Faces of Climate Change: Dr. Jay Banner

This is the first in our new series, “Faces.” Over the next several weeks, (as part of our larger Big Picture, Local Lens project) we’ll be focusing on climate change, highlighting the people and faces here in Austin whose lives center around it. Because at its core, climate change is a human issue. It’s humans who have caused it, and it’s humans who are our only hope in fixing it.


Dr. Jay Banner – The Scientist

In an office crowded with piles of books and printouts of reports, Dr. Jay Banner talks about an issue he knows well – science education.

“Not everyone has to be a scientist, but everyone should be scientifically literate,” Banner said, noting that right now, that is just not happening. 

It is this fundamental lack of understanding about the rigorous nature of the scientific method and the high degree of scrutiny that all scientific studies and theories are put through, Banner said, that has contributed to the poor state of climate change discourse in this country.

“So there are a whole series of things conspiring to make K-12 science education not nearly as good as it could be. And I think until we ‘fix that,’ I think we’re always going to be a little bit behind the eight ball in terms of having a very scientifically literate public. Because then, you’ll have people who get it right away. There won’t be debates, there won’t be uncertainties, and they’ll be people saying that this is perhaps the most significant problem I’m going to face in my lifetime, and in my children’s and grandchildren’s lifetimes, and we need to do something about it. And therefore, I’m going to vote in the voting booth about this. I’m going to make this one of the things I care about.” – Dr. Jay Banner

Right now, Banner continued, despite the fact that the majority of Americans believe in climate change, they don’t understand the magnitude of the threat. Otherwise, they would be demanding much more action from their political leaders.

But, Banner said, there is cause for hope.

“My feeling is, we have no choice but to be optimistic,” he said.

Jay Banner

“My take on it is, once enough critical mass of people are in that pessimistic bucket, then I think we know how things are going to turn out. They won’t turn out well…We know how that experiment will turn out…

Yet on the other hand, if a critical mass of people, if enough people are optimistic that with small actions by a large number of people, you can actually make a difference and move the needle, and change can occur, then I think we’re at the point where we don’t know how the experiment will turn out.” – Dr. Jay Banner

So there is still a chance. As a scientist himself, Banner says that the models show us it’s important to take action as soon as possible; they also show us that it is not too late to make a difference.

History has also shown us that human beings are capable of joining together to create social change, Banner said. He pointed to the creation of the SOS Alliance here in Austin and the signing of the Montreal Protocol (to fix the whole in the ozone) as shinning examples of great challenges being identified and then tackled by human kind.

Jay Banner

“Somewhere deep down inside me I feel like I’m optimistic about human nature,” Banner said.


About Dr. Jay Banner: Jay Banner is the F. M. Bullard Professor in the Department of Geological Sciences in the Jackson School of Geosciences, and Director of the Environmental Science Institute. One of his major research interests is climate change and the ways in which climatic processes of the past are preserved in the geologic record. One of the primary ways he studies this is by looking at cave deposits or speleothems (much of them right here in Texas) as records of the links between climate change and hydrology. As Director of the Environmental Science Institute, Banner is also instrumental in organizing the university’s Hot Science – Cool Talks Outreach Series.

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