Nimble and flexible. Interdisciplinary. Systems thinking. These are just a few of the qualities a successful climate scientist needs these days to apply the ever-evolving facts of climate change to real-world solutions.
Dr. Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux is no stranger to this reality. These qualities frequently frame her work as Vermont State Climatologist, president of the American Association of State Climatologists and recently appointed member of the Vermont Climate Council. Oh—and she’s also a researcher and Geography professor at the University of Vermont.
Although she wears many important hats, her newest one as the climate change science expert on the Vermont Climate Council will be instrumental in the formation of state policy. “It’s going to be fascinating seeing first-hand how science informs policy-making,” she says with a smile.
The Vermont Climate Council was established under the recently passed Global Warming Solutions Act. Over the next year, this panel of 23 experts from across Vermont is tasked with the important mission of developing a set of policies that will help the state meet the Act’s targets.
As the climate expert, Dr. Dupigny-Giroux is responsible for integrating the best available climate science into measures that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve climate resiliency across multiple sectors.
“I've already started hearing from some of my colleagues who are working with the utility industry about the connection between the atmospheric sciences, utilities and some of their fieldwork,” she explains. “It's going to be absolutely fascinating—a lot of deep learning and potential for having many connections and collaborations with folks who bring so much passion and knowledge.”
Fascinating, yes, but interweaving climate science throughout the council’s work will undoubtedly be complicated. Not only will it require collaborating across a diverse range of sectors—"agriculture, energy, transportation, renewable resources and everything across the board”—it also means staying abreast of the most recent discoveries in climate science.
Case in point, new findings were announced the night before our interview showing the rebounding levels of the greenhouse gas nitrogen dioxide which had rapidly decreased in response to Covid-19-related shutdowns. “See what I mean?” Dr. Dupigny-Giroux jokingly chides me when I admit that I didn’t see the study, “You must always be on the look-out to catch these things.”
Keeping up to date with new findings like this one is crucial for the council’s work. Understanding the way that Vermont’s climate will change in the coming decades and the science of “why” is vital to developing comprehensive policies. According to Dr. Dupigny-Giroux, Vermonters can expect their climate to become increasingly variable. “What we used to have in the past is no longer the same.” To highlight her point, 2020 was recently declared as the warmest year on record, matching 2016.
Through models, Dr. Dupigny-Giroux can get an idea of how rainfall, extreme weather events and other climate patterns may change in the future. The next step is understanding the implications of these findings on Vermont’s weather-dependent industries, like farming and skiing. “If you have different amounts of rainfall in different seasons, will the crops thrive in the same place and grow at the same rates?” she wonders aloud. Questions like these will help form the solutions the council proposes.
With this momentous task ahead of her, no one would blame Dr. Dupigny-Giroux for feeling overwhelmed. Instead, she radiates excitement, for both the prospect of working with such a knowledgeable team and getting to take a deeper dive into new climate change research with the potential for changing policy.
“People always ask me: why do you get up in the morning? Because I'm so excited, like a kid in a candy store. There's always something new to discover or learn!.”