Melissa Rohde

Groundwater Scientist, The Nature Conservancy - Santa Cruz, CA - USA
Santa Cruz, CA - USA
Melissa Rohde

I’ll be the first to admit that the climate research I did in Alaska, Antarctica, and India was super carbon intensive! Not to mention all the additional travel to conferences to communicate climate change impacts to water and the environment.

In 2018 I calculated my carbon emissions after pledging with the UNFCCC to go “Climate Neutral Now.” There are three main steps to going Climate Neutral Now: 1) measure your emissions, 2) reduce them and 3) offset anything you can’t reduce. When I calculated my household emissions I was shocked to see how high the emissions from my science work were in comparison to my household’s total emissions. In 2018 they were 22 metric tonnes CO2e, and my science work contributed 25% of that. In 2019, we cut our total emissions in half to 11 metric tonnes CO2e by installing solar panels and flying less.

This past year I made a goal to fly only once for science and once for personal, and take the train/drive a car for the remaining. Unfortunately, I ended up having to fly twice (SJCReno and SJC DCA), because the Amtrak ride I booked to Reno got significantly delayed for weather reasons. The good news is that I didn’t take any personal flights, so I achieved my goal of two flights total. This year I am making the goal to not fly at all for science, and only once for personal reasons.

All flights that I have been taking are being offset through, even though not flying in the first place is more ideal. Reducing my household emissions has been fun and surprisingly addicting. This year, our goal is to emit 2 metric tonnes of CO2 per person (8 total for the household), which is the recommended amount to stay within a 2 degree C world.

In an effort to help others think of ways to reduce their emissions and become carbon neutral now, I have been compiling a list of tips and tricks I’ve learned over the past couple years on my website. Prior to pledging to be carbon neutral and making all these efforts, I honestly felt really sad and anxious about climate change, especially since much of the science I’ve done is related to it! However, now that I’ve taken the actions of measuring, reducing, and offsetting my emissions I feel so much more encouraged and empowered on the issue. I know it is totally possible and even more pleasant to live a low carbon lifestyle that is slower, uncluttered, and simple.

Traveling less for my work means that it makes it easier for me to balance my personal and professional lives. And by using more telecommunication I’ve become much more efficient in my work, since the time I used to spend commuting and traveling have been reallocated to productive work or regenerative activities. I am really glad to see this initiative, and hope the science community can adopt low emission behavior and carbon offsetting into our research practices.

I work as a scientist for The Nature Conservancy of California using my expertise in biology, hydrology, and water policy to advance sustainable management. I obtained a BSc degree in Biology and Oceanography at the University of British Columbia, a MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management at Oxford University, and a MSc in Environmental Engineering and Science from Stanford University.