Expert Interview: Dr. Timon McPhearson

Dr. Timon McPhearson is a Director and Associate Professor of Urban Ecology at the Urban Systems Lab at The New School. He works closely with the NYC Mayor’s Office of Resiliency, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection and other city agencies to advance climate resiliency in NYC. This work has included as part of the NYC Mayor’s Task Force on the Urban Heat Island and led to the NYC Cool Neighborhoods Program, a $100 million policy and planning initiative to reduce the risks from heat and heat waves in NYC. He also co-lead the NYC Stormwater Resiliency project which is a $2 million research project to understand the combined challenge of extreme precipitation and storm surge on flooding in the city and produce recommendations for where the city should invest to reduce risks from multiple sources of urban flooding for people and infrastructure. In addition, he has also worked to advocate for green roofs as a nature-based solution for climate resiliency and which in part led to new legislation passed in summer 2019 to require green and/or solar roofs on all new construction in NYC. Now he works closely with city agencies to develop the science to prioritize where investments in green roofs should go and how to develop the regulations associated with this new legislation.

He is deeply concerned about the ways in which climate change is accelerating and  creating inequalities in who experience the impacts of climate change. Though he believes everyone has to absolutely invest and change behavior to limit CO2 emissions and mitigate the causes of climate change, much of the climate change for the next 100 years is already built into the climate system and so advancing adaptation and resilience is key to prepare for the drastically different future that we are already starting to witness. 

Experiencing Hurricane Sandy in 2012 was a wake-up call for both sounding the urgency on need for climate resiliency in policy, planning, and design, but also at all scales from communities, to cities, to regions. It also deepened Dr. McPhearson’s resolve to focus on climate change adaptation and resilience in his work because this work can save lives, and if everyone does it right, it can help transform our cities, nations, and planet toward a more sustainable relationship between people and nature. Additionally, though we can’t reverse the inequities and injustices of the past, we can focus on resilience efforts and investments for those who need it most, which are historically disenfranchised, low income, and minority neighborhoods. These are also the places likely to experience the worst impacts of climate change. So he believes we need to get to work!

He experienced Hurricane Sandy but have also closely followed similar events since Hurricane Katrina include climate related droughts, fires, hurricanes, and heat waves. These kind of so called “natural disasters” are ultimately very human caused as well and they are increasing in frequency, intensity and impact all over the planet. 

Students have so many ways to get involved. No one can solve the climate challenge alone, but we can do it together. And that means putting your skills and passion to work wherever you can. This can mean working with local community organizations to advance sustainability goals from recycling programs, to education, to helping communities learn to switch to renewable energy sources. Student can engage in research, community organizing, or learn how they can reduce their own consumption patterns and educate others to do the same. Students can lead the way partly because they are in an education system where they have access to the latest information about how to create positive impacts in the world.  But they can also spread this knowledge, action, and experience to their friends, family, and neighbors.  

The public needs to do the same but we also have to help them, listen to them, and understand where there is hesitancy, or lack of knowledge, or other concerns and find ways to be in conversation so we can keep the doors open to bring more people on the sustainability path.


Expert Interview: Caroline Hansley

Name and Title: 


Caroline Hansley-Mace, Senior Organizer


Role in the company/organization:


Organizer at Sierra Club


How you/ the organization is involved with climate change or environmental studies? 


We work on this mission:


“To explore, enjoy and protect the planet. To practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources; to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment; and to use all lawful means to carry out those objectives.”


What sparked your desire to be involved in this work?


I took an internship on organizing and loved it. I put the skills I learned to work for environmental justice back at college where I ran successful campaigns, and I was hooked!


Why is climate change important to you?


Because it impacts my future, and everyone’s future on the planet. My family, and future generations will all be impacted if we do nothing.


How have you seen climate change impact your specific region?


Hurricane Florence and Matthew


What do you think university students like us should be doing now?




What do you think the general population should be doing now?


Organizing and electing leaders who align with our values and urgency.

Expert Interview: Carolyne Buckner

 Name and Title

Carolyne Buckner

Environmental Specialist

Stormwater Division

City of Burlington 

Role in the company/organization

To implement a comprehensive stormwater management program aimed at minimizing the pollutants reaching our streams and other water bodies.  There are six Minimum Control Measures (MCMs):

  • Public Education & Outreach
  • Public Involvement & Participation
  • Illicit Discharge Detection & Elimination
  • Construction Site Runoff Controls
  • Post-Construction Site Runoff Controls
  • Pollution Prevention & Good Housekeeping for Municipal Operations


How you/ the organization is involved in climate change resilience?

We respond to drainage calls, flooding complaints, etc.   We are well aware of the increased frequency and intensity of storms and the number of calls have been increasing. We are working with other municipalities to look at what can be done to minimize adverse impacts in areas that are already developed as well as what needs to be changed to minimize adverse impacts in future developments.  I think resiliency goes beyond just responding to the new normal, though. I want to start working with other departments within the City to address the causes of climate change. The coastal communities are doing some really good work in this area as they are most hard hit and can be great resources.


What sparked your desire to be involved in this work?

I love being outdoors and want to do what I can to conserve and protect our natural spaces.   I also love learning about nature and natural systems. The best technological solutions in this fields are always modeled after nature.


Why is climate change important to you?

I’m not sure how it couldn’t be.  It’s hard to overlook the change in weather patterns and how it’s affecting people, wildlife, and ecosystems.   Not to mention how it will affect my children and future generations.


How have you seen climate change impact your specific region?

Heat, more frequent and severe droughts, and increased frequency and intensity of storms.  Just more extreme patterns.


What do you think university students like us should be doing now?

I could list out a bunch of items from a climate action plan, but should tend to shut me down.   I’d say start by talking about it, like you are doing with this survey. The more we all talk about climate change, the more likely we will each find a way to act.   It can feel really overwhelming, so I say just start the conversation and let it lead us. I think a lot of climate change denial stems from the overwhelming nature of where the science is pointing.   


What do you think the general population should be doing now?

Same as above. Talking includes to elected officials. Talking also includes having conversations with those with different opinions and being willing to listen.   

Expert Interview: Matthew Adkins

Name: Matthew Adkins

Role: Small farmer, researcher, and filmmaker

Involvement in climate change resilience: Using film to discuss, document, and share ideas about permaculture and sustainability


What sparked your desire to be involved in this work? 

In high school, I read a lot of books about environmentalism and sustainability, and was really impressed by the wastefulness of modern human culture and industries, and their negative impact on the natural systems that we depend on in order to live and flourish. Since then, while studying environmental science, I’ve learned more about problems like climate change, pollution, and the misuse of natural resources. I took a class about permaculture and was really inspired by the possibilities that permaculture design principles offer for addressing some of these problems. I wanted to explore those ideas and share what I learned with other people.


Why is climate change important to you?

By throwing natural processes and cycles off-balance, climate change poses a number of threats to me and everyone else on the planet, but especially the most poor and vulnerable communities. These threats include extreme weather (storms, flooding, heat waves, and drought), depleted soils, crop losses, shortages of fresh water and food, decreased air quality, and diseases that can spread further and faster. At some point, energy and resource consumption will begin to decrease, either by choice or by necessity, and I think that our current communities lack the resilience to enable them to continue to function in the face of these external environmental and economic shocks.


How have you seen climate change impact your specific region?

We’ve already seen the impact that severe weather can have on North Carolinians, especially catastrophic flooding from hurricanes, which has devastated communities in the eastern part of the state (especially poor communities, often communities of color, who are less protected, lack access to resources, and may not be able to go anywhere else) as well as rural communities whose economies depend on agriculture. Of course, even without climate change, there would still be hurricanes. But climate change has resulted and will continue to result in more extreme storms and greater destruction and loss.


What do you think university students should be doing now?

Be creative in identifying aspects of an industry or community that are inefficient, wasteful, or harmful, and figure out how you can develop and apply your specific set of skills, talents and interests toward implementing changes and improvements to that industry or community. Develop leadership and teamwork skills so that you can take advantage of opportunities to exert a positive influence.


What do you think the general population should be doing now? 
I think we need to experience a shift in our cultural values, away from conquest, control, and consumerism, and toward freedom, equity, sharing, and community. We need to reduce our consumption and prioritize reusing, repairing, repurposing and redistributing goods before recycling them or discarding them. Instead of just fixating on all the “bad” things that we should avoid doing, I think it would be healthier to view things in terms of opportunities that we have yet to fully appreciate. For example, you should be composting, not because “sending food scraps to the landfill is bad and you should feel bad,” but because all of those food scraps are an amazing resource that you could be taking advantage of by enriching your soil, instead of missing out by throwing it “away.”


Sustainable “lifestyle” practices and personal habits (like not eating meat) are important and beneficial, but they are not enough. We need to reexamine our current systems of production and distribution, and rethink how we use and manage land, water, and other natural resources. We should be taking a whole-systems approach to designing environmentally and socially sustainable systems (food systems, transportation systems, etc) and more resilient infrastructure. Leaders in various industries should be identifying the role that their industries play in the overconsumption and waste of resources, and strive toward more closed systems that use energy and materials more efficiently.


Communities, organizations, and companies should investigate how permaculture design concepts may be useful in building the skills and systems needed in order to shift from consumption and dependence toward responsible production and independence, thus becoming more self-reliant and resilient. We need to be creative and innovative in adapting existing systems to make them more appropriate for a future in which we will need to use less energy and fewer resources.