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It’s not easy to motivate high school students first thing in the morning. Texas Tech Professors Katharine Hayhoe and Jennifer Vanos are well aware of that. That’s why the climate scientists opted to dispense with the traditional lecture format on the opening day of Earth Day Texas 2016 and flip the script.

Dallas students listened to Profs. Hayhoe and Vanos with special headsets and used their cellphones to share their ideas with the speakers. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

Dallas students listened to Profs. Hayhoe and Vanos with special headsets and used their cellphones to share their ideas with the speakers. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

After a brief introduction to what exactly global warming is (think of a warm blanket wrapping the planet – and then add another one), Prof. Hayhoe asked her young audience to pull out their cellphones and start texting her. While Hayhoe asked them questions about climate science, the audience sent her a stream of answers that then showed up on the screen behind her. When Assistant Professor Jennifer Vanos took the stage, she continued the climate conversation by showing what effects extreme heat has on the body. The kids had plenty to say about that.

In the video below, Planet Experts speaks to Profs. Hayhoe and Vanos about their work and how interactive lectures like this one engage rather than enervate their listeners.


“When we’re students, we’re still learning, we’re still curious,” says Hayhoe in the video. Today, because youth are constantly exposed to all kinds of media, just sitting and listening to someone talk is not interesting. Asking questions, interacting, “that’s the way that we can actually trigger that curiosity,” she says.

In her work, Prof. Vanos studies heat extremes on the human body. During her talk, she showed the students infrared visualizations of athletes before and after exercise, and how their heat map completely shifts. This visual presentation, along with temperature readings of hot surfaces on sports fields, illustrates how a changing climate affects more than just polar bears. In addition to her research, Vanos works with landscape designers to build public spaces that keep visitors cooler and less vulnerable to heat stress.

“We already have crazy weather [in Texas],” explains Dr. Hayhoe. “But what climate change is doing is taking that natural weather, which is already very extreme and has huge impacts on our economy, on our water, on our food, on our health, and it’s taking that natural pattern and stretching it – making the extremes even more extreme and harder to deal with.”

Fun in the sun, but a little less shade than we'd like at Earth Day Texas 2016. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

Fun in the sun, but a little less shade than we’d like at Earth Day Texas 2016. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

For Vanos, using heat maps is a great way to bring the reality of climate to people that might otherwise be skeptical of climate science. “Making it relevant and focusing on children is a really neat way to really get through to people,” she said. “If your child has asthma because air pollution is going up and the air allergens are going up – whether the climate is changing or not, air pollution is bad, higher air allergens is bad and higher heat is bad. That can get the point across.”

Professors Jenni Vanos (left) and Katharine Hayhoe (right) at Earth Day Texas 2016. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

Professors Jenni Vanos (left) and Katharine Hayhoe (right) at Earth Day Texas 2016. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

Earth Day Texas 2016 Series

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