Profile  |  April 3, 2023

Drawdown Science Profile: Kate Marvel

This article is the fourth in a series introducing the members of Project Drawdown’s new science team.

Kate Marvel is a climate scientist who focuses on modeling how our planet is changing and understanding what could happen in the future. Before joining Project Drawdown, Kate worked at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Columbia University, Stanford University, the Carnegie Institution, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. A former cosmologist, she received a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Cambridge University. Her book Human Nature will be published by Ecco Press in 2023.

Here, Kate shares what brought a cosmologist down to Earth, how going on way too long of a hike can help catalyze a career in climate science, and more. 

Q: What is your role with the Project Drawdown Science team? 

A: As the senior scientist for climate, I’m helping to understand the climate impacts of solutions and the climate impact if we don't deploy those solutions. My role is one that I can’t accomplish alone—I really need to be working with an interdisciplinary team. This is why I’m so excited to be here. I love learning new things, I love talking to people smarter than me. And to be able to do that in the service of climate solutions is a dream come true.  

Q: What superpower do you bring to the job?

A: Not being afraid of asking dumb questions. I have an awareness of what I don't know and a respect for what other people know and the ability to talk across disciplines and to listen across disciplines. It takes a lot of effort and energy to be an expert in any field. But that’s not enough. We need experts in everything, but we need translators, too.

Q: What’s a childhood toy or experience that relates to the work you’re doing today?

A: My dad used to take me on very poorly planned outdoor adventures—ones I was much too young for, like a 15-mile hike—and forget to do very basic things like bring water. That gave me both a love of the natural world and also a healthy respect for it. And that contributes to how I feel about climate change. Nature is always throwing things at us. You sometimes hear, “Don’t worry, we’ll just adapt.” I agree there are many things we need to do to increase resilience, but there is no “just” about it. Nature is a very powerful force, and we’re changing it in a big way.

Q: What was the subject of your Ph.D. dissertation, and why? 

A: On the spontaneous generation by quantum tunneling of a bubble of alternative universes within our universe. I chose that because I was interested in trying to solve what is probably one of the most outstanding problems in physics, which is (awkwardly) that we have no idea what 95 percent of the universe is. I’m not sure it worked, but it was interesting, and it taught me quantitative skills I still use today. 

Q: How did you get from there to here? 

A: I realized in the process that the most interesting things to me were made out of normal matter and in fact are here on Earth. This is where everything I care about is, and it’s changing, and maybe I can use some of my physics skills to understand how and why this place I love is changing and maybe be able to do something about that. I got a science fellowship at Stanford that was flexible as long as it had a science component and policy component. I used that to explore different areas and landed on climate modeling.

Q: What’s a favorite Drawdown Solution? 

A: I’ll go with seaweed farming. My 7-year-old wants to be a kelp farmer, mostly because he thinks that he’ll get his own sea otter that way. We talk a lot about climate change—not in a doom and gloom framework, but about how we know this is a problem and we know there are many different solutions. And this is one way he wants to help solve it. 

Q: When you’re not working, what’s your ideal way to spend a weekend?

A: I love water—swimming, surfing, going to the beach with my family. I grew up in Ohio. Not growing up in a coastal city is a great way to learn to love the coast.

Q: You have a book, Human Nature, coming out later this year. Care to provide a sneak preview? 

A: It’s the story of climate science in nine different emotions. In each chapter I present an aspect of the science and how it makes me feel—the physics of the Earth and wonder; attribution and shame; the history of global warming science and anger at how it was ignored, and so on. The second-to-last pair is solutions and hope, and the final chapter pairs the fundamental interconnectedness of everything with the emotion of love. That’s why I got into his line of work. I love the Earth, and I love the people on it. 

Q: You seem both a right-brain and a left-brain person. How do you get your two selves to play well together?

A: I don’t really see them in opposition. Science can really learn from the arts. When we look at climate projections, it helps to be able to use the tools that an artist would use, that a writer would use. We talked about communicating across disciplines. That’s what literature is for; that’s what poetry is for. 

Q: Who is your climate hero? 

A: Whoever is reading this—you are my climate hero if you are doing climate solution work.

Like to learn more about Kate? Check out her TED talk, “Can Clouds Buy Us More Time to Solve Climate Change?” and her Story Collider presentation, “Becoming a Genius.”

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Perspective  |  September 5, 2023
worker with hardhat
Hats off to climate champions at work
by Jamie Alexander
The United States recently observed Labor Day, a celebration of the contributions of the American worker. It’s a time to acknowledge the people who build and maintain the foundation our country rests on—the people who, often without being noticed, enable us to power our lives, move from place to place, access food and shelter, and much more.  Today, for a world in the throes of an increasingly unstable climate and with a vanishing window of time to slash the greenhouse gas pollution that is causing it, the holiday is particularly meaningful. Because to solve climate change, we need to dramatically scale up climate solutions, and fast. That will take massive numbers of skilled workers building a future replete with heat pumps, mass transit, electric vehicles and chargers, solar panels, and much more, all aimed at permanently and comprehensively displacing the polluting industries of the past.  In other words, Labor Day celebrates the power of the worker to transform the world. We also need people in desk jobs transforming the existing system from the inside. Businesses, especially large, multinational corporations, are disproportionately responsible for the planet-warming emissions that cause climate change, and they have a grave responsibility—as well as the resources—to address it. Employees across every business and every department can apply a climate lens to their job to help their company advance their climate work more expediently and expansively, and hold their employer accountable to their climate promises. The phrase “every job is a climate job” is not hyperbole. We need all people engaged from wherever they stand. Within every sector, every trade, and every business, workers must be protected, equipped, and supported in building the world of the future and transitioning us away from the polluting businesses and industries of the past. Worker power—whether it’s security to ask for safer, more sustainable working conditions, tools to take climate action at work, or solidarity in holding employers accountable—is core to the work of Drawdown Labs.  This Labor Day, we’re taking a moment to celebrate those who are bringing climate solutions into the world and their work, transforming the existing system from the inside. Last week, we asked Project Drawdown newsletter subscribers to share how they are taking climate action at work. We were inspired by what we heard, and reminded that it is workers themselves who are best positioned to lead us into the future because they are closest to the issues and they know best how to implement solutions.  Here are some highlights from what you all have shared: Theme #1: You are making your everyday work—and that of your team members—more efficient and sustainable.  Some anesthesiologists are averting tons of greenhouse gas emissions by switching the anesthetic they use away from a potent greenhouse gas toward a more sustainable product. These anesthesiologists are also spreading the word with the goal of getting others to make the switch.  Concerned for their respiratory health, a fleet manager at a large tech company convinced their employer to switch to an all-electric fleet. Community workers pledged to use cargo bicycle services instead of diesel vans to transport equipment to local schools for scientific outreach events. Leadership at a top law firm decided to offer pro bono legal counsel to climate organizations and worker protection initiatives. Theme #2: You are integrating climate action or reduced emissions into the product or service you or your business provides. Product designers are sharing ways they have successfully integrated “sustainable nudges” into digital products. (For more specifically on the gaming sector, please see here.) Consultants are integrating climate action into their work by translating climate solutions into “business speak” for clients. Event caterers have transitioned their business model to offer fully vegetarian menus for events and meetings. A senior manager at a large multinational corporation established a task force to review and revise the organization’s procurement policy to include preferences and requirements for sustainable products, services, and suppliers. At a university, faculty and student services are working together to host green travel workshops for visiting students. The workshops provide practical support and encourage students to use public transit rather than flying for leisure travel. A field scientist pledged to work with their IT and procurement departments to clean the data from 200 mobile phones left over from one research project in order to reuse and/or recycle them. A mathematics professor decided to pause their research and instead invest their time organizing other professors and academic resources to support local climate projects in need of their expertise.  A retiree is using their skills to perform energy audits for households that can't normally afford them, not only helping them make their homes more energy-efficient, but also helping stop climate change. Theme #3: You are pushing your company to use its influence to affect climate change in the broader world.  An executive in the treasurer’s office for a private company is exploring how the company can decarbonize its banking and bring other businesses along with them on their journey. An advertising sales manager helped launch and acquire executive sponsorship for their company’s first employee green group and is helping others do the same within their own companies. Employees in the healthcare sector are encouraging low-carbon travel policies and calculating the carbon footprint of scientific research conferences. Solving climate change will require that each of us chooses, day after day, shift after shift, to work toward a healthier, more vibrant, more resilient future. We can’t just sit back and wait for our leaders to take us there. Every one of us must bring our unique talents and skills to bear on the task of shaping a better future together. The climate solutions that we know can do the job are the result of the work of countless farmers, builders, Indigenous people, engineers, educators, foresters, healthcare workers, and others who have brought these actions to light. Whether they will be applied at the scope and scale needed to stop climate change depends on what we choose to do next. Labor Day celebrates the power of the worker to transform the world. This year it matters more than ever. Because ultimately, our future rests on each and every one of us.
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News  |  September 1, 2023
An aerial view of the New York City skyline with the Climate Week NYC logo overlaid
Join us at Climate Week NYC!
Project Drawdown is headed to Climate Week NYC – an annual event in partnership with the United Nations General Assembly and run in coordination with the United Nations and the City of New York. According to Climate Group, an international nonprofit focused on climate action and the host for this annual gathering, "Climate Week NYC is the largest annual climate event of its kind, bringing together some 400 events and activities across the City of New York – in person, hybrid, and online. Each year, business leaders, political change makers, local decision-makers, and civil society representatives of all ages and backgrounds, from all over the world, gather to drive the transition, speed up progress, and champion change that is already happening." At this year’s event, Project Drawdown will have its biggest presence ever, with presentations and workshops happening almost daily between September 18–22. Here’s a day-by-day rundown of where we’ll be in the city and how you can sign up to attend in person and virtually (where possible). MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 18 Climate Clarity: Let’s debunk the myths 8:30–10:00 a.m. ET 999 3rd Ave., New York City Kicking off the week, senior scientist Kate Marvel will be joining the Action Speaks Summit for a panel titled “Climate Clarity: Let’s debunk the myths.”  The summit – presented by IKEA | Ingka Group – is open to the public during Climate Week and takes place at 999 3rd Ave., New York, NY 10022. Stop by to explore the scientific reality of climate change, experience a positive vision for the future, and get inspired by impactful climate solutions already out there. The exhibition features actions from over 30 companies and organizations working to create a better tomorrow, plus the space will host a series of dialogues throughout Climate Week to further explore solutions, debunk myths and barriers, and delve into what is accelerating climate action. Learn more about the exhibition and save your seat today for the hosted dialogues. Climate Capital: Investing in science-based climate solutions 1:30–3:00 p.m. ET 999 3rd Ave., New York City Stephan Nicoleau, partner at FullCycle and Project Drawdown board member, will also be joining the Action Speak Summit for a session titled “Climate Capital: Investing in science-based climate solutions.” Visit the summit website to learn more and register for free.  Up2Us2023: A Better World is Possible 7:00–8:30 p.m. ET 2 W. 64th St., New York City Rounding out the day, Kate Marvel will join filmmakers, climate scientists, activists, storytellers, movement builders, and journalists who are transforming the climate conversation for Up2Us2023. The event is both live and live-streamed, so register now before it’s sold out.  TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 19 ONE HOME, ONE PLANET dialogue 12:00–2:00 p.m. ET 999 3rd Ave., New York City Project Drawdown managing director Elizabeth Bagley will be attending the ONE HOME, ONE PLANET dialogue featuring Jesper Brodin, CEO of Ingka Group, and others at the Action Speaks Summit.  During this invitation-only session, high-level contributors from business, government, and civil society will discuss what we can do to raise awareness about existing solutions and the actions being taken to implement them. Project Drawdown served as a key scientific advisor for the Action Speaks Summit.  WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 20 The Drawdown Roadmap: Using science to guide climate action 9:00–9:30 a.m. ET 445 11th Ave. (4th Floor), New York City Project Drawdown executive director Jonathan Foley will be delivering the opening keynote on day two of the Nest Climate Campus at the Javits Center in Manhattan.  Foley’s talk – titled “The Drawdown Roadmap: Using science to guide climate action” – will highlight which climate actions governments, businesses, investors, philanthropists, community leaders, and others should prioritize to make the most of our efforts to stop climate change. He’ll also share details about the Drawdown Labs Capital Accelerator – a new initiative aiming to strategically guide billions of dollars of investments into the most urgent climate solutions. The Nest Climate Campus is free and open to the public, but space is limited, so register early. Please note, this keynote will be recorded and shared online following Climate Week. Narratives of Change: How storytelling shapes climate solutions 4:00–6:00 p.m. ET 999 3rd Ave., New York City Back at the Action Speaks Summit, Project Drawdown’s Matt Scott, director of storytelling and engagement, and Drew Arrieta, storytelling coordinator, along with Jothsna Harris of Change Narrative, will be leading a session titled “Narratives of Change: How storytelling shapes climate solutions.” How do we ensure that every voice, especially those most immediately impacted by the climate crisis (Black communities, Indigenous communities, and communities of color), is heard and valued in the climate conversation?  Join this conversation featuring Jennifer Seda, volunteer program assistant, Bronx River Alliance; Xóchitl Garcia, environmental justice community leader; Clara Kitongo, tree equity manager, Tree Pittsburgh; and Joshua Benitez, co-director, Common Ground Relief. Live musical performances by Clara and Joshua will add a stirring, soulful backdrop to the panel, reflecting the heartbeat of communities engaged in building a better climate future. Visit the summit website to learn more and register for free. THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 21 The Path to Net Zero: Collaborate, Innovate, Change 8:45–9:30 a.m. ET 225 Liberty St., New York City Kicking off the day, Jonathan Foley will be joining a panel at the Fast Company Innovation Festival titled “The Path to Net Zero: Collaborate, Innovate, Change.” This session – presented by 3M – will explore the economic transformation needed to reach net zero, the power of global collaboration, and opportunities for adopting scalable climate technologies. Register here (for a fee) to attend the Innovation Festival. 
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