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UNH paleoclimatologist Cameron Wake '93G has spent two decades drilling and analyzing ice cores that reconstruct climate change over thousands of years. His work has taken him to Kyrgyzstan, China, Greenland and Antarctica. His knowledge of climate history fuels his passion for reducing human impact on our climate in the future. He also directs Carbon Solutions New England, which promotes "collective action to achieve a clean, secure energy future."

Cameron Wake '93G, photo by Erin Gleason/UNH Photographic Services
Cameron Wake '93G (Photo by Erin Gleason, UNH Photographic Services)

Q: Some say, "Global warming? It's natural. Don't worry."

A: We know that our climate changes for a variety of reasons natural to the system—solar variability, changes in orbital cycles, the position of the continents. But it's crystal clear that human beings are now one of the main drivers of climate change. In the scientific community, there is no debate on this. At scientific conferences and in peer-reviewed literature, the debate concerns how much and in what aspects we're causing change.

Q: There's plenty of debate in the media and on the Internet.

A: There's a sense that everybody's opinion on every topic is of equal value. What gets me is when people say: "Don't you know that climate changes naturally?" I want to say, "Do you know why you can say that? It's because of the same research you're criticizing." When a lay person says, "Don't you know it's natural variability?" I want to say, "I know about natural variability." We cannot explain the recent change we're tracking through natural causes. Scientists have actually studied this in incredible depth.

Q: The recent scandal over e-mails from British scientists suggesting ethics breaches: is it a tempest in a teapot or a serious setback?

A: It's a distraction to keep us from dealing with the real issues.

Q: Are people beginning to pay attention to the real issues?

A: Some are. If I could say one thing and make it so, it would be that everybody in New Hampshire read the State Climate Action Plan. It's a blueprint for economic development. The question is, What climate future do we want? Decisions we make in the next decade about how we use and produce energy will determine the climate that our children and grandchildren will inherit. The bad news is we've created this problem. The good news is we've created this problem, so we should be able to solve it.

Q: Your studies have taken you to some of the most remote places on Earth. Of your many adventures, is there one that really shifted your world view?

A: Summer of '88, northern Pakistan. We were coming down this moraine. My foot landed on its side and I broke my ankle—five days from the highway. A trekking party came through with a local medicine man who looked at my ankle and, through interpreters, said, "I can fix that." He drives a stake into the ground, wraps my ankle with a crampon strap, then pulls my ankle around the stake, hard. I am screaming in pain. He says, "The soil is too loose here." We go to where the ground's firmer. He does the whole thing again. This time, it pops back in. Immediate relief. He says, "You're fixed." A couple weeks later I was walking fine. In the West, we think we have the answers. We have some technology and some answers but not all of them. There is a lot of local knowledge and understanding. The meaning of place is really important—not just the physical geography, but the social geography. Did this hit me all at once? No. But the fact that I could get my ankle fixed in one of the most remote parts of the world with no medical facilities was eye-opening.

Q: And you're still walking.

A: I had it X-rayed when I got back, and the doctor said, "There's nothing I can do. It was reset perfectly." ~

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