Woodwell researchers kick off 2021 with star power

Addressing climate change requires action at all levels, all of it informed by science. Toward that end, Woodwell Climate researchers work with leaders across all sectors of society. That reach has been on display in recent events featuring household names with moral, political, and popular influencefrom White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy, to “The Office” star Rainn Wilson, to His Holiness The Dalai Lama.

A Groundbreaking Conversation

On the evening of January 9, 2021, Arctic Program Director Dr. Sue Natali and Dr. Bill Moomaw, a director and distinguished visiting scientist, took part in a conversation with Greta Thunberg and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The event marked the first time the Dalai Lama and Greta Thunberg had met, and they were brought together by a shared sense of alarm at the prospect of runaway warming driven by climate feedback loopsnatural processes that are kicked off by warming and also exacerbate warming.

Dr. Natali focused on perhaps the most pressing of these feedbacks greenhouse gas emissions from thawing Arctic permafrostwhile Dr. Moomaw highlighted the potential for forests (if protected and restored) to act as a cooling force for the planet. Following strong calls to action by both Greta Thungberg and the Dalai Lama, the event’s moderator Diana Chapman Walsh wrapped up the evening by exhorting those watching to set off a social feedback loop of spreading climate awareness and action.

Mind & Life Institute, who hosted the event, issued a statement that “we had nearly 775,000 live views across streams in 14 languages, and a week later, we’ve had over a million views including replays.”

The event launched a new series of educational films, Climate Emergency: Feedback Loops, mentioned recently in People Magazine, The Independent UK, and Bloomberg Radio. These films originated from a conversation between the producers and then Woodwell Board Chair, now Distinguished Visiting Scientist, Dr. William Moomaw. They feature several Woodwell Climate scientists, including founder Dr. George Woodwell, Arctic Program Director Dr. Sue Natali, Tropics Program Director Dr. Michael Coe, and President Dr. Philip Duffy, among others.

Make Earth Cool Again

More recently, the Arctic science outreach group Arctic Basecamp hosted a livestream event focusing less on the moral imperative and more on the cool factor of climate action. Dr. Jen Francis was one of several climate scientists featured alongside pop culture stars including Rainn Wilson, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Ariel Winter, Billie Eilish, Andy Grammer, Robert Downey Jr., and the Property Brothers, Jonathan and Drew Scott.

Make Earth Cool Again was a five-hour-long parade of high-profile individuals, with musicians, actors and actresses interspersed with royalty, CEOs, environmental activists. Co-host Rainn Wilson also indulged in periodic comedy breaks featuring Chuck the Polar Bear, an actor dressed in a polar bear costume. As the event progressed, youth voices played a larger role. And a panel discussion on sustainable fashion drove home the message that climate action is the stylish thing to do.

It’s not the first time Dr. Francis has worked with Rainn Wilson. She is also featured in Wilson’s Idiot’s Guide to Climate Change. The star of “The Office” has made climate change his signature issue over the past two years.

Focusing on Climate Justice

On February 9, 2021, Natalie Baillargeon, a Polaris Project alumna currently working with Woodwell’s External Affairs team, took part in a panel discussion with White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy. McCarthy delivered the Smith College Presidential Colloquium, with comments focused on the intersection of climate action and social justice. Baillargeon was one of two students selected to participate, along with a handful of faculty members, in a small group question and answer session.

“Gina McCarthy is a dedicated public servant in public health and the environment. It was an honor to speak on a panel with her and pick her brain about related topics,” Baillargeon said. “It was refreshing to hear that the Federal government is prepared to take environmental issues, such as climate change, seriously again. In particular, it was inspiring to hear her speak about how climate policy will be incorporated in all sectors of government from energy to education.”

All three events were recorded and are freely available to watch online.