Well Wisconsin Radio
Hosted by Senior Program Manager, Renee Fox
A podcast discussing topics of health and well-being from experts around the State of Wisconsin. Tune into Well Wisconsin Radio whenever you want and wherever you are! Subscribe to Well Wisconsin Radio in the podcast platform of your choice to be notified when each new episode is released. Let’s tackle 2023 together through learning and seeking opportunities to be in the moment.
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Hello and welcome to Well Wisconsin Radio, a podcast discussing health and well being topics with experts from all around the state of Wisconsin. My name is Morgan Meinen. My guest today is Dr. Tracey Holloway. Tracey is the 2017 to 2021 Gaylord Nelson Distinguished Professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison, jointly appointed in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, and the Department of Atmospheric and ocean sciences. She serves as the team lead for the NASA health and air quality applied sciences team working on air quality management and public health. Tracy is a co founder and the first president of the Earth Science Women’s Network. “ESWN” she was the first ever recipient of the MIT C3E Award in education and mentoring, a Stanford University Leopold Leadership Fellow, and was awarded the 2018 UW Madison undergraduate research student mentoring award.
Tracey, welcome to Well Wisconsin Radio. I’m really excited to talk to you today and to bring this topic of climate change to the show.
Thank you so much, Morgan. It’s really a pleasure to be here.
So starting off today, I wondered if you could just give us your thoughts about the state of climate change in Wisconsin and where you think we’re at right now.
Yeah, I mean, here in Wisconsin, like other places around the world, we are seeing the impact of climate change, our summers are getting warmer, and our winters are warming even more than the summers. It’s getting Rainier. And the rain is coming in more extreme events, so there’s more likely to be flooding. And these changes in rainfall changes in temperature. These are consistent with what scientists have been telling us to expect for decades. And unfortunately, we’re on track for them to be getting worse. So like the rest of the world was climate change has come to Wisconsin. And, you know, I think that the first step to solving a problem is to recognize the problem. So, you know, a lot of my work is thinking about solutions to climate change and ways to connect that with other energy and environmental goals. But I really like your question, because step one is understanding, is there a problem? And unfortunately, the answer is yes.
Yeah, and and that’s why I’m really excited to talk to you today, because you mentioned your work. And you know, just for me personally going through it in preparation for this episode, I’ve learned a lot. And I noticed one of the focuses of your work was on air pollution. So I also wondered if you could kind of speak to where we’re at in terms of air pollution for the state of Wisconsin.
Yeah, when when we talk about air pollution. Now a lot of people mix, the carbon pollution that we care about with climate change, together as with the pollutants that are bad for human health, like particulate matter, and ozone, smog. And this makes a lot of sense, because they’re all emitted from the same sources, power plants, cars and trucks industry, where come chemicals go up into the air and have impacts sometimes on the climate, sometimes on our health, sometimes on agriculture. The biggest difference between all of these chemicals is that some of them can be controlled with end of pipe technologies, which is to say, changing the fuel that you burn in your car, or putting a control equipment on a power plant. And these technologies have actually reduced almost every air pollutants except carbon dioxide. So the reason why we’re kind of coming at this from a climate perspective is because carbon dioxide has not been going down very much. On the other hand, almost every other pollutant that’s bad for human health has gone down in Wisconsin and across the United States since 1970, when the Clean Air Act was passed. So in many ways air pollution in Wisconsin and across the US is a success story. There are still some air pollution challenges that we face here in Wisconsin, especially around ozone, which is a challenge especially for the counties along the western or the east. Part of the state along Lake Michigan. But the you know, I think it’s really important to say that the regulations that have been put in place for the past 50 years have made our air cleaner and healthier here in Wisconsin and across the nation. And, you know, I like to use this as a starting point for thinking about what can we do for carbon? Because we have lots of success stories under our belt. The question is, how can we take that one step further to solve climate as well?
Yeah, that’s really encouraging. And a few things that kind of came to mind as you were talking about that, you know, you mentioned some regulations, but you also mentioned, you know, some other new technologies and things that could have an impact. So I wondered your perspective on, you know, what, what do you think individuals can do to have an impact in helping with air pollution? Do you feel like there are things that people maybe aren’t aware of? Or could be doing more of? Or do you see more possibility with more regulations?
Well, you know, I think that what effective policies can do is to help us live our lives, and maybe not even know that we’re helping the planet and making the air cleaner. And if we look back to the air pollution example, since 1970, and the Clean Air Act, we’ve driven more miles, we’ve used more energy or our economy has grown, our population has grown, but our air has gotten cleaner. And so I think that when you have high level action about sort of where is the energy coming from, then it takes the burden off of the shoulders of the individuals, we can still drive our kids to school, but we’re driving in a cleaner car. And that’s really the way that the air pollution story has been such a success, it’s by taking it at a high level and looking to our leaders to, you know, push car companies to be cleaner and energy producers to put on the right controls. And so honestly, you know, the burden on the individual to control air pollution, you know, I don’t necessarily see a lot of need for an individual to worry about clean air in their day to day activities. Because we’re driving pretty clean cars, and our electricity is coming from pretty clean sources. The main way is to sort of make sure that the importance of clean air and climate change is something that we are aware of, and talking about, and making sure that our leaders know that this is something we we value. And the truth is here in the United States, you know, our life expectancy, especially before COVID had been going up and up. And part of that was because our air has been getting cleaner and cleaner. So you know, if someone wants to say, Well, I do want to do something, I would say, you know, driving less saving energy, all of those things are reducing the emissions that are associated with fossil fuel burning. But an even more effective way to do that is to be supporting our utilities and our automakers and moving to cleaner electricity and moving our cars from burning gasoline in the tank to plugging in to cleaner electricity. So I think really, the the Clean Air Act has shown us that the pathway to success is very much something where if the government does what it should be doing, then, you know, individual moms and dads and you know, Wisconsin residents can go about their life and worry about other things.
Yeah, that makes sense. Another thing I really wanted to cover here was your partnership with the group science moms. I really enjoyed visiting your website, learning more about what that group does. And so I wondered if you could help share with our listeners more about that organization and your involvement with it.
Yeah, I am so honored to be part of the science moms program. And our website is science moms.com. And, of course, I’ve been a scientist for over 20 years, and I’ve been a mom for almost 13 years. I have two boys. One is two years old and one is just about to turn 13. And for most of my you know the past 10 years or so those have really been two different parts of my life. I would do science during the day, and then I would be a mom when I came home. So I was really excited and at first a little intimidated to be pulling these two parts of my life together through the science moms pro program, where it’s an outreach initiative and education initiative that’s really trying to connect moms across the United States with information in a reliable, accessible, kind of digestible way to get up to speed on the kind of confusing topic of climate change. So there are 11 of us who are science moms, and we’re all practicing scientists related to climate change. Many of the science moms in the program are really well known scientists, some of whom I’ve worked with for decades. So they’re really trying, though, to highlight our work and our experience to sort of show that, you know, the folks who are doing climate science are regular people, regular moms, we are concerned about the future for our own kids. And we’re just sort of doing what we can to answer questions and take this somewhat controversial topic, and make it clear and accessible in a nonpartisan way.
Yeah, I love that. And, you know, Tracey gave out the website, I really encourage all of you to, you know, go to their website, check things out. Tracey, you know, I know that you mentioned climate change, it can be a confusing topic, right? I think that a lot of our listeners probably fall into the category of you know, those people who would want to help, but they can, you know, it can be difficult to figure out, you know, what path to take how you can turn your concern into action. And so I wondered what advice you have for people who feel inspired to do something better unsure, you know, where to start, or where their impact can be had?
Yeah, that’s a great question. And actually, just recently, the science moms team came out with a to do list for how to take action on climate change. And it’s really a three part to do list. And I really love this. The first is swap, the second is share. And the third is a speak up. And what they mean by that is the swap comes when you’re in a position of making a major purchase, like a new stove or refrigerator, heating system for your home, a new car, windows, those kinds of things that, you know, it’s not an everyday decision. But it’s a decision that you make once and it really affects your energy consumption, and your carbon emissions for a long time. And the basic idea with swap is to move toward energy efficient appliances, and where you can move toward electrification of appliances or cars. And the reason why electricity is part of the climate solution, is because we can get electricity from so many sources from wind and solar, from nuclear that does not emit carbon dioxide. And these non emitting sources of electricity really offer a path forward toward getting us off of fossil fuel or reducing our fossil fuel use in the coming decades, and this is a real challenge, especially for like a car because, you know, across the United States, almost every car runs on gasoline. And you know, if you fill up your tank with gasoline, not only is it expensive these days, but you know, then you burn it, and it all goes into the atmosphere. And in fact, it stays in the atmosphere for about 100 years. So if you think every tank of gas that you’re burning stays in the atmosphere as an invisible climate warming gas for 100 years, you can start to see why. If you’re in the position to swap it out for a hybrid vehicle or a plug in vehicle and not burn that gasoline that is really going to make a big impact in terms of your personal carbon emissions. So that was the swap. The second thing was share. Because, you know, studies have shown that people care about climate change. And of course, every parent cares about the future of their kids. And our kids are going to be living in there every day, the weather, they experience, the food production, the you know, what sports and lifestyle they can experience is all determined by the weather and the climate. So the steps that we’re taking today are really affecting the future of our kids. And if we don’t talk about that, then it has this feeling that we don’t care about it. And so this idea that sharing can make a difference is something that’s so easy to do. It’s just you know, talking to your friends or having a book club discussion or things like that. I’m one of my colleagues who’s also a science mom, Katharine Hayhoe, she gave a TED talk. And her the title of her TED talk was that the best thing you can do to solve climate change is to talk about it. And I think this idea that just sharing information, talking about our questions and concerns with your friends, your community, your church, your school, whatever it is, that is a huge part of solving this problem. Because if we don’t talk about it, then it seems like it’s not a problem. And that then leads into the third to do item on the science mom’s To Do List, which is to speak up that kind of one step further than sharing information with your friends and community is writing to your leaders, reaching out to your representatives, and letting them know how you feel and what your concerns are. So you know, we’re not saying how to vote, we’re not saying what you should write to what leadership, this is you engaging with your own representatives in the way that you want to. But again, if you’re not speaking up, then no one will know what your perspectives are. And if you care about climate and climate solutions, that’s really a good message to make sure that our leadership knows.
Yeah, I agree. And just for our listeners reference, I’ll be linking in the TED talk that you just mentioned, along with the to do list in the show notes for this episode, so people can easily access it, I thought those were really great recommendations. And, you know, I agree, I think just talking about it can be really helpful. And one of the things I noticed on the science mob website was that you had a section where, you know, people can get involved in groups. And so I just wondered if you could talk more about, you know, maybe some of the groups that you’re aware of, or how these groups can help people to work together for this positive change.
Yeah, you know, the, the, the groups are really trying to help people connect with like minded moms around the country. So if you go to the website, science, mom’s dot com, one of the options is find a group, and then you can select your state, and it will step you through a few questions to help kind of, you know, matchmake, you with community organizations that you might like to get connected with? And I think this is really, to me, you know, when I moved here to Madison, Wisconsin, you know, I was looking for different groups to join to make friends and to find a community and to, you know, meet like minded people. And I think that this is trying to do the same thing, but with the magic of the internet.
Yeah, I love that. You know, and just to, you know, well round this for our listeners, because obviously, you know, the name of the website is science moms. So, if there are people listening in who aren’t moms or, you know, maybe dads or their groups that are, you know, inclusive for those members, or do you have other places that you would recommend to kind of drive people looking for groups in those areas?
Yeah, you know, I think it’s an interesting question, and one we get asked a lot is sort of who counts as a science mom. And the truth is, most of the resources and opportunities on the science moms website are absolutely appropriate for anybody. I think that, you know, book recommendations, podcasts, Instagram posts that actually answer questions about climate change. So I think, you know, dads, grandparents, people who don’t have kids, people who are kids, teenagers, I think that, you know, certainly everybody should feel welcome, as part of the science moms program. We all have a mom. But I would say that, you know, to some degree, when you’re trying to be everything to everyone, then it’s hard to have a clear voice. So this is I think the science moms approach was really trying to take a demographic. The moms who haven’t had a focused outreach effort around climate before, you know, there’s a lot of messaging on climate change focused on politics or focused on, you know, environmentalism, or focused on polar bears or, you know, there’s a lot of kind of interest group overlapped the solar energy that different communities are getting, you know, educated or, you know, advocated around climate. And I think you know, what, to me is unique about this program, is that we’re trying to be very nonpartisan, and also meet moms where they are recognizing that moms are busy. They don’t have time to sit down and read through a textbook on climate change, and they are consuming information all the time about how to make Our kids safer, better their futures more bright. And you know whether that’s what to, you know what tricks for getting vegetables baked into the dinner, or you know longer term strategies for your kids success. So moms are consuming information a lot. And the science moms program is trying to get into those same channels. So lots of cool Instagram posts, videos, you know, book recommendations for the moms book recommendations for the kids, these community groups that you just mentioned. And almost all of those resources are just as relevant for anyone who wants to learn about this as it is a mom.
Yeah, that’s so great to hear. And I’m obviously I’m a mom, myself, I have two boys. And so this is something that’s close to me in my heart as well. I haven’t seen the book recommendations for kids on your website. So I’m going to go back through there and take a look at that, because I’m pretty excited to learn about some books that I could also be sharing with my kiddo. And I’m a reader myself. So if there’s there’s books for me, too. I’m all in. Tracey. As we wrap up today, I just wondered if you had any other recommendations about where people can go to find reliable information, kind of, you know, outside of science moms, which we’ve obviously highlighted a lot today, or just any general information on how they can help.
Yeah, there are a lot of great resources for learning about climate change in a very direct and relevant way to day to day concerns. One resource here in Wisconsin is called the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts. It goes by the acronym wici, or wicci. And if you Google wici, you’ll come to the website that has lots of data on past and future climate change and impacts right here in Wisconsin. And, you know, I’d say that it’s one of the leading climate impact assessments around the United States. So we’re really fortunate to have the wiki project right here. And in our state. On a national scale, the there’s what’s called the National Climate Assessment that comes out every few years. And that addresses what’s happening with climate, and how it affects agriculture, fisheries, tourism, energy, health, the things that people really care about and that are economically relevant to our state are addressed, not just, you know, abstract changes in temperature. And the National Climate Assessment is online, you can just Google National Climate Assessment, and you will find it. And then at the global level, there’s a global assessment called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or the IPCC. And that is, every five years scientists around the world and that is a little more technical and dense, they come out with three reports, and each report is about 1000 pages. But I think, you know, sometimes, you know, everybody’s different. And some people like to really drill down on some of these climate topics and go as far as possible. And I guess I just want to sort of lay out that, that, you know, science moms is trying to give like digestible, bite sized pieces. But there is really a smorgasbord of information available for your listeners who want to go deeper and deeper in this subject.
Well, thanks again, for laying out all of those resources. Again, I’ll make sure to get these linked in the show notes. So you guys can have easy accessible clickable links to be doing some of your research. Tracey, I just want to thank you again for joining me today on Well, Wisconsin radio and for all of the work that you’ve done on behalf of all of the Wisconsinites listening and moms in general. Thanks again.
Thank you, Morgan. It’s been a real pleasure.
Thanks so much for listening today. I hope you enjoyed the show. For those of you listening in as part of the Well Wisconsin program, the code for this episode is Climate. For a transcript, to take our survey, or to find previous episodes, you can go to WebMD health services.com/well Wisconsin radio, you can also subscribe on the podcast platform of your choice, you never miss an episode. Lastly, after three years as the founding host of well, Wisconsin radio, I want to announce that this will be my last episode. I want to sincerely thank everyone who has been part of Well Wisconsin Radio, to the notable, outstanding experts who have shared their knowledge. You have both taught and inspired me. Thank you for the work that you do. To well Wisconsin radio listeners. Thank you for cheering me along, providing me with suggestions and encouraging me to build this space to celebrate the great state of Wisconsin, and the many people working so hard to improve individual and community well being. This experience has truly changed my life and I’m so grateful. I wish you all good health and happiness. Take care