AUSTIN, Texas - A University of Texas at Austin professor is heading to France in hopes of making the planet great again.
Camille Parmesan, who also teaches at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom, won a grant from French President Emmanuel Macron to continue her research on climate change and its effects on nature. The Houston native’s early research studying butterflies showed how climate change impacts the migration of animals and plants.
“Butterflies are really wonderful to work with, not only because they’re beautiful and they live in beautiful places, but the species I was working with was so sensitive to climate, it may actually be a better indicator of a tiny amount of climate change than an thermometer,” Parmesan said.
Now, she’s researching how the movement of plants and animals puts humans at risk for new diseases.
“We’re trying to use the impacts we’re seeing in real time to help policy makers decide ... what should be our targets over the next 50 to 100 years,” Parmesan said.
It was trying for the biologist when the United States pulls out of the Paris Climate accord. But, then French President Emmanuel Macron had a call to action. In June, he announced the “Make Our Planet Great Again” initiative.
He said: “To all scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, responsible citizens who were disappointed by the decision of the president of the United States, I want to say that they will find in France a second homeland. I call on them, come and work here with us to work together on concrete solutions for our climate, our environment. I can assure you France will not give up the fight. I reaffirm clearly that the Paris agreement remains irreversible and will be implemented, not just by France, but by all the other nations.”
Parmesan is now one of 18 scientists chosen for the grant.
“To have a head of state to say we know your research is important we value it, we want you to keep the research as up to date as possible so that you can help inform our policies that was just fabulous,” she said. “It was a psychological boost that I think all of us need.”
The grant is five years long and is set to begin as early as next summer.
Parmesan plans to hire post-doctoral and graduate students. Their work will be done at a research institute near the Pyrenees Mountains in the south west of France.
“We can’t ignore science, we can’t ignore reality,” Parmesan said. “The best way to cope with the uncertainty that we have in the future with human driven climate change is to understand it.”