should be relocating from the place they have lived for generations. Because the way they hunt and gather their food, or move across the ice, is changing. They have to reconsider how they access and gather food, transport themselves, and even the way they construct their homes.
Does your knowledge of climate change affect your life as a parent?
Climate change is not a ‘me’ problem. It’s a ‘we’ problem that requires collective action and policies from our leaders. But it still affects my decision making. My growing baby needs things like nappies, water bottles and clothes, so I try to limit the amount of trash we generate because that contributes to climate change, and I try to purchase reusable items. So, we use cloth nappies, reusable water bottles and hand-me-down clothes. We also spend lots of time outside appreciating nature, and because time spent outside means we are not turning on lights or using electronics.
Does being a parent affect your research?
It doesn’t influence my research agenda or the topics I study, but it motivates me to do more than just the science. Like joining Science Mums. I want to talk to other people who are not scientists and tell them what science says and try to inspire change. Being a parent influences how I communicate my science and with whom I communicate it.
What do we all need to do now?
We can do things like put solar panels on our homes, change our lightbulbs to LED and get an electric car. But the truth is, these are not things everybody can do. What we need is collective action because this is a global problem. Knowledge is power, and the next most important thing is our voice. We must use our voices. We need to talk to friends, family, other mothers, and local, state and federal government. The best thing we can do is encourage large-scale collective action.
Who is most vulnerable to climate change?
We are all vulnerable in different ways. Certainly, people who live by the coast or those who depend on resources associated with water, like fishing. Many coastal areas may not be adequate for living or employment in the future. There may be stronger hurricanes, bigger storm surges, and more coastal erosion and flooding in coastal cities. We may also find that communities who are dependent on edible grains, like wheat and rice, may be affected because we may not have those grains anymore. The roll-on effects will touch everyone.
What are our biggest roadblocks to climate action?
There are a few. The politicised nature of climate change. A lack of policies. And the spreading of myths and misinformation. That’s why Science Mums exists: so we can be credible messengers.
People often think a transition to a clean-energy future will take away jobs. But jobs can and will be created by that transition.
What are your hopes for the future?
That we can move towards a clean-energy future. I have been able to purchase an electric vehicle partly because of a government tax incentive. I hope everyone will be able to access that one day. And I want us all to come together to ask our leaders for action so we can mitigate climate change and see our child grow to enjoy things like forests, mountains and nature.
Should we be talking to our kids about climate change?
It’s a big question, but really, we have to talk about it even though it is scary. We need to feel that fear to help us to take action now and change things.
If I was talking to my daughter, who’s five, or maybe to a child a little older than her, I would say something like: if we continue to burn fossil fuels from driving cars and making electricity, gases like carbon dioxide go into the atmosphere. Those gases stay around for a very long time, creating a carbon pollution blanket around the earth. That blanket warms the earth, melts ice, increases sea levels, and causes stronger storms, hotter heat waves and bigger wildfires. But we have solutions right now to help prevent these problems.
I think if we are open and real, allow children to ask questions and search for answers together, we can develop a better understanding. But I think the emotional reaction has to happen. We have to tell the truth to create change.
What do you want people to know about climate change?
I want people to know it’s something you can understand, and it’s something we can take action on because we have lots of solutions already. We just need lots of people to be equipped with the facts so they can ask for change.
It’s also important to know climate change isn’t just an environmental issue. It poses a threat to the economy, health, infrastructure, water and food security. This isn’t just an issue for environmentalists.
I also want people to know that climate change is not something far away in terms of location (like the Arctic) or time (the future). It’s here, now, and it’s local to where we are, and it’s already affecting people and the places we love. And it’s caused by humans.
For more information on climate change and how to help, head to sciencemoms.com.
Science Mums was written by Nicole lutze for Lunch Lady Magazine issue 24.