By Samantha Schatz
Geology professor E. Christa Farmer raises awareness of climate change.
Dr. E. Christa Farmer helps organize events such as the National Teach-In, to educate students about global warming. In her research, she studies the geological record for clues to how climate systems operated in the past and thus might work in the future.
One of the first students to graduate from Stanford University with a degree in Earth Systems, an interdisciplinary environmental program, Farmer went on to work for the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, a Washington, D.C. think tank that helps educate Congress, and monitored the Kyoto Protocol negotiations as part of the U.S. Climate Action Network. She earned her doctorate at Columbia University before joining the Department of Geology at Hofstra.
Q: What is one of the biggest obstacles that you have had to overcome?
A: I spent a good year of graduate school trying to do some very complicated statistics. One of the things that I did in my dissertation was that I looked into whether or not it would be possible to take multiple species of a particular marine organism, and use all of their geo-chemistry to get a detailed picture of the upper-water column. I spent about a year trying to do the statistics all by myself, because I wanted to do it on my own. My advisor advised me to talk to a statistician, who was able to write a code for me to do it in about five minutes. I had been banging my head against the wall for a long time, and I finally realized that collaboration is useful in many things, in the sense that people bring many different strengths to the table.
Q: Before coming to Hofstra University, you spent some time hiking in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. Can you describe your experience there?
A: For a couple of years after I completed my undergraduate degree, I was paid to do it [by the U.S. Forest Service]. It was a study of small weasels. We put radio collars on them, and studied the habitat that they were living in to see which areas they liked best. It was very rewarding living in such a gorgeous area, but it taught me a very valuable lesson. Anything that you have to do everyday becomes a chore at some point. At first I thought, ‘Oh, wow, this is amazing,’ and then there were days I woke up and said, ‘I don’t really want to do this, but it’s my job.’ So it taught me that you’re going to have good days and bad days, and you’re going to make the most of what you can.
Q: What exactly was the work you performed before Congress?
A: I helped put together educational events for Congressional staff, usually young folks like myself working for the Senators and Congress people. We would do things like bring in scholars who specialized in studying the tax code, and have them give presentations on better tax laws, or scholars who study environmental issues with better ideas for regulations. My job was mostly administrative support for these events.
Q: When did you first develop concerns about global warming?
A: In college, I started out as a geology major, and switched to biology, and was studying ecosystems and ecosystem ecology. I took an incredible class called Biology and Global Change, which really looked at the human impact on all ecosystems.
Q: What is your favorite class to teach here at Hofstra?
A: There are certain things I like about every class I teach, but the newest class that I’ve developed is a first-year student seminar called Global Warming and the Science of Climate Change. It allows us to really go into detail on all of the parts of the climate system. It has been most rewarding to me because it is the topic closest to my heart.
Q: If you were to give one piece of advice to the Hofstra community on helping to combat global warming, what would it be?
A: I think everything you do helps in some way. The more we reduce our manufacturing, the more we reuse items, we are helping. Little things like that, as well as reducing the use of our cars, or trying to convert our homes to water or solar energy.
Q: Any advice for students here at Hofstra?
A: Young people who are very idealistic and see solutions to problems should push for them, because the system gets entrenched in the way it works now, and it’s not always best. Always keep pushing for what you think [would be] a better world.