Hope on Climate Change from a Bold and Brilliant Woman at TEDxGatewayArch

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Sophia E. Hayes understands the severity of climate change. She’s a professor of chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis, and her “flavor of science” is spectroscopy. Basically, she takes the fingerprints of molecules and big solids in order to see if some of them could possibly help capture greenhouse gasses. The information she and her colleagues glean is then passed on to other scientists who figure out how it can be utilized and deployed in the real world.

“It’s an exciting time to be in this field,” Hayes says. That’s something of an understatement—her work puts her squarely at the forefront of the battle against climate change, which has myriad impacts on systems from biodiversity to food production to water. As Hayes says, “It could change the whole landscape of our world.”

But while Hayes has no illusions about what the world is up against with the issue of climate change, she also believes that it’s not an insurmountable problem. In her upcoming talk on Dec. 5 at TEDxGatewayArch’s “Bold & Brilliant Women,” she’ll outline just what’s being done and what everyone, regardless of their scientific savvy, can do to help solve it.

“Instead of feeling hopeless because it seems awful and insurmountable, my message is three words: There. Is. Hope. There are thousands of scientist at work on this problem, and there’s hope because we’ve done this before,” she says. “The story I’m going to tell at my TEDx talk is how we as a society actually did that for air pollution, smog and acid rain—and how we can do it again for CO2.”

Hayes will also showcase hopeful initiatives that are happening around the world to mitigate climate change, including the development of new energy sources and innovations like air capture farms in the private sector. And despite how tangled the issue may seem at the federal level, Hayes says areas of the government are addressing the problem in their own ways.

“No matter what our funding coming from Congress looks like, you can look at the Department of Defense (DoD) and some of the reports that relate to their interests, which have to do with national security and truly global security,” Hayes says. “DoD and other federal agencies are allocating their own resources, irrespective of what is said in the halls of Congress. They are having a major push toward figuring out what to do about the impact of climate change.”

The key, Hayes says, is for the public to not give up, to understand that they aren’t helpless and to use their unique skill sets to further the cause.

“If you have a set of skills, no matter what they are—science, economics or just an avid interest in recycling—I think everyone should work on climate change. It’s a slow-moving impact on our planet, and I think each of us can contribute to helping solve those issues in any way we can. It behooves all of us to do what we can toward that problem that’s looming ahead of us.”

Despite what she laughingly refers to as its “many scientific inaccuracies,” Hayes uses the ’90s-era disaster blockbuster “Armageddon,” where a group of experts works to destroy a meteor hurtling on a collision course to destroy the Earth, as an example of what’s going on behind the scenes with climate change science.

“The meteor is moving slower in this case, but we have the best minds working together to find the solution. If people know this maybe they won’t feel hopeless and say ‘I’m going to do my part,’” Hayes says. “No matter what your beliefs are, we’re in this together.”

General admission and VIP tickets are available online for TEDxGatewayArchWomen’s “Bold & Brilliant Women,” which will feature live 18-minute talks interspersed with sets from musical guests including Tonina Saputo and Rubi. Groups of 30 or more can contact Steve@tedxgatewayarch.org for information on promotional rates.

TEDx events are independently run, with a goal of sharing ideas within communities—and in St. Louis, all of those on stage must have local connections. Featured speakers Dec. 5 at The Ferrara Theater at America’s Center include the Honorable Tishaura O. Jones, treasurer for the City of St. Louis, speaking about the positive results of small investments in children’s savings accounts, and Dr. Leilani Carver-Madalon, Associate (Tenured ) Professor of Strategic Communication and Leadership at Maryville University, who promotes the concept of empowering authentic confidence.

Featured image courtesy of TEDxGatewayArch.

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