Climate & Clean Energy
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#16: Clouds ruin EVERYTHING

Published on
June 21, 2022
Show notes

In Episode 16, Quinn & Brian ask: what's the future of climate modeling? Also, what's a climate model? Enter Dr. Kate Marvel. She's a climate scientist and a writer. A theoretical physicist by training, she is now an associate research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University’s Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics. Because, sure. Dr. Marvel's research focuses on how human activities affect the climate and what we can expect in the future, using satellite observations, computer models, and basic physics to study the human impact on variables from rainfall patterns to cloud cover. Want to send us feedback? Tweet us, email us, or leave us a voice message! Links: Dr. Kate Marvel on Twitter Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity The Earth System Grid Marvel Climate We Need Courage, Not Hope - OnBeing Her pick for Trump’s Book Club: The Constitution of the United States of America Quinn Emmett on Twitter Brian Colbert Kennedy on Twitter Intro/outro by Tim Blane Subscribe to our newsletter at! Like and share us on Facebook! Check us on Instagram! Follow us on Twitter! Pin us on Pinterest! Tumble us or whatever the hell you do on Tumblr! Ok that’s enough good lord


Quinn: Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett.

Brian: And I'm Brian Colbert Kennedy. I'm back.

Quinn: He's back. This is Episode 16 with Dr. Kate Marvel. We discuss the science and future of climate modeling. Dr. Marvel is a climate scientist and a writer. She's a theoretical physicist by training, like Brian. She's now an associate research scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University's Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics.

Brian: Bam. Her research focuses on how human activities affect the climate and what we can expect in the future using satellite observations, computer models, and basic physics to study the human impact on variables from rainfall patterns to cloud cover. She knows everything. She knows every little thing you're doing.

Quinn: Every little thing you're doing she puts into her computer and the answer comes out. We're fucked-

Brian: It's not good.

Quinn: ... and it's your fault, Jeff.

Brian: Oh Jeff.

Quinn: Anyway. She was super rad, right? That was a lot of fun.

Brian: Yeah. Really awesome.

Quinn: Tiny preview. Clouds, more controversial than you thought. Not just confusing and beautiful.

Brian: Who knew?

Quinn: But, as with most beautiful things, very controversial. We'll get to it.

Brian: That was a very surprising part to ... It was great.

Quinn: We'll get to it.

Brian: Quinn. Welcome back from vacation, bud.

Quinn: Thank you. I took a nice little trip last week, and I got to say two things that are kind of related. I was in the British Virgin Islands. Sounds super nice. It was really nice. Very lucky to do it. They got pretty fucked up last year. Two category-five hurricanes in six days. That's not great, Bob.

Brian: Were you on land often?

Quinn: Often.

Brian: You saw.

Quinn: In the US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands. They both took it pretty bad. Obviously the stuff on the east side got it worse, but just unbelievable. Now it's eight months later, and just crazy. You can still see the beatings they took. These islands' natural resources, just gone. Most of these places don't have their own water supply, so the water desalination plants, if the island could afford to have one, shut down for a while. Obviously Puerto Rico is just still a nightmare through there.

Brian: I think they just lost all power again.

Quinn: Again.

Brian: The other day, I read.

Quinn: Yeah. But, hey. You know what? The moral is, and what we try to take from it and why we went, is most of these islands and places like this, their economies are like 90% based on tourism. So go there. Go there. If you've got somewhere you're going to go this year and you're going to spend the money, go there in some way. Every dinner you eat out and stupid t-shirt you buy and snorkeling gear you get, it goes back into the economy and helps these people rebuild. I really enjoyed it. The people were wonderful and they're thankful.

Brian: Good.

Quinn: It's still just an incredible place to go. The wildlife and the nature is amazing. And also, vacation. Thank god. Jesus.

Brian: You're the person in my life who the most deserves a vacation, so I'm glad that you got to step away for a second.

Quinn: I don't know. Kate Marvel could use one.

Brian: Oh yeah, yeah. She's good too.

Quinn: Also related, on the flight back, I watched Geostorm.

Brian: That's where you watched it? On the plane?

Quinn: It's amazing. In the middle of terrible turbulence.

Brian: Oh good.

Quinn: So, good choice. I'm already terrified of flying. This movie. It's perfect.

Brian: Was it?

Quinn: It's perfect. I'm in the business of writing movies, and I'm not going to make any comments on anything except to say it's perfect.

Brian: Amazing.

Quinn: The cast. Andy Garcia, president. Ed Helms. Not Ed Helms. Ed Harris.

Brian: Oh okay. Okay.

Quinn: Slightly different.

Brian: I was very surprised.

Quinn: Ed Harris, vice president of the United States. What a coup.

Brian: Wow.

Quinn: There's some twists. But, I got to tell you, the best part of the whole thing was Zazie Beetz. She's from Atlanta. Have you seen Atlanta?

Brian: Of course I have.

Quinn: She's amazing.

Brian: Zazie Beetz.

Quinn: She's not from ... I don't know. She might be from Atlanta. She's from the TV show.

Brian: Oh, her. Yeah, yeah.

Quinn: She's amazing. Related, timing-wise, this all comes together, I think she's Domino in Deadpool 2, which is awesome.

Brian: Oh my god. I can't wait.

Quinn: Which comes out soon. And we talk to Dr. Marvel this week. It's all ...

Brian: Unbelievable.

Quinn: Marvel, you're welcome.

Brian: I can't believe her name is Dr. Marvel.

Quinn: God, it's so great.

Brian: Deadpool 2, holy cow, can't wait. Just throwing that in there.

Quinn: Yeah. Going to see Avengers next week. Don't know. I think it's like four hours.

Brian: Oh good.

Quinn: And everybody gets one scene.

Brian: Perfect.

Quinn: I just hope some people finally die. I'm sick of the white guys.

Brian: That's how they can afford to pay all those actors, I imagine.

Quinn: I imagine.

Brian: About one scene each. Hey, what's going on with our website?

Quinn: It's pretty great.

Brian: It really is.

Quinn: Oh man. We checked some stuff off the list finally. It feels like we're at Important, Not Important 3.0. This started off as a little newsletter, no website or anything. Then we got a website, but it didn't do anything. There was basically nothing on it. So, sorry. Then we started the podcast in, was it January?

Brian: Yes.

Quinn: Something like that. Then we had to ramp up for a little bit. Now, what do we got now? We're almost two years into the newsletter.

Brian: Which is insane.

Quinn: Crazy. Coming up on 100 issues. Now every one of those is archived, full text, on the website. You can find them by month or by week. They've even got tags, Brian.

Brian: Tags?

Quinn: Yeah, tags, so you can search by particular issue or a thing you're into.

Brian: Everything has become extremely searchable.

Quinn: You click on one tag. You're welcome. It took a lot of hours.

Brian: Thank you.

Quinn: Click on one of them and it will show you all the other interrelated things through our short history.

Brian: Really it makes it very easy.

Quinn: Now, how many episodes are we up to? What is this?

Brian: I think we just made 16?

Quinn: Is it 16?

Brian: 16.

Quinn: Dr. Marvel. This is 16 today. So we've got 16. Now there's a page for each of those.

Brian: Boom.

Quinn: Instead of just a stupid link. We own the page, with a full text transcript usually up three to four or five days afterwards.

Brian: That is really cool.

Quinn: Mostly accurate.

Brian: Sure.

Quinn: They do a pretty good job.

Brian: 90%.

Quinn: Links to listen to the episodes on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. Leave a review and a rating. We'd appreciate it.

Brian: Thank you.

Quinn: And show notes. We've always got lots of great show notes. Brian spends a lot of time putting those together.

Brian: The show notes are extensive. It's very impressive.

Quinn: They are, all the things we talk about, and some jokes because we like jokes.

Brian: We love jokes.

Quinn: And now everything is searchable. There's a search box, too. It's crazy. You don't just have to do tags or dig through one by one. You go in there and you type in "Dr. Kate Marvel," you're going to find everything we've ever done about her, which just, again, sounds creepy.

Brian: So creepy. It's not meant to be that way.

Quinn: Anyways. If you're new to all this, or you just want to take a deeper dive, because you like it, I'm sorry, it's all there for you. Right when we have time to update it, because ...

Brian: One-and-a-half-man show, baby.

Quinn: One-and-a-half-man show. We're trying. But it's up there. Finally, what happened last night, Brian?

Brian: Our store went live.

Quinn: That's right. This will come out a couple weeks later, so you'll miss the sale. We'll do another one. But check it out now if you haven't already. What do we got, Brian, for our listeners?

Brian: We got t-shirts. Not just t-shirt, but t-shirts.

Quinn: T-shirts. How soft are they?

Brian: I think I own like eight now. They're so soft.

Quinn: What would you compare them to?

Brian: I only want to wear them. A lamb?

Quinn: Maybe the skin of a newborn baby, or a newborn baby lamb.

Brian: Yeah. I want lamb involved. They're so soft.

Quinn: But like the chosen lamb, right?

Brian: The one.

Quinn: Not just any lamb. Everyone's like, "Lambs are soft." Then they're like, "But this fucking guy."

Brian: It really is the type of shirt where, throughout the day, you randomly notice how wonderful it feels.

Quinn: Can I tell you something?

Brian: Yeah.

Quinn: Compared to the sweatshirts, it feels like fucking sandpaper.

Brian: I don't even understand that.

Quinn: Just get one.

Brian: Guys, there's sweatshirts available.

Quinn: We got hoodies.

Brian: Zip-up and non-zip-up.

Quinn: Yeah. Because, Brian, how do you feel about a non-zip-up? Claustrophobic. Just saying.

Brian: I need a normal hoodie without a zipper.

Quinn: Sure. Some people just like the cleaner look without the zipper.

Brian: Yeah.

Quinn: Regardless, they're out there. Then we've got coffee things. How do you describe ... What do you call those? They're by the amazing people at Klean Kanteen. They're environmental. Reuse them.

Brian: Use them for hot beverages. Use them for cold beverages.

Quinn: Right. Apparently, I was told they will keep your macchiato hot until the asteroid comes. I think that's the-

Brian: Oh my god.

Quinn: ... the terminology.

Brian: Is that true?

Quinn: That's how it was explained.

Brian: The asteroid's coming, baby.

Quinn: All right. Anyways. Lots of awesome stuff. We're excited.

Brian: Thank you for everything, Quinn.

Quinn: Let's do ... Thank you, Brian. Let's do Episode 16.

Brian: Let's talk to Dr. Marvel.

Quinn: Dr. Marvel.

Brian: Actual name.

Quinn: Let's go do it. All right. Bye.

Quinn: Our guest today is Dr. Kate Marvel, and together we're going to discuss modeling climate change in 2018 and beyond. What's it all mean? Dr. Marvel, welcome.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Hi. Thank you so much for having me.

Quinn: Doctor, tell us real quick who you are and what you do.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Great. I am Kate Marvel. I am a associate research scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University. I trained as a physicist, and I actually did astrophysics before I realized that really this is the only good planet and I want to know more about this one. I am a climate scientist right now. I work with climate models and simulation data. I also work with a lot of satellite observations.

Brian: Wow.

Quinn: Super cool.

Brian: That's a lot. Let's set up our conversation for today. We are big believers in action-oriented questions. We want to get to the bottom of today's topic so you really get it. Then, because these times call for action, formulate some specific steps that everyone here can take to make a little dent in our universe.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Sounds good.

Brian: We're going to start with one important question to really get to the heart of why you are here today. Instead of it being, "Tell us your life story," or something, we like to ask, why are you vital to the survival of the species?

Dr. Kate Marvel: Very low stakes there with that question.

Brian: Super low stakes.

Quinn: We like to ease you into it.

Dr. Kate Marvel: I mean, look, I am a tiny little cog in what I think is the greatest thing that humans have ever done, which is science. I think it's just incredible that we know how the planet works, and that means that we know what we're doing to the planet and we have an idea for what to expect in the future. I can't believe they let me do this job. It's so fun. It's also so incredible. It's so interesting. Then, at times it's depressing, because the science is really super clear on what carbon dioxide is doing. We know that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. We know we're emitting a lot of it. And we know the planet is warming up. I think, if I'm important, which I don't believe I am, that is my importance, is being allowed to be a little part of this giant wonderful enterprise that we call science.

Quinn: That's awesome. I totally dig that. It is incredible. We could be deer or possums and not really have any idea what's going on. But instead we do, and, like you said, that comes with just a bit of a burden these days, which is knowing the mess we've made and what it's going to require to try to dial it back.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Totally.

Quinn: As we get into the main topic, what we want to do is establish some context for folks for today's question. This is your friendly reminder, Context 101 with Professor Brian is terribly oversimplified, often completely off course, and sometimes, though never really intentionally, a bit wrong. But that's why we've got our resident expert here, Dr. Marvel, to correct us. Brian, tell us about the history of climate modeling.

Brian: Absolutely. No problem. Apparently ...

Quinn: Apparently is not a good start when you're talking about science. You're like human 2002 Wikipedia. Super reliable, Brian.

Brian: I've read some stuff, okay? Apparently, it goes back to 1922. An English mathematician and meteorologist started climate modeling like what it is today, like building equations using various inputs to predict weather conditions over a period of time using numerical methods for the first time, building on some earlier ideas of a Norwegian meteorologist and a Swedish chemist. Then, in 1938 this guy named Guy Callendar, pretty big deal ...

Quinn: Stop. His name was Guy Callendar?

Brian: Yeah. Guy Callendar.

Quinn: Okay.

Brian: Spelled a little bit differently. I love the first name Guy. Guy used a model to show that rising CO₂ levels were warming the atmosphere, although that paper was pretty much ignored until the '60s.

Quinn: Perfect. Good work everybody.

Brian: Then, in 1950, some meteorologist used the electronic numerical integrator and computer, like those giant ... You remember Hidden Figures?

Quinn: The best.

Brian: The huge, giant, just enormous.

Quinn: When are we going to get the Hidden Figures cinematic universe? I'm done with the Avengers.

Brian: Yeah. Just a whole ... Ooh, that'd be cool.

Quinn: Spinoffs. Anyways.

Brian: Let's talk to Hollywood. They used that in 1950 to forecast the weather for the first time. But it took way too long. It was not very accurate.

Quinn: Great.

Brian: Baby steps. Then, time goes on. Bigger and more powerful computers are built. The forecasts are more on point. All these groups are formed around the world to better predict everything, and yada yada yada. Here we are right now.

Quinn: Wow. That was exceptional. That might be your best one yet.

Brian: Thank you. Then, finally, who's paying for all this? Here's where it gets real good. I read an article about a guy named Steve who's a professor of computer science at the University of Toronto.

Quinn: Sorry. Just Steve?

Brian: Yeah. Just Steve. He's a professor. He did some research and he estimated that climate modeling, a climate model, can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions.

Quinn: Wow. All right. Well I'm sure Dr. Marvel will enlighten us on the actual numbers of that.

Brian: Dr. Marvel, do you know Steve?

Dr. Kate Marvel: Do I know Steve? Maybe? Maybe I know Steve. I don't know.

Quinn: As she scrolls through her iPhone, Steve, Steve, Steve.

Brian: Where's Steve?

Dr. Kate Marvel: Is he like Prince? Does he just go by one name?

Brian: I think he just goes by ... yeah.

Quinn: It's probably just a symbol now.

Brian: The Professor Formerly Known as Steve.

Quinn: I think.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Amazing.

Quinn: It's just a symbol for a climate ... It's just a raincloud.

Brian: Okay, and now we're here. We're at today. This administration's first two budgets have proposed big cuts to various science and planetary programs, like climate modeling, only to be reversed though by Congress.

Quinn: Right. They even got raises sometimes.

Brian: Yeah. Sort of awesome. We'll talk more about that later, but it's complicated.

Quinn: With that incredible history lesson for some context, let's focus on our topic of the week, climate modeling in 2018. Where are we, where are we headed, and how accurate are those predictions?

Brian: We want to start with one basic question, which might seem incredibly basic actually, but I'm only one coffee deep and that's where we like to start. Dr. M, what's the difference between climate and weather?

Dr. Kate Marvel: That's a really good question. I get that a lot. There's a guy at, I believe, the University of Georgia, Marshall Shepherd. He says, "Weather is your mood and climate is your personality."

Quinn: That's good.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Isn't that good? I wish I'd come up with that.

Quinn: That's got to go on a t-shirt for sure.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Right? A lot of times, people ask, "How is it that you can predict climate in 100 years if you can't predict weather next month or next week?" That's because we're talking about two totally different things here. I cannot tell you what the weather is going to be like next January in New York. January 22nd, 2019. I have no idea what the temperature is going to be. But I do know that it's likely to be cold. It's likely to be colder than New York in June of the same year. That's because I understand the climate of New York. I understand what shapes the long-term climate conditions here. That analogy, climate is your personality and weather is your mood, you can feel angry. You can feel hangry. You can feel upset. But that doesn't mean you're not fundamentally a very positive, nice person. When we talk about climate, we're talking about long-term statistics.

Quinn: Got it. Talk to me a little bit about ... I guess, again, just to further clarify for folks, and again this is so they can arm themselves in their own conversations with crazy people who make that argument. Talk to me about the difference ... What are the typical inputs that go into weather modeling versus climate modeling? I guess, what really sets the science apart?

Dr. Kate Marvel: Weather modeling is necessarily short-term. You're basically tracking individual masses of air and water around in the atmosphere. We've got amazing capabilities to do that. We can give you forecasts with some accuracy about five days out. If you try to do a weather forecast for 20 days from now, that's going to be fairly useless, because the conditions that are affecting the weather now aren't necessarily going to be the conditions that are affecting the weather in 20 days.

Dr. Kate Marvel: When we're talking about the climate, we're basically talking about these really large-scale inputs and outputs. We know that the earth receives all of its energy from the sun, and we know that energy is conserved. Basically, the earth heats up and re-radiates that energy into space as what we would call infrared radiation, so basically thermal imaging. The earth's climate on these really large scales is basically the balance between that incoming solar radiation and that outgoing infrared radiation. That's fairly useless if you want to know, should I pack an umbrella in 20 days? But it's really, really useful if you want to know, are humans having an impact on the earth's climate as a whole?

Quinn: Got it. Okay.

Brian: That's good. That was good for me, also. Just for more clarification, I guess, for our listeners, because I feel like this is really a topic where all folks see is headlines and never the context. There are all kinds of different climate models, yes? Not just one god model that everyone points to?

Dr. Kate Marvel: There are about 25 to 30 modeling groups around the world.

Quinn: Talk to us a little bit about, is there a redundancy there? Is it just difference in geography or politics or funding, or do they all have different aims? I imagine it's pretty complicated. But if you could just, again, talk us through it all, it's just going to help people really understand what is driving these headlines that are saying, "Actually it's worse than we thought it was," et cetera, et cetera, to really understand the machine behind it.

Dr. Kate Marvel: That's a fascinating question. The answer is kind of all of the above. A climate model is just physics on a computer. I have a lot of people ask me, "Can I see your climate model?" They think it's like a diorama or something.

Quinn: God, that would be awesome.

Dr. Kate Marvel: I kind of want one now. But, basically, what a climate model is, is we just we take everything we know about how air and water work, and land, and then we put those equations on a computer. You can come up with a really simple climate model that you can just write down on a piece of paper, where you have energy coming in from the sun and then being re-radiated from the earth. That is a climate model, and you can actually write that down and you can solve those equations.

Quinn: To be clear, you can. Brian can't, but you can.

Dr. Kate Marvel: I believe that anybody can solve those equations.

Brian: Professor Brian can figure it out.

Dr. Kate Marvel: I believe in you guys. But, there's limited usefulness to that climate model. You can learn a lot about the energy balance of the atmosphere. But if you want to actually say, "How is that going to change precipitation patterns?" You need to go a little bit more sophisticated. You can write down equations that describe how air currents and oceanic currents interact with each other, and how the land surface interacts. There are a lot of things that we can explicitly solve, but then we run into a problem of resolution.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Climate models have to simulate basically the entire globe, because everything is interconnected. What happens in the Arctic doesn't necessarily stay in the Arctic, because that can have ramifications for the jet stream, which have ramifications for our weather, which may have ramifications for weather all over the planet. Because everything is so connected, generally in order to understand the climate you have to simulate the entire earth. But what we're interested in is a lot ... There are a lot of processes that affect the earth's climate that happen on really small scales.

Dr. Kate Marvel: An example is cloud formation. Clouds cover ... You look at those views of the earth from space, and you see lots of clouds. Clouds cover a significant proportion of the earth's surface. But, if you think about what cloud formation actually is, it's basically you can put a tiny little sand grain or dust grain in the atmosphere, and then water droplets and ice crystals kind of coagulate around that tiny grain. In order to be really accurate, you would need to simulate every single dust grain in the entire atmosphere.

Brian: Easy.

Dr. Kate Marvel: We don't have a computer that's powerful enough to do that. What that means is that we have to approximate those processes. We have to make choices. We have to simulate them by empirical relationships as opposed to explicitly simulating those really small-scale processes. Those empirical relations are ... You can make different, physically defensible choices for how you model these small-scale processes on a really large scale. Different climate modeling groups make different choices for those small-scale processes.

Quinn: This is as dumbed down as it gets, but essentially everyone is considering everything, they're just ... It comes down to the choices they make on degrees, almost, of what they include and how much to include. Is that ...

Dr. Kate Marvel: Yeah, and choices for how we approximate these processes that we know that we can't resolve in a climate model, because it's too coarse. An example to think about is, let's say you have a country. It's too laborious, it's too hard to go through and count the votes of everybody in the entire country, because let's say there's like 300 million people. What you do is you subdivide the country into, say, 50 units, and you make approximations. You say, "Okay. This unit to the west. I'm going to color that blue and I'm going to approximate the votes of everybody who lives in that unit by coloring that blue. Then, this place in the south, I'm going to approximate the votes of everybody who lives in that place by coloring that red." Instead of 300 million things to keep track of, now you've got basically 50 things to keep track of.

Dr. Kate Marvel: More often than not, that sort of coarsening process, that looking at 50 instead of 300 million, leads you to accurate results. But sometimes you get a disconnect, where the fact that you haven't counted all 300 million, or whatever, and you've used this 50 instead, gives you something that looks a little weird. If that makes sense.

Brian: Right, but seems pretty necessary because, like you said, what the other option? Count 300 million. Not going to happen.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Exactly.

Quinn: That makes sense. Talk to me a little bit about how far we've come. What are the most important things that we've learned not necessarily about climate but more specifically about modeling in the past 20 years? What's changed since you came onto the scene with your ability to do your job?

Dr. Kate Marvel: That's a good question, because we've learned a lot but by some metrics we haven't learned very much. I'm really interested in this quantity called the equilibrium climate sensitivity, which is a fancy word for how hot is it going to get? The number one reason that we don't know how hot it's going to get is because we don't know what people are going to do. We don't know. Are we going to get serious about cutting emissions? Is it just going to be business as usual? Are we just going to be like, "Whatever," and set fire to oil barrels because why not?

Brian: Mad Max, basically.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Totally. Who knows what we're going to do. But even if you remove all that uncertainty associated with human behavior, we still aren't 100% sure how warm it's going to get. That's because there's a lot of physical processes that we still don't understand. If you looked at three model generations ago, the predicted range, what models saying, basically they were saying in response to a doubling of atmospheric CO₂ it'll get warmer, and that warming will range from about a degree-and-a-half Celsius to four degrees Celsius. If you look at the most recent IPCC report, it says, "We think that it'll get hotter, and that'll be between a degree-and-a-half and four degrees Celsius." That range hasn't narrowed, even as the models have gotten more sophisticated and better. That's been really frustrating for a really long time.

Dr. Kate Marvel: But now I think we're kind of starting to realize exactly why it is that models disagree on how warm it's going to get. It turns out that models disagree on how warm it's going to get because models disagree on what clouds are going to do.

Quinn: Interesting. Fucking clouds. Explain that. Tell me why clouds are the problem.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Clouds are what we call a feedback process. For me, the most intuitive way to understand a climate feedback is to understand that, when the earth gets warmer, stuff changes, and that stuff that changes can sort of feed back onto that warming process and either speed it up or slow it down.

Dr. Kate Marvel: A really good example is ice melting. Ice is super reflective, and so the fact that both poles are largely covered in ice means that they're reflecting a lot of sunlight back to the air or back into space. When you park your car on a really hot day and you put those reflective screens on your car on the windshield. The ice is ...

Quinn: Mine's the inside of the Millennium Falcon.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Awesome. Awesome.

Brian: Is it really?

Quinn: Continue. We have questions.

Brian: Oh my god. It's amazing.

Quinn: Continue.

Dr. Kate Marvel: The ice is the inside of the Millennium Falcon for the climate. It's reflecting a lot of sunlight back to space that would otherwise reach the earth's surface and warm it up. But, as it gets warmer, you've got less ice so that ice goes away. And so instead of having this really effective reflective shield, you've got dark land or dark water underneath. That absorbs that radiation from the sun, as opposed to reflecting it. That is a feedback process that accelerates the warming. It makes it faster. It makes it worse. Scientists call this a positive feedback. I think that is the worst term ever, because normal people hear "positive feedback" and they're like, "Oh, I'm doing a great job."

Quinn: Sure. Of course.

Dr. Kate Marvel: In this context, positive feedback means thing that will probably kill us all. It's the opposite.

Quinn: There's got to be a better word for it.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Right? I like "destabilizing feedback."

Quinn: The nightmare scenario.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Bad thing.

Quinn: Here's my question again. Total neophyte below that, whatever the word is for it, we're so able to understand the process of the cloud feedback loop, but you said our single biggest hindrance seems to be we don't know what clouds are going to do. Where is the disconnect there?

Dr. Kate Marvel: Ice is an example of a positive feedback that we understand really well, because we know that when it gets warm ice melts.

Quinn: Sure.

Dr. Kate Marvel: That's something that science has figured out.

Quinn: Thank you for that.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Good job, science. So you look at all of the different processes that we think could constitute these feedback loops in the future, and we understand all of them pretty well except for clouds. Ice is an example of a feedback process that we understand really well. Clouds are an example of a feedback process where were like, "I don't know." That is because clouds are incredibly complicated. They play this really dual role in the climate system. Low clouds, the clouds ... What we think of as a cloudy day, that's characterized by the fact that we don't really see the sun on a cloudy day, because those clouds are blocking sunlight that would otherwise reach the earth's surface. Those clouds are acting to make the planet cooler than it would be otherwise. But you know what a cirrus cloud is? Those kind of thin, wispy clouds that you get on sunny days.

Quinn: I did not think there was going to be a test today.

Brian: She gave us the answer immediately.

Quinn: Clouds are amazing. By the way, you're ... My five-year-old all the time is like, "What cloud is that?" I'm like, "Oh man."

Brian: Come on.

Quinn: There's cumulus. There's cirrus.

Brian: Cirrus.

Quinn: And then there's some other gray ones.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Right. I actually don't really like clouds because I'm from California and I hate weather.

Brian: Clouds always messing up my tan.

Dr. Kate Marvel: But it turns out that they're super important to my job, so I study them by accident.

Quinn: It turns out they're in super ... We're in California, and it turns out we haven't had clouds for a little while now, and everything is on fire. More clouds would be better.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Totally. Anyway. Those high clouds that you see on a sunny day. Those are made of water vapor, and water vapor is a greenhouse gas. Those clouds are warming it up. So clouds play these dual roles. They block sunlight but they also trap heat from the planet. Like you pointed out, there's like a bajillion different kinds of clouds, and all of these different kinds of clouds have different effects on the planet's climate. How are all of these different clouds going to change in the future? We don't really know because cloud formation is really hard to simulate in climate models.

Quinn: Fascinating.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Because that's something that happens on a really small scale. It's this vicious cycle of this thing that's really, really important that could go either way and is really, really difficult to simulate in a climate model.

Quinn: Is there any hope of cracking clouds? Is it a technical ... Look at it this way. Not to get super nerdy, but GPUs, graphical processing units, it was always about CPUs. That's what drove Moore's law for the past 25 years and made you have an iPhone. How did we get a computer in our pocket? But now GPUs have come along almost accidentally from companies like Nvidia. They were for so people could do Photoshop on their computers and play games. But suddenly it's made other visionary and graphical things, like self-driving cars and virtual reality, a reality. Dick. Shut up, Brian. Is it a technical challenge, or is it we don't have enough data? We've talked a lot on here about big data and algorithms of when it comes to infectious disease or something like that. Is it something that's missing?

Dr. Kate Marvel: Kind of all of the above.

Quinn: Great. Great.

Dr. Kate Marvel: That's just going to be my answer for everything, is that we need everything. I think we're getting better. We have more powerful computers now than we did in the last generation of climate models. We can actually simulate cloud formation in climate models on some scales, so we're getting better at modeling clouds. We're also getting better at observing clouds. For a really long time, in order to figure out what clouds were doing on long time scales, we had to stitch together a bunch of different weather observations. As a result, these long-term cloud data sets are patched together from one satellite here, one satellite there. Then that satellite fell out of the sky, and there was nothing for a little bit.

Quinn: That's not helpful.

Dr. Kate Marvel: It's janky, and we know that it's janky. But there's now more dedicated cloud data sets that are giving us better data, and so we have better observations. We have more powerful models. The hope is that that's going to allow us to really get a handle on what clouds are doing now and what they're going to do in the future. I will say that we've been looking really hard for evidence that clouds are going to save us, because that would be awesome.

Quinn: Oh god. Please.

Dr. Kate Marvel: If somehow the cloud feedback was stabilizing. Clouds were going to change in such a way to slow down the warming and maybe buy us a little bit more time. We have not found any evidence that that is a thing, that that's going to happen. That kind of sucks, because it's like, nature's not going to save us from ourselves.

Quinn: And we don't deserve that, really.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Maybe, if that did happen, it would just be cloudy all day, and this is what global warming was. It's just going to make us all have seasonal affective disorder all the time. But it looks like that's not going to happen. It is probably up to us.

Quinn: She says with a question mark at the end of the sentence.

Brian: All right, so that probably won't happen. Is there something else or other things that you are looking forward to that seem like they might be coming down the road in the next two years or five years or 10 years?

Dr. Kate Marvel: In terms of the climate saving us, or in terms of ...

Quinn: Oh god, no. That's not going to happen.

Dr. Kate Marvel: ... something we developed.

Brian: No, no, no. I would say more ...

Quinn: No. Your ability to predict the end game, basically. What's going to change in ...

Brian: In your world.

Quinn: ... in your job, in your profession? This is always a stupid question. What is predictably going to change besides the advance of, I guess, the technical capabilities? What are you guys looking forward to that is probably most evidently going to come to pass?

Dr. Kate Marvel: I'm going to get super nerdy about this. You can tell me to shut up at any ...

Brian: Say it.

Quinn: No. Let's do it. Never.

Dr. Kate Marvel: ... any point.

Quinn: Not at all.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Let's do it. I'm really excited about what we call earth system models. I feel like every time you talk about climate change, some dude, and I'm sorry, it's usually a dude ...

Quinn: It's always ... of course it is. We're the worst.

Dr. Kate Marvel: ... will come along and be like, "Well, plants love carbon dioxide. You put more carbon dioxide into the air and plants are going to thrive, and so this is a great thing."

Quinn: Do people say that to you?

Dr. Kate Marvel: Yeah. All the time.

Brian: How many people have you punched?

Dr. Kate Marvel: The thing is, it's true. Plants do thrive under increased CO₂. You put more CO₂ in the atmosphere, and, all other things being equal, you get more plants. Something else that's really good is, you put more CO₂ in the atmosphere and plants get much more efficient at using water, because they don't need to open their stomata quite as much in order to transpirate. You put more CO₂ in the atmosphere, you get more plants, and those plants are more efficient at how they use water. That sounds great.

Dr. Kate Marvel: But, on the other hand, it's really hard to open or close your stomata when you're on fire. It's a really fascinating question, and it has implications for things like drought. What's going to happen to soil moisture? What do we expect in terms of drought in the future? The climate models are getting much more sophisticated actually including these effects. What happens to plants in a future climate? How do we simulate that? The answers that we're starting to get from these much more complex models are like, "It's a little bit more complicated than just plants love CO₂ and everything's going to be fine."

Quinn: Shocking.

Brian: So weird.

Quinn: Right.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Right. I think that's amazing. I'm really excited about our enhanced ability to understand how the biological systems that live on the earth are responding to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and then, to revisit the topic of feedbacks, how those changes feedback on the warming.

Brian: Groovy.

Quinn: Got it.

Brian: Very exciting. Earth systems modeling. You're doing a climate model. You get an output. What's the most frequent use case?

Dr. Kate Marvel: What's the most frequent use case?

Quinn: You're not just doing it. When you run it, you run a model and you get an output. What is a typical practical application of the data you're getting out of that? Who are the model's customers, per se? How is it being put to use?

Dr. Kate Marvel: You run a climate model and you get ... you don't just get temperature. You get an incredible amount of data when you run one of these models. You get temperature all over the planet. You get temperature in the troposphere, temperature in the stratosphere. You get humidity. You get precipitation. You get cloud cover. You get things like leaf area index and snow cover. You get an insane amount of data when you run one of these models. All of the modeling groups in the world kind of come together and do these coordinated experiments with their models, where everybody agrees to do an experiment where you abruptly quadruple carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and then you see what happens. Then every single modeling group agrees to do an experiment where you increase carbon dioxide at 1% per year and you see what happens.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Because there's this kind of coordinated project to make all of the models run under the same conditions, then you can really get a handle on the uncertainty. You can get a handle on, "Well, why do different models give us different projections?" Or, "Why are all the models saying the same thing? This must be really robust. Let's understand why this is happening." There's no one output of a climate model. The new generation of models that's coming online pretty soon, that coordination project is going to give us about 50 petabytes of data.

Quinn: Hey now.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Which is just an incredible amount of stuff to play with.

Brian: Damn.

Quinn: I guess, then, who's utilizing that data that's going to come out, 50 petabytes? Is it mostly governments? Is it industry? How is that being used?

Dr. Kate Marvel: You can use it, if you want.

Quinn: Again, maybe not.

Dr. Kate Marvel: It's all freely available. You can go to something called the Earth System Grid and download the output of all of these models.

Quinn: Brian's MacBook Air just went up in flames.

Dr. Kate Marvel: The data is there for anybody to use. Practically, it's mostly researchers using it. It's people like me who are interested in, what's drought going to look like in the future? How hot is it going to get? But it's also people who work in city planning and want to get an understanding of the uncertainties that they should take into account when they're building sea walls or designing insurance programs for coastal or low-lying areas. The fact that this data is publicly available means that it's not just for basic science. People are using it to try to influence decision-makers and try to use this data to try to make the most informed decisions possible.

Quinn: Interesting. To follow up on that, I guess, and this is kind of moving towards our listeners becoming participants here, how do they become more invested in these models and this publicly-available data? You said it's out there. Brian is ... I guess that's just what he's going to be doing now.

Brian: Yeah. I'm pretty busy with this now.

Quinn: Is there room for innovation here? Is there something that could come out and surprise us? I guess, let's say some young nerd goes onto the website and starts digging through this stuff. What does someone need to do to become your mentee, the next Dr. Marvel? Would you even advise them to go into climate modeling? If not, then where else? Where can nerds have the biggest effect?

Dr. Kate Marvel: I have a lot of fun at my job. I would recommend being a climate scientist to anyone. But, if somebody wanted to go into climate science, I would say you need a background in physics. You need a solid understanding of why stuff does what it does. Then, you also need fairly solid programming skills, just to sift through this insane amount of data.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Something that people can do is help shape the questions that we answer. I am really interested in drought because that is something that's very relevant for California, and that's a place that I love very much. I think this has to be a dialogue. It has to be two ways, where we don't just pass on scientific wisdom from above but we actually listen and we say, "What are the questions that we might be missing? What do different people care about?" And really make sure that we're directing our research to answering questions that actually matter to people.

Brian: I love that. I love that it's back and forth, and a group effort.

Quinn: That makes a lot of sense. I can imagine the, stepping back a little bit, that a lot of this might seem pretty almost detached from our listeners' day-to-day life. Then, that's kind of what we've always tried to do, is cut through all the bullshit every week and give people what's most important. But at times, all anybody can get on their commute is headlines. We just try to give them the most important ones, the existential ones, for the positive or the negative. How is this modeling affecting our listeners on a day-to-day basis, even if they don't know it?

Brian: I'm Brian. I'm just a guy doing some acting. Really good acting, by the way. I don't know if you've seen me. A little podcasting. Some motorcycling.

Quinn: Stupid motorcycling.

Brian: Well, we agree to disagree. But the point is, in between all of these activities, I might think, "You know, I wonder what Dr. Marvel discovered about the future of our climate today and how that affects me or my kids in the future."

Quinn: What is the day-to-day impact of what you're doing?

Dr. Kate Marvel: We have to use models because we don't have any observations of the future.

Quinn: No?

Dr. Kate Marvel: Yeah. It's super inconvenient. This is really our best hope of understanding what it's going to look like and what we should prepare for. Climate models allow us to explore counterfactual scenarios, like what would the earth look like if nobody lived here? What would it look like if volcanoes were the only thing affecting the climate? What would it look like if we decided to do something insane like put up giant solar shields that block the sun.

Quinn: Into it.

Brian: Whoa.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Let's not do that, by the way. I'm not endorsing that.

Brian: Got it.

Quinn: Agree to disagree.

Dr. Kate Marvel: But I would say two things. Climate models allow us to sort of see what's coming and help us prepare for it. Some of these worst-case scenarios that are popping up in the projections, we still have time to avoid those. A world that is four degrees warmer than pre-industrial is a really scary world with really terrible impacts. We still have time to avoid that. I think models are really telling us ... They're making it really explicit, this is what it's going to look like. These are what the consequences are. I think your point that this doesn't feel really relevant is really well-taken, because we don't ... Basically, humans don't think about climate change because we've never really had to think about climate.

Quinn: And we're terrible about thinking about the future. We always have been. I don't mean that it's not relevant. It's just like a big computer in a room in New York or at JPL or wherever. It's different than most people's everyday life, even if you're going like, "This is what it's going to look like," people are going ... even the ones who are most progressive and most action-inspired are going, "Yeah, look. I put in the LED bulbs." How is that work affecting things and how should it drive my personal action? Actually, I was thinking about it. So, in doing our research on you, which always sounds incredibly creepy when we say it.

Brian: It was professional. It was very professional.

Quinn: It never doesn't sound creepy. I discovered you're a hell of a writer, Dr. Marvel. We've talked a lot about the macro here, because that's ... like you said, you're taking trillions of data points, as granular as you can go, you're technically allowed to go, and trying to devise these bigger macro outcomes. But we want to get into personal action, those things that are ... that drive those, in the end, that all come together, because that's what it comes down to. If we each don't make these changes, either on a personal level or with our vote, then it's game over.

Quinn: I found this excerpt that I just love of something you wrote for The On Being Project, which I also went down a rabbit hole of, which is just a wonderful publication. I feel like it's pertinent for this part of the conversation. Do you mind if I read this?

Dr. Kate Marvel: No. Go for it.

Quinn: Okay. We'll put this in the show notes. We'll put the link to this. Your piece is called We Need Courage, Not Hope, to Face Climate Change. You said, "We live in a statistical world, in a limit where we experience only one of many possible outcomes. Our clumsy senses perceive only gross aggregates, blind to the roiling chaos underneath. We are limited in our ability to see the underlying stimuli that, en masse, create an event. Temperature, for example, is a state created by the random motions of millions of tiny molecules. We feel heat or cold, not the motion of any individual molecule. When something is heated up, its tiny constituent parts move faster, increasing its internal energy. They do not move at the same speed; some are quick, others slow. But there are billions of them, and in the aggregate their speed dictates their temperature."

Quinn: "The internal energy of molecule motion is turned outward in the form of electromagnetic radiation. Light comes in different flavors. The stuff we see occupies only a tiny portion of a vast electromagnetic spectrum. Light is a wave, of sorts, and the distance between its peaks and troughs determines the energy it carries. Cold, low-energy objects emit stretched waves with long, lazy intervals between peaks. Hot objects radiate at shorter wavelengths."

Quinn: "To have a temperature is to shed light into your surroundings. You have one. The light you give off is invisible to the naked eye. You are shining all the same, incandescent with the power of a 100-watt bulb. The planet on which you live is illuminated by the visible light of the sun and radiates infrared light to the blackness of space. There is nothing that does not have a temperature. Cold space itself is illuminated by the afterglow of the Big Bang. Even black holes radiate, lit by the strangeness of quantum mechanics. There is nowhere from which light cannot escape."

Quinn: "The same laws that flood the world with light dictate the behavior of a carbon dioxide molecule in the atmosphere. CO₂ is transparent to the sun's rays. But the planet's infrared outflow hits a molecule in just such a way as to set it in motion. Carbon dioxide dances when hit by a quantum of such light, arresting the light on a path to space. When the dance stops, the quantum is released back to the atmosphere from which it came. No one feels the consequences of this individual catch-and-release, but the net result of many little dances is an increase in the temperature of the planet. More CO₂ molecules mean a warmer atmosphere and a warmer planet. Warm seas fuel hurricanes, warm air bloats with water vapor, the rising sea encroaches on the land. The consequences of tiny random acts echo throughout the world."

Quinn: Again, I apologize for the long excerpt, but that was just such a beautiful way of dialing it down, literally as tiny as it gets, to every one of those tiny LED bulbs you put in or mile you drive or mile you fly, or every time you Amazon Prime something, or throw something in the trash and not the recycling. It just fucking matters.

Brian: Yeah. Big time.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Yeah. I wrote that piece kind of in the wake of one of the many mass shootings that we have experience with here, because I was really frustrated. I was frustrated by the fact that so many of the people I know are wonderful and kind and just great people, and yet sort of collectively we have ... we do these really destructive things to each other and to the planet. I find that very frustrating because I'm a physicist. I'm supposed to be able to add up a whole bunch of small things and understand what they do in the whole, and that doesn't work with people.

Dr. Kate Marvel: It's my job to tell you what stuff does once you put it in the atmosphere. I can't tell you how best to not put that stuff in the atmosphere, whether that's by encouraging everybody to do things individually, or subsidies, or carbon taxes, or cap and trade. That's kind of not my wheelhouse. But I can tell you that, on some level, it is very simple. We know what's causing the warming that we've seen, and we know what's going to cause the warming that we'll see in the future. The way to stop that is to not do that.

Quinn: Stop. Stop.

Brian: Stop doing that.

Quinn: But it's funny you say, "I'm not in the position to tell you to do this or that," but you are the person on the receiving end of all of our actions, basically.

Dr. Kate Marvel: What do you mean by that?

Quinn: You take all of the data that we all create, because again all of those interactions, like you said, it's all connected. That's been such a theme with everyone we talk to. It's all connected. But people always go, "Just because it's hot in Spain, the Northeast is getting more snow, there's no climate change." It's like, I give up. I'm walking away. But you, in your job and what you folks do, you take that data and you give us, "Hey. This is the world you've created."

Brian: Here's what you're doing.

Quinn: In 10 years, 20 years, 50 years, 100 years. It's really important to hear from folks like you who are taking that and giving us the sum, however complicated and comprehensive it must be, of our actions. That's where it kind of comes to full fruit.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Yeah. I have opinions about what we should do as a citizen, but I think my opinions about my preferred policies don't really carry any more weight than anybody else who's a citizen. My expertise is, once this stuff gets in the atmosphere, here's what's going to happen. But, how to get people to not put it in the atmosphere or take it out, my opinions I think carry no more weight than any other concerned citizen.

Quinn: Sure. Totally. I'm not saying tell us what to do, though I'm kind of saying tell us what to do.

Brian: Tell me what to do.

Quinn: It's more just like, I just think it's very unique for people to hear ... Again, all they see is the headlines. They don't know Dr. Kate Marvel, and I think it's really fascinating to hear from the person who's on the front lines going, "This is the effect of the choices we make."

Dr. Kate Marvel: I wish that we were having a debate where I was totally irrelevant. I just want to tell people how cool the earth is and how amazing it is that we can learn these things about it. I wish that the debate we were having was about solutions, was about, "Do we have a carbon tax or cap and trade? Do we do subsidies or what?" That is a debate where I am kind of irrelevant, and I really wish that that was the debate that we were having. But instead we're having this debate like, "Is science a thing? Is climate change real? Did you guys all get together at the bar and make it up?" That's really frustrating. It frustrates me that we are having ... we're still having this debate about whether basic physics and basic chemistry is real. That makes me sad, that my expertise has a role in the debate that we're having, because I just kind of feel like we've known this stuff for a really long time. Let's move on and let's debate solutions and what to do about it. That's not what we're doing a lot of quarters.

Brian: You want to be irrelevant, but you are important, and we have to win this fight. On to a little more action, how can we and all of our listeners and everybody support the science and the funding and, most important, people like you who are driving the work?

Dr. Kate Marvel: I think something that I have realized in the past couple years that's been really frustrating for me as a scientist is that this debate is not about the science. We're trained to, when we're challenged, just offer more facts, and that doesn't work. That never changes anybody's mind.

Brian: We've talked about that a lot.

Dr. Kate Marvel: What does change people's mind is talking to somebody who they trust, talking to somebody who is in their community. My father identifies as conservative, but he trusts me. Talking to me, I was able to come up with a framework where he felt comfortable. He was really frightened of identifying himself as an environmentalist, because that's ... He didn't want to be a hippy. He didn't want to be a tree hugger. The thing that worked for him was that, if you look at what insurance companies are doing, insurance companies have no motivation to accept or reject climate science except that it makes them money.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Insurance companies, particularly reinsurance companies, which are the insurance companies that insure the insurance companies, a lot of them have climate scientists on staff. A lot of them are taking climate projections really, really seriously because this stuff is real and it's going to shape their businesses in the future. That was the narrative that worked for my dad. He was like, "Oh. Businesses are making money off this, and I understand that."

Dr. Kate Marvel: If there are people in your lives who you're close to who don't care or don't understand or feel like this narrative is not for them because they're not a tree hugger and they don't care about polar bears and they hate Al Gore, or whatever. If there are people in your life who feel that way, maybe try to find that way in. Try to find that way to talk to them.

Quinn: We just couldn't agree more. We've tried to make it a theme of a lot of our talks, is we are at such a juncture point and we've ... hate to say convinced, but so many people are on board with action, and yet there's a vital minority that isn't. But it's at the point where it's just like you said, the messenger is more important than the message. Meet them where they are, whether it's our conversation with Mitch Hescox about meeting the Evangelical population where they are, and the Bible says to take care of the earth. It's like, we've got to do it. That's your text. We have to follow that. You don't have to identify as an environmentalist. No one's asking you to. All we're asking for is action, is for you to give a shit about the thing that you give a shit about because then everybody wins. Whatever that thing is. I'm so on board with the means, or the end justifies the means at this point. Whatever the thing is that it takes. Be creative, be flexible, and enable the people that trust you to take action without having to go against their values.

Dr. Kate Marvel: I think that's a great way to put it. I think it's also really important that we have a lot of voices and a diversity of voices speaking out about this, because people who are not going to listen to me, because I'm a cranky person who lives in Brooklyn, they ... Maybe they might respond to somebody else saying the same factual information with a different framing.

Quinn: They'll take it.

Dr. Kate Marvel: I do, totally. I really do believe that the fact that science itself is not very diverse is ... It's not just a bad thing. That's kind of an existential threat, because if we don't look like the world, if scientists don't represent the world, then there are going to be communities that we can't talk to and that are not going to trust us. They kind of shouldn't trust us if we don't ... if we're not diverse enough and we don't take this seriously.

Quinn: It's clearly an issue. Again, coming back to Reverend Hescox, I said, "What's the best thing to do? Is it for us to get out of the way?" He was like, "Yeah. No one wants to listen to you. Donate to our organization and let me do my job." I'm like, "Great."

Brian: Fine.

Quinn: Sure.

Dr. Kate Marvel: That sounds great.

Quinn: If that's the thing, fine. Great.

Brian: All right, Kate. We have a few last questions that we ask everybody. It's a bit of a lightening round.

Quinn: Again, we really can't thank you enough for your time today. Is there anyone else who we should talk to that you really believe in and you think would be compelling for our listeners to hear from?

Dr. Kate Marvel: Probably, but I'm going to have to think about it and probably send you some names in an e-mail.

Quinn: Totally.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Because I'm going to leave somebody obvious out and then feel terrible.

Quinn: That's the worst. It's just the worst.

Brian: Please do that. We would love that.

Quinn: Yeah. I want to summarize for our listeners and progressives and action-minded folks in general, whatever their flavor, can do to take action. One is, like you said, help shape the questions we answer, which I think is really important. We talked recently to Mayor Serge Dedina of Imperial Beach, California. It's a pretty blue-collar little beach town that doesn't have a lot of money, but they ran some environmental reports and it turned out they're going to be underwater pretty soon. They started to have to ask big questions, and it turned out suing the fossil fuel companies, because that's what they needed to do. I feel like folks asking questions, whether digging into the science themselves or of their local representatives, again, can help drive your business a little bit.

Quinn: Number two. Again, so simple. We should be debating solutions, not the science anymore. But wherever the solutions happen to come from, whatever your demographic is or belief system or background, this is going to affect everyone. There has to be something that applies to even in the people you trust. Number three is, again a recurring theme, facts aren't cutting it. They're just not. Science isn't cutting it. So tell stories. Talk to the people you trust and who trust you, and meet them where they are. Does that sum it up? Is there anything I'm missing or have drastically blown?

Dr. Kate Marvel: I think so. I think that sounds good.

Brian: Awesome. Beautiful. Now onto the lightening round.

Quinn: Go ahead, Brian.

Brian: My apologies. I skipped ahead, Dr. M. Are you ready for some questions?

Dr. Kate Marvel: Sure.

Brian: Rock and roll. When was the first time in your life when you realized that you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful?

Dr. Kate Marvel: When was the first time in my life I realized I had the power to change?

Brian: The power of change.

Quinn: To make change or to do something meaningful.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Oh. That's a really good question. Maybe I've always sort of felt like I had that power, because I read a lot of fantasy books when I was a kid. In those, there's always the special child has to find their powers and save the world. I guess I always felt like, "Yeah. Of course. Some day, a magic lion is going to come and tell me that I'm the chosen one, and I'm going to save the world." That hasn't happened yet, for some reason.

Brian: For some reason.

Dr. Kate Marvel: I do think that we all do have that power. Maybe we don't wait for the magic messenger, we just do something about it.

Quinn: I love it.

Brian: Congratulations. That's the best answer we've ever gotten.

Quinn: That's right.

Brian: Incredible. All right. Question number two. How do you-

Quinn: Getting simpler.

Brian: How do you consume the news?

Dr. Kate Marvel: How do I consume the news? I'm a proud subscriber to the Washington Post and The Atlantic. It makes me feel good to give media organizations money.

Brian: Oh yeah.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Because I feel like you need money to do things and eat and pay reporters.

Quinn: Isn't that so weird?

Dr. Kate Marvel: Right? Why can't it just all be free? I spend a little bit more time on Twitter than I should, but I've kind of managed to curate my feed so that I follow mostly sensible people. That's basically it.

Quinn: Okay.

Brian: Beautiful.

Quinn: I want to preface this last one that we ask everybody by, we completely understand your constraints in where you work. If you choose not to answer in any way, we can either edit it out or just skip it. But, if you could Amazon Prime one book to the president of the United States, what would it be?

Dr. Kate Marvel: Oh my gosh. Okay. One book. And is he guaranteed to read it?

Brian: Who fucking knows?

Quinn: Look, that's something that comes up a lot. Look, assuming ... We know what assuming does, but let's just assume either he reads it or someone reads it to him.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Okay. I'll go with the Constitution.

Quinn: That's a good one.

Brian: Holy shit.

Quinn: That's a good one. Okay. It's a long one.

Brian: You're so great.

Quinn: It's going to take a few nights, but we'll put the Constitution in there. That's a great one.

Brian: Incredible.

Quinn: All right, Dr. Marvel. This has been just awesome. We really appreciate it. Where can our listeners follow you on the Internet as you try to spend less time on Twitter?

Dr. Kate Marvel: They can follow my on Twitter @DrKateMarvel, just because regular Kate Marvel was already taken. If you want to go to, that's my website with a bunch of stuff that I've written, some talks that I've given, some podcasts I've been on. Yeah.

Quinn: Rock and roll. This is awesome. We really can't thank you enough for your time and all that you do out there. Please, god, keep doing it.

Brian: Please keep doing it.

Quinn: Thank you. Keep kicking ass out there. We are definitely depending on you.

Dr. Kate Marvel: All right. Well, no pressure then.

Quinn: Yeah. So have a great rest of the day.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Okay.

Quinn: Awesome.

Dr. Kate Marvel: All right. You too.

Quinn: All right, Dr. Marvel. Thank you so much.

Brian: Thank you.

Quinn: Appreciate it.

Brian: Thank you so much.

Dr. Kate Marvel: Okay. Thanks guys. Bye.

Quinn: All right. Take care.

Brian: Ciao.

Quinn: Thanks to our incredible guest today, and thanks to all of you for tuning in. We hope this episode has made your commute or awesome workout or dish washing or fucking dog walking late at night that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free e-mail newsletter at It is all the news most vital to our survival as a species.

Brian: And you can follow us all over the Internet. You can find us on Twitter @ImportantNotImp. It's just so weird. Also on Facebook and Instagram @ImportantNotImportant, Pinterest and Tumblr the same thing. So check us out, follow us, share us, like us. You know the deal. And please subscribe to our show wherever you listen to things like this. If you're really fucking awesome, rate us on Apple Podcasts. Keep the lights on. Thanks.

Quinn: Please.

Brian: You can find the show notes from today right in your little podcast player and at our website,

Quinn: Thanks to the very awesome Tim Blane for our jamming music, to all of you for listening, and finally, most importantly, to our moms for making us. Have a great day.

Brian: Thanks guys.

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