Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Comments provided to the US House Natural Resource Committee's livestream, May 5, 2020

Full livestream available here. Dr. Cobb's oral comments run from 44:45 to 49:44.
Link to @NRDems website for the event here.

Prepared comments:
Thank you, Chairman Grijalva, for inviting me to participate in this important conversation. As a climate scientist, I’m grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the critical role that science plays in keeping Americans safe.

Even as we speak, millions of healthcare and other essential workers are putting their lives on the line in an effort to keep us safe, and I want to recognize their sacrifice and express my gratitude not only to them, but to the families that support them in their work.

The essential role of scientists, including epidemiologists, virologists, and public health experts, is on full display as they provide decision-makers with the best available data and model output. 

Even so, COVID19 safeguards came too little too late for many in my home state and across the country. Dire warnings from experts across the country and around the world went unheeded for weeks on end. It is now clear that the most vulnerable Americans are paying the steepest price, esp low-income communities of color. This trend is especially stark in Georgia, where a recent CDC study revealed that 80% of COVID19 patients in several hard-hit hospitals were African-American. According to statistics compiled by Georgia’s Dept of Public health, African Americans comprise 50% of COVID19 deaths, but only 32% of the population (GA DPH,  

These same communities are also uniquely vulnerable to another escalating global threat - man-made climate change. There is no doubt that the most vulnerable among us will bear the brunt of the losses from climate change, sometimes with their very lives. 

America faces a stark, urgent choice. Science tells us that we must work aggressively to reduce our emissions in the next 10-20 years, or face a future of accelerating climate impacts that will threaten our food supplies, our water supplies, our infrastructure, our economy, our national security, and the very lives of vulnerable frontline communities. Climate losses are already piling up. Every year, extreme rainfall, coastal flooding, staggering heat waves, and wildfires play out like scenes out of a sci-fi film. Except these impacts are all too real, and they were avoidable, if we had acted upon scientific guidance decades ago. 

As party to the Paris Agreement, the United States has committed to act on climate science findings. As a country, we are well on our way, thanks to the evidence-based policymaking by governors and mayors across the country, and to a public that is hungry for climate solutions. 

However, the Trump administration has turned a blind eye to decades of robust climate science findings since its first days in office in its relentless pursuit of fossil fuel interests, even as the warnings from our climate science community have become more dire, and our time to avoid the worst-case climate outcomes ticks down. 

Here are some lowlights from the administration’s fossil-fuel agenda:

·       relaxed restrictions on methane, a powerful greenhouse gas

·        just weeks ago, it rolled back fuel efficiency standards that would have saved Americans money at the pump while reducing deadly air pollution (see NYTimes article here), and revoked CA’s right to set their own fuel efficiency standards

·     bypassed long-standing review processes designed to set air pollution standards at safe levels, disregarding expert recommendations to tighten those standards  

As you’ve heard, this agenda has continued during this pandemic. 

Make no mistake:  the sustained pursuit of this agenda requires undercutting the mechanisms designed to ensure that policy is shaped by the best available science. In a recent study by Union of Concerned Scientists Dr. Gretchen Goldman, federal scientists report a loss of scientific integrity that is particularly pronounced at the EPA and DOI.

Keeping Americans safe means letting science be the guide for policy, and right now, that includes a rapid shift away from fossil fuels, and the infrastructure and outdated policies that perpetuate our dangerous dependence on them.

Several months ago, we could never have imagined how our lives would change in the last weeks, seemingly overnight. Let’s hope that Americans are newly equipped to see our climate futures with new eyes. 

In one future, we watch helplessly as climate change ravages our infrastructure, our food, our water, our nation’s biodiversity and thriving coasts, and tears at the very fabric of our society. We wonder what might have been.

In another future, we enjoy cleaner air and healthier lungs, cleaner water, well-paying clean energy jobs and a thriving economy fueled by developing the best solutions to the global climate crisis. We can start walking that path, today, by making data-driven investments in our low-carbon energy future.

For a safe, thriving America, science must be our compass. This is true in the best of times, but as recent events have shown, it is especially true in the worst of times. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Congressional testimony by Kim Cobb - Natural Resources Committee, Feb 6, 2019

My oral statement delivered to the Natural Resources Committee hearing on "Climate Change:  Impacts and the Need to Act", Feb 6, 2019.
The full hearing can be viewed here, with my testimony beginning at 1:58:20.

I thank Chairman Grijalva and Ranking Member Bishop for allowing me to contribute to this important conversation about our nation’s climate future. My message today is simple:  the data and the science could not be more clear -- it’s time to act. There are many no-regrets, win-win actions to reduce the growing costs of climate change, but we’re going to have to come together to form new alliances, in our home communities, across our states, and yes, even in Washington. I know I speak for thousands of my colleagues when I say that scientists all over the country are willing and eager to assist policymakers in the design of data-driven defenses against both current and future climate impacts.

As a Professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology for the last 15 years, my research uses samples from the remote Pacific islands to reconstruct past climate variations. Our records are consistent with countless other climate records in illustrating that the rate and magnitude of recent climate change dwarf natural climate variability over the last millennium.

I love my work. But three years ago, I witnessed something that would change my life forever.

In 2015, we received funding from the National Science Foundation for a series of field expeditions to document the evolution of a strong El Niño event projected that winter. I had waited 15 years for this opportunity. However, little did I know that ocean temperatures, 6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than usual, would kill up to 90% of the coral at our study site. And I had a front-row seat to the carnage. 2016 would go on to become the worst global-scale coral bleaching and mortality event on record, and the warmest year on our planet since records began. Personally, 2016 was my wakeup call.

Unfortunately, the last years brought a number of devastating wake-up calls much closer to home. Hurricanes Harvey, Lane, and Florence delivered record-breaking rainfall while Hurricanes Maria and Michael decimated entire communities with their force, including many in my home state of Georgia. The National Climate Assessment – released this last November by a consortium of 13 federal agencies – documents how climate change loads the dice in favor of extreme precipitation events, and how warmer oceans fuel larger tropical storms. On the other side of the country, record-breaking wildfires raged across California, linked to prolonged drought and warmer temperatures. The economic toll of these disasters can be measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars. However, their real toll -  the vast human suffering left in their wake - is immeasurable.

And beyond these deadly extremes, a host of additional climate change impacts represent a growing threat to ecosystems and communities alike. Sea levels are rising, with up to 6ft of global sea level rise projected this century. Drought threatens water supplies across the western US, with no end in sight. The oceans are becoming more acidic as excess atmospheric carbon dioxide reacts with seawater.

And as of today, 2018 will officially take its place as the 4th warmest year on record, behind 2016, 2017, and 2015.

Climate change impacts are now detectable all across America. And they will get worse. That’s the bad news. I’m sure you’re ready for some good news, and there is plenty to go around.

The good news is that science can help inform measures to protect communities, as well as our oceans, forests, parks, waterways, and wildlife, from the most devastating impacts of climate change. Here, early action is essential to the success of these approaches, delivering vast returns on investment.

Many jurisdictions – from the local to the federal level - have developed a range of climate adaptation measures informed by rigorous science, stakeholder engagement, and cost-benefit analyses. But we must accelerate these efforts. Towards that end, The National Climate Assessment provides an actionable blueprint for such adaptive measures, including an in-depth analysis of climate impacts on ecosystem structure, function, and services.

The other good news is that it’s not too late to avoid the most damaging impacts of future climate change. We have the tools we need to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And in doing so, we will enjoy cleaner water, cleaner air, and healthier communities.

The rapid expansion of renewable energy across the nation demonstrates a strong appetite for carbon-free, clean power. Even so, US greenhouse gas emissions were up 3% last year. The bottom line is that we are running out of time. Comprehensive federal policies are needed to speed the transition to low-carbon energy sources. Top on the list must be a price on carbon, to reflect the true costs of continued fossil fuel emissions, and to incentivize consumers, companies, and the market to find the cheapest, most effective means of reducing emissions. With or without a price on carbon, increased energy efficiency is a win-win strategy that can deliver energy cost savings, while reducing harmful air pollution.

Lastly, there is a strong case to be made that we can deploy our vast forests, grasslands, and coastal marshes in service to natural carbon sequestration. At its most basic level, this means designing strategies to safeguard these environments, with their rich carbon reserves, in the face of continued climate change.

As a climate scientist, I have to wonder:  How bad will it have to get for us to recognize that climate change represents a clear and present threat, and to act decisively to protect ourselves?

I’m heartened by recent polls showing that nearly 3 in 4 Americans are concerned about global warming, and support a range of policy options to address it.

And as a mother to four young children, I’m inspired by the sea of young people demanding that we not squander their chances for climate stability.

I urge this committee to capitalize on the vast trove of climate science findings by:
1) protecting our natural resources, and the communities that depend on them, from known climate change impacts, and
2) using federal lands to advance climate solutions, rather than expanding the scope of the climate change problem.

References and additional resources can be found at the end of my written testimony, linked here.

Monday, April 24, 2017

My March for Science speech

Atlanta, GA
Credit:  Colin Potts
April 22, 2017

Thank you for the opportunity to speak at this incredible event. And let us all give the organizers a big round of applause for bringing us together today, in celebration of science, and in defense of science. Today I marched as a woman, as a mother to four little people, and most importantly, today I marched as a climate scientist.

These days, people ask me how I get out of bed in the morning. And I’ll be honest with you – there were some dark days last year when I didn’t. How could I? Temperatures around the globe soared to a staggering new record, in the process killing 85% of the corals at my long-time, beloved research site. Words cannot describe the shock and sadness of diving on these reefs, digesting the fact that a climate future I thought was decades away is here, today, threatening not just coral reefs around the world, but human health, prosperity, and well-being.

The good news is that science can tell us how to tackle climate change. The bad news is that many powerful forces are aligned against science, robbing every single American of their right to a sustainable and prosperous future.

The long arc of human history is inseparable from the cumulative benefits of science, yet we find ourselves at a pivotal point:  are we going to unleash the full power of the scientific enterprise to safeguard our future, or are we going to turn our backs on science, its many lessons, and its infinite promise? And guess what? Like it or not, this showdown is happening on our watch.

As a scientist, I can no longer pretend that sitting in my office, plotting new data and publishing papers, is enough. I can no longer pretend that clicking Paypal buttons every 4yrs is enough. So I woke up on January 1st, on my twin’s birthday, and I turned the page. I became a daily bike commuter. [shout out to bikers] I started walking my kids to school. I’ve signed on to help half a dozen organizations [shout out to 500womenscientists], delivered a petition to my Councilmember at City Hall, signed an open letter to EPA head Scott Pruitt denouncing his false statements about the causes of climate change, and shared my message of climate action, and climate hope, at a dozen public appearances.

But, if we are going to fight for facts, and data, and truth, and justice, then we’re going to need ALL hands on deck.  And I mean ALL hands. We’re going to need all the black people and the brown people and the gay people and the trans people and the native people and the Muslim people and the immigrant people and the disabled people. Your cause is our cause. We’re going to need the PhDs and the GEDs, the atheists and the evangelicals, the rich and the poor, the lifetime activists and the newbies. And yes, we need the women. We need EVERYONE.

And our goal can’t just be change in Washington DC. It has to be about change in our homes, in our neighborhoods, our city, and our state. And it’s not just about election day. It’s about every day. Engagement is a powerful anti-depressant. Trust me. But science tells us that it’s most effective if you take it every day.
My sign from the March.

Today, the powerful forces that are fighting against science, against a sustainable, just future for this great country are scared. Because they are counting on us to remain silent, and afraid, and most of all, they are counting on us to remain divided. So I ask you to join hands with your neighbor, whether they are part of your family or a perfect stranger, and raise all your arms into the air. Are you ready to turn the page? Are you ready to fight for science, and facts, and truth? Are you ready to rise up, together, to translate hope into action? Then let's do this. Thank you for being here.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Cobb Lab at AGU - 2016 Edition

by Kim Cobb

This year we have a large number of presentations spanning a wide array of topics, delivered by a mix of undergrads (Gemma O'Connor, Nick Hitt), grad students (Pamela Grothe, Hussein Sayani), postdocs (Alyssa Atwood, Ian Orland), and close collaborators (Sylvia Dee, Samantha Stevenson).

A rundown of the various presentations follows. Hope to see you there!


[Oral] "Western tropical Pacific hydroclimate across four glacial cycles" - Stalagmites!
Kim M. Cobb & 20+ others, but notably Stacy Carolin, Jessica Moerman, Sang Chen, Nele Meckler, & Jess Adkins
PP23D-07Tuesday, 13 December, 15:10 - 15:25, Moscone West 2003

[Oral] "Tropical Pacific climate during the Medieval Climate Anomaly: progress and pitfalls" - Corals!
Kim M. Cobb & 20+ others, but notably Tianran Chen, Pamela Grothe, Hussein Sayani, Hai Cheng, Larry Edwards
PP54A-07Friday, 16 December, 17:15 - 17:30, Moscone West 2010

[Oral] "Fostering institutional practices in support of public engagement by scientists"
Kim M. Cobb
ED43F-08Thursday, 15 December, 15:25 - 15:40, Moscone South 309

UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCHERS (recruit them - they're applying to grad school this winter!)

[Oral] "The 2015/16 El Niño Event as Recorded in Central Tropical Pacific Corals: Temperature, Hydrology, and Ocean Circulation Influences"
Gemma O'Connor, Hussein Sayani, Samantha Stevenson, Alyssa Atwood, Pamela Grothe, Nick Hitt, and Jean Lynch-Stieglitz
A41L-04Thursday, 15 December, 8:45 - 9:00, Moscone West 3006

[Oral] "An ensemble approach to reconstructing 20th century climate trends in data-sparse regions of the tropical Pacific using young fossil corals"
Nick T. Hitt, Hussein Sayani, Samantha Stevenson, Alyssa Atwood, Pamela Grothe, Hai Cheng, Larry Edwards, Melat Hagos, Dan Deocampo, Tianran Chen, Yanbin Lu, Diane Thompson, and Jean Lynch-Stieglitz
PP43D-03Thursday, 15 December, 14:10 - 14:25, Moscone West 2012


[Oral] "The 2015/16 El Niño Event as Recorded in Central Tropical Pacific Corals: Temperature, Hydrology, and Ocean Circulation Influences"
Pamela R. Grothe, Giovanni Ligori, Hussein Sayani, Antoinetta Capotondi, Hai Cheng, Larry Edwards, Yanbin Lu, Guaciara Santos, John Southon, Kayla Townsend, Melat Hagos, Diane Thompson, Lauren Toth, Emanuele Di Lorenzo, and Dan Deocampo
A42E-03Thursday, 15 December, 10:50 - 11:05, Moscone West 3006

[Poster] "Coral Ensemble Estimates of Central Pacific Mean Climate During the Little Ice Age"
Hussein R. Sayani, Gemma O'Connor, Agraj Khare, Alyssa Atwood, Pamela Grothe, Tianran Chen, Melat Hagos, Nick Hitt, Diane Thompson, Dan Deocampo, Yanbin Lu, Hai Cheng, Larry Edwards
PP51D-2329Friday, 16 December, 8:00 - 12:20, Moscone South Poster Hall


[Oral] "A Coral Ensemble Approach to Reconstructing Central Pacific Climate Change During the Holocene"
Alyssa Atwood, Kim M. CobbPamela Grothe, Hussein Sayani, Hai Cheng, Larry Edwards, Yanbin Lu, Guaciara Santos, John Southon, Kayla Townsend, Melat Hagos, Dan Decamp, Tianran Chen, John CH Chiang
PP43D-04Thursday, 15 December, 14:25 - 14:40, Moscone West 2012

[Oral] "Micro-scale δ18O analyses of a Borneo stalagmite across the Toba super-eruption"
Ian Orland (U. Wisconsin), Kim M. Cobb, Stacy Carolin, Ben Linzmier, John W. Valley, Jess F. Adkins
PP14A-05Monday, 12 December, 15:00 - 15:15, Moscone West 2003


[Oral] "Last Millennium External Forcing Undetectable in Coral Records of Central Pacific Climate"
Sylvia Dee (Brown University), Kim M. Cobb, Julien Emile-Geay, Toby Ault
PP52A-06Friday, 16 December, 11:35 - 11:50, Moscone West 2012

[Poster] "The 2015-16 El Niño As A Proving Ground for Coral Proxy Reconstructions"
Samantha Stevenson (NCAR), Kim M. Cobb, Mark Merrifield, Brian Powell
A43C-0236Thursday, 15 December, 13:40 - 18:00, Moscone South Poster Hall