by Lucy Cheadle
When I was in middle school, I read a book about climate change called “Hot, Flat, and Crowded” by Thomas Friedman. It sparked an interest in me that led to more books, and eventually a decision to dedicate my career and my life to lessening climate change. I considered Environmental Law, but was frustrated by the gridlock of policy, and wanted to do something that would truly make an impact. With the urging of my dear friend Eliza, I decided that I would study to become an environmental engineer. The college I chose didn’t actually offer a program, but I majored in chemical engineering and minored in environmental engineering, with the hopes of eventually pursuing an environmentally focused career. My love of running and my vested interest in air quality led me to graduate school at the University of Colorado, where I had the opportunity to conduct research in ozone spatial variability, and engage in an outreach program to educate high schoolers in rural Colorado about the importance of air quality. While in Boulder, I have also had the opportunity to work part-time at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) researching surface ozone and the influence of oil and gas development on air quality in the region. This past year has been the most exciting year for my career; I have felt empowered to be doing something I care about, and feel as though I am making a positive impact on our air quality research. Over the course of this year, I decided that upon graduating with my MS from CU this August, I want to stay in Boulder, and my dream job is to work at NOAA as a research scientist, where I will continue to study our air quality.
But what happens when the president decides that the field that you want to dedicate your life to is a hoax? What happens when he starts cutting jobs at precisely the agencies that you have dreamed of working for? How do you feel excited about the prospect of graduating with your master’s when you don’t know if the jobs that you seek will even exist?
This election has revealed an embarrassing gap between science and public awareness. Too few of American citizens recognize (and I refuse to say believe, because it is not a whimsical notion that can be confirmed or rejected; it is unwavering fact) that climate change is real and happening now and is indeed caused by human activity. Scientists know this. Scientists have no doubts, yet the majority of Americans don’t understand this fact. That is a fault of ours; a failure to make our research accessible and easily understood. It is not enough to simply publish papers. Now more than ever, we need to work on building trust and transparency between scientists and communities, and form relationships where we can share our findings and be heard and understood.
So what do I do now? Tomorrow, I go to work, I do more research, but most importantly, I try to build relationships and spread knowledge and awareness through whatever avenues I can access. And in August, what do I do then? If plan A fails, I find a plan B. I will seek out organizations and companies that are doing the kind of work that matters most now, and that I can contribute to. I will beg and plead if I have to, I will work for less money, I will work part time, I will find a way. I will not work for a company that I don’t believe in just because I need stability or a big salary. I have faith that whether or not the government is paying for it, vital climate research will continue, and I will remain a part of it. The things that really matter to you, and that always have--those are the things worth fighting for. I refuse to lower my expectations for myself and the impact I will have on the atmosphere and climate change based on politics and the current state of our democracy. After all, that’s why I pursued engineering in the first place.
For more from Lucy, check out our podcast episode Body Love & Brain Power: An Interview with Lucy Cheadle.