Melanie Fitzpatrick is a climate scientist with the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Her work encompasses basic climate research, the local and global consequences of climate change, and communicating scientific findings to policy makers, the media and citizens.
Dr. Fitzpatrick completed her Ph.D. in geophysics at the University of Washington in Seattle, where she researched the interaction between sea ice, clouds, and climate. As a polar research specialist, she has worked as a field-based climate scientist with the Australian Antarctic Program, the U.S. Antarctic Program, and with the Department of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. She was an expert reviewer for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment reports in 2001 and 2007.
At UCS, Melanie developed a series of climate impact reports for eight Midwest states and Pennsylvania. Over the last two decades she has conducted and supported global change science programs in Antarctica, worked in Greenland and Alaska, and continues to be passionate about ensuring that government policies are informed by the best-available science.
Dr. Fitzpatrick has been cited by the New York Times, USA Today, the Associated Press and Reuters.
Climate Scientist, Climate and Energy Program, Union of Concerned Scientists
Photograph by Yusuke Suzuki from Lost Aral Sea.
Abandoned fishing boats lie on the bottom of dried Aral Sea in Moynak, Uzbekistan. The town of Moynaq had a thriving harbor and fishing industry that employed approximately 30,000 people.
Over the past 50 years, the average global temperature has increased at the fastest rate in recorded history. In May 2013, carbon emissions reached the new record level of 400ppm, one more grim milestone for the future of our planet.
“If we continue increasing heat-trapping at our current rates by continuing to burn fossil fuels, we could be looking at a world with double the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than before the Industrial Revolution two centuries ago,” said Dr. Melanie Fitzpatrick. “At those amounts, the planet could warm 7 to 10 degrees (F). That would be like living on an entirely different Earth.”
Dr. Fitzpatrick’s work as a climate scientist with the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists encompasses research as much as raising awareness about climate change issues among policy makers, the media and the public. She argues that creating assessment reports together with the people who need climate information is the most useful way to educate about climate change and the choices we face.
“A water manager out West may need to know what precipitation patterns will look like under a warming climate, while an East Coast mayor might need a better sense of how high sea levels will be in the next half century,” Fitzpatrick explained in an interview.
The more the available information is to-the-point, the better targeted the solution for dealing with a changing climate will be. Fitzpatrick reminds us that in the state of New York, for instance, the governor is already offering incentives for people to abandon risky coastal properties, while in other areas different measures to try to withstand more coastal flooding are being discussed, such as sea walls and other barriers.
Next year, the United States will release a national climate assessment containing a wealth of information useful in particular at the regional level. Fitzpatrick also pointed out that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has created a sea-level rise planning tool designed to inform local and state decision-makers, especially communities that are still rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy.
“We actually have all the technology we need to dramatically reduce emissions — solar panels, wind turbines, energy efficiency, cleaner cars, etc. But what we lack is a price signal for carbon dioxide emissions that would drive investment into cleaner technologies,” she continued.
Fitzpatrick believes the U.S. Congress will, eventually, need to pass a legislation to put that into effect. In the meantime, President Obama has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to create limits for the amount of carbon dioxide electric utilities can generate — which should lead to a wider adoption of renewable electricity and a modest reduction in emissions.
“Ultimately, it’s all about the carbon. Everything we emit from burning fossil fuels stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years. Even if we stopped emitting new gases into the atmosphere tomorrow, it would take many generations before the Earth returned to its natural balance,” said Fitzpatrick.
“At this point, we need to realize that we’re in damage control mode. Some warming is already locked in. The question now is how much more we’re going to lock in as countries continue to burn coal and gasoline.”