State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

The ‘Grandfather of Climate Science’ on Climate Skepticism

Wallace Broecker’s pioneering work on the carbon cycle and melting polar ice made him the “grandfather of climate science.”

Wallace Broecker from Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory is one of the world’s greatest living geoscientists. He discovered the “global conveyor belt” that connects the world’s oceans and can cause to abrupt climate change. His pioneering work on the carbon cycle and melting polar ice made him the “grandfather of climate science.” But to Anna Keyes, he’s just “Grampy.”

anna keyes
Filmmaker Anna Keyes, granddaughter of Wallace Broecker, interviewed him about climate change and climate skepticism.

Growing up, Keyes didn’t realize that her grandfather was something of a science celebrity. “When you’re a kid, you think everything in your life is the way it is for everyone,” she says. “I was like ‘I have a scientist grandfather, no big deal.’” She’d seen photos of Broecker with Bill Clinton, and with the Pope, but the reality of her grandfather’s importance didn’t hit home until middle school, when she and her mother were flown to Rome to see him accept an award from the Italian president.

“I’ve come to understand him differently over time,” Keyes explains. “The older I get, the more I appreciate being his grandchild.”

So, when she was in college and there was a contest about sustainability and combating climate change, she decided to interview her grandfather. The resulting video is posted on Keyes’ Vimeo page, and you can listen to the audio right here:

“Not only was this a conversation, but it was a collaboration,” says Keyes. “Science can be very academic or in a bubble, and there needs to be people to communicate science to an everyday person. It felt special to me to be able to bring my skill set to spread the word about his work.”

Keyes graduated college last year, and now works at the New York Transgender Advocacy Group and as a freelance filmmaker.

Although her work doesn’t usually focus on climate change, she hopes the video will open a few minds to the very real threat of climate change. She also hopes it will inspire others to use their skills in media and outreach to think about showing science through a new lens.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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