Frank Niepold III: “Get Ready for Climate Change”

An Interview with Climate Scientist Frank Niepold III


The US is the world’s leading producer of carbon emissions

Samaa Eldadah, Co-Clerk


I got a chance to talk to Frank Niepold III over Thanksgiving Break at SSFS’ annual Alumni Soccer game. Previously, I’d spoken with him only one other time and I was eager to discuss a topic he deals with everyday: climate change. As a climate education coordinator at NOAA and a part of the US Global Change Resource Program at the White House, Frank is on the front lines of climate change education and outreach.
When I asked him for a quick interview, he cordially obliged. Armed with his disposable coffee cup and my iPhone voice recorder, we delved into a subject–as he would tell me– not focused on enough.

I wanted to start off with Donald Trump’s defunding climate change efforts. Do you think this will have a big impact on the climate future of the rest of the globe?

So the United States government spends the most money on research and services of any nation in the world, and the effect [of Donald Trump defunding climate change efforts] would be extreme. The other thing to remember is that the United States, as a country, has historically produced the largest amount of emissions as compared to any other country in the world. So, there’s an obligation to other countries, because they’re struggling to figure out what’s going on in their country and rely on our research and services. They don’t have the resources to support their own research enterprises. So the obligation, because we caused most of it, is to help those who didn’t cause most of it as we all deal with the consequences of it. The moral hazard here is extreme.
John Kerry has said, “It’s abundantly clear we have the ability to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.” Is this prevention feasible? This is massive.
Unprecedentedly massive. Humanity has never done something like this. But, the technology is there. The finance is there. The science is there. The policies could be there. But the will is not.

What is the best thing the public can do about this?

Well, there are two real pieces to this puzzle that have to be done simultaneously. There’s the underlying cause which has to be rapidly addressed–the carbon emissions, deforestation, that cause climate change. And the science is clear: we have to reduce the carbon emissions’ load in the atmosphere by 80-90% within about 30 years worldwide. So, the number one thing we need to do is put huge focus here, at all levels of society, [on this issue] and not wait for the government. We tried, and that’s what Obama was doing, but it looks like that’s not going to continue.
The other piece of that is the way we build our communities: future roads, future dams, future reservoirs, future power plants, future everything, has to be done with future impacts in mind. So the preparation for that also has to be done worldwide, at the same time.
From an individual perspective, keep the focus on what we can do together. Individual actions don’t add up unless they are together. Focus on the bigger pieces. What you can do as a person is be ready for the change. Whatever job you’re preparing for, understand that climate change is going to be the largest thing humanity is facing this coming century. Whatever you do, are you ready to do that in light of this change?