PBI's Alysa McCall, Jennifer Kay, Gerrit Wesselink, and CJ Carter are all smiles before teaching Kay's undergraduate class at the University of Colorado live from Tundra Buggy One.

© Polar Bears International

11/6/2015 3:10:09 PM

Confessions of a Climate Scientist

Hello, my name is Jen and I am a climate scientist. It is my passion to do science and to inform our collective futures. I've spent 15 years getting a Ph.D., doing a postdoc, being a research scientist, and am now starting a job as a tenure-track assistant professor. Beyond being absorbed in science and at times searching for the grit needed to succeed in the intense science world, I know I must communicate beyond the inner circle of my fellow scientists.

I didn't pay much attention to climate change as a kid or even as a college student, but as soon as I started to pay attention, I was overwhelmed by the evidence and observations. We now know that a build-up of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere-caused by human activities-is warming our planet and melting our sea ice. And the warming is taking place so rapidly that climate change is now a reality each of us can observe over a single lifetime, especially in the Arctic.

My generation is the generation that has seen climate change become an observed reality. People are paying attention, whether they admit it or not. From my birth to the present, carbon dioxide concentrations have increased from 330 parts per million to 400 parts per million due to the burning of fossil fuels.

Direct observations show that the amount of carbon dioxide currently in the atmosphere is higher than it has been for 800,000 years. The warming and ice loss over my lifetime cannot be explained through natural variability alone. The observed changes are happening so fast that college textbooks graphs showing basic observations quickly become out of date, a reality I now routinely explain to my university students.

The new norm is that climate change over a single person's lifetime occurs. Artwork drawn by high school students in Arviat as a part of Global Dignity Day last week indicate that they get it.  One student asked: "How much snow will there be for the next generation or two?" And then she commented, "There are people making a change, but it is not enough."

As a climate scientist, a professor, and a citizen of this planet, I am concerned for the students in Arviat, for the polar bears, for all of us. It's up to each of us to make changes that ARE enough-and to bring in voices and ideas that go beyond science to include community and global solutions.

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