Texas Tech University

Texas Tech Climate Expert Named Chief Scientist for The Nature Conservancy

George Watson

March 1, 2021


Katharine Hayhoe is an atmospheric scientist, co-director of the Climate Center and an endowed professor in the Department of Political Science.

As an undergraduate, Katharine Hayhoe entered the University of Toronto originally intent on becoming an astrophysicist. Needing to complete a degree requirement, she enrolled in a class on climate science.

That one decision, seemingly minor in the grand scheme of things, changed Hayhoe's life and ended up providing the world with one of its premier climate science experts. As a lead author of the Second, Third and Fourth U.S. National Climate Assessments, she has played a large role in helping assess climate risks for several U.S. presidential administrations as well as discussing the necessity to tackle climate change with leaders around the world.

Now, she will take on a vital responsibility for one of the world's leading environmental organizations. Today (March 1), Hayhoe was named Chief Scientist for The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a worldwide organization that uses science to tackle the issues of conservation and climate change through real-world solutions and partnerships that influence global decision-making.

"I've long admired The Nature Conservancy's combination of mission-driven values, science-based strategies and pragmatic, solutions-focused approaches to reconciling the needs of human development with those of the wider ecosystems of which we are all part," Hayhoe said. "With a year of major climate and environmental policy moments ahead, effective science communication has never been more important. Being invited to represent and steer TNC's research at a global level is the opportunity of a lifetime, and I cannot wait to get started."

As part of her role with TNC, Hayhoe also will take responsibility for the Conservancy's wider portfolio of global climate advocacy and adaptation work. This is critical with the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, just eight months away.

"With Glasgow calling, and the need for concerted global leadership on climate change never greater, Katharine joins The Nature Conservancy at the perfect time," said Jennifer Morris, CEO of TNC. "As the climate emergency and biodiversity loss continue to affect our health, economies and very way of life, Katharine doesn't see these challenges as 'environmental issues,' but rather, 'everything issues.' And she's right. As we race to address these interrelated crises, Katharine's ability to galvanize audiences beyond the usual environmental bubble couldn't be more important. Her impeccable academic record, energetic leadership and grounded optimism will help motivate us all into action for this critical decade ahead. We are thrilled to welcome her as our new Chief Scientist."

On June 1, Hayhoe will begin her new appointment and step down as the co-director of the Texas Tech University Climate Center. Established in 2011, the Climate Center includes more than 50 faculty affiliates across a variety of disciplines and every Texas Tech college who work at the intersection of climate, people, and conservation. Climate Center faculty and students conduct interdisciplinary research to address the effects of climate change within Texas, the south-central U.S. and the world in partnership with the U.S. Department of Interior's South-Central Climate Adaptation Science Center, for which Hayhoe is a co-principal investigator.

Katharine Hayhoe

A recently named Horn Distinguished Professor and Endowed Chair of Public Policy and Public Law in the Department of Political Science at Texas Tech University, Hayhoe's research focuses on evaluating future impacts of climate change on human society and the natural environment by developing and applying high-resolution climate projections. She also presents the realities of climate change by connecting the issue to values people hold dear and positive, constructive solutions.

In 2019, she was named by the Smithsonian Institute's Board of Regents to the advisory board of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., as well as a Champion of the Earth by the United Nations. The previous year, she was presented with the eighth annual Stephen H. Schneider Award for Outstanding Climate Science Communication from Climate One.

In 2017 and 2018, Hayhoe participated in the Nobel Peace Prize forum and gave a TED Talk on climate solutions that has received almost 4 million views.

Hayhoe's reach, however, goes far beyond her work at Texas Tech. There is a global audience for her KTTZ PBS Digital Short Series "Global Weirding," an online series that explores the arguments, science, religion, culture and psychology where politics and climate change intersect. She is also author of the forthcoming book with Simon & Schuster, "Saving Us: A Climate Scientist's Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World," which looks at how all of us can, and must, play a role in saving our future.

Hayhoe earned her bachelor's degree in physics and astronomy from the University of Toronto and her master's and doctoral degrees in atmospheric science from the University of Illinois-Champaign.