Rising sea levels, devastating storms, urban flooding, intense heat waves, and droughts have long periled communities across the globe – and it’s only going to get worse. 

Research led by the United Nations predicts extreme weather conditions will displace billions of people within the next 50 years if we don’t act now. But for climate scientists like J. Marshall Shepherd, warning the public about the possible ramifications of climate change isn’t cutting it.

“We have to stop future tense. These things are here and now,” Shepherd, the Georgia Athletic Association Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Sciences and Geography at the University of Georgia, said in a 2022 interview. “Every single person on the planet is impacted by climate change.”

Shepherd will explore the scientific, political, and societal factors influencing climate change action in his public lecture, “Cloudy with a Chance of Science: The Intersection of Wicked Problems, Perception, Communication, and Risk,” at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 19 at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC. He is the second of nine 2023-24 Maury Strauss Distinguished Public Lecture Series presenters.

“Dr. Shepherd is a renowned meteorologist, climate scientist, and educator known for his contributions to the field of atmospheric science and his efforts to communicate complex weather and climate concepts to the public,” said Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology. “Although the research institute is primarily focused on biomedical and health science research, this topic and the expertise and insights provided by Dr. Shepherd potentially represent the singular greatest factor that will impact the health of life on earth, including human health.”

Added Friedlander, “Dr. Shepherd’s contributions and perspectives that he will share on data and science have implications for all aspects of contemporary life, going well beyond climate. With over two decades of dedicated research, coupled with his extensive experience in scientific discourse, Dr. Shepherd is uniquely poised to shed light on how scientifically grounded information is consumed by both the broader public and those in positions of leadership and authority. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to share his insights with our community at Virginia Tech and in Roanoke.”

By examining the interplay between science, communication, and political decision-making, his talk promises to provide valuable insights into how society navigates the climate crisis. 

"There is no ‘Planet B’ for humanity,” Shepherd said. “So we better understand this one well.”

Shepherd is an elected member of the National Academy of Science, the National Academy of Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, having been elected to all three in 2021.  

He is a former NASA scientist and skilled science communicator who hosts the Weather Channel’s “Weather Geeks,” contributes to Forbes magazine, and frequently appears on major TV networks, such as CNN, NBC's “Today” show, and CBS' “Face the Nation.” 

He combines the power of scientific insight with humor, presenting an "end-to-end" perspective on the challenges and opportunities inherent in engaging the public with scientific knowledge. Many organizations seek his meteorological expertise, including NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Congress, and the White House.

Shepherd has received numerous accolades, including the American Geological Institute's Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Public Understanding of the Geosciences in 2021, the Mani L. Bhaumik Award for Public Engagement with Science from the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2020, and the 2019 American Geophysical Union Climate Communication Prize.

As a former NASA Earth Sciences Advisory Committee chair and member of its Earth Science Subcommittee, Shepherd contributed to notable committees, including the NOAA’s Science Advisory Board and the U.N. World Meteorological Organization steering committee. He was part of influential groups such as the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change AR4 contributing author team and National Academies of Sciences panels on climate and national security, extreme weather attribution, and urban meteorology. Shepherd also served as an editor for the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology and Geography Compass.

Shepherd earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in physical meteorology at Florida State University. He was the first African American to receive a doctoral degree from the Florida State University meteorology department and the second to preside over the American Meteorological Society. 

As a leader in the field, Shepherd has actively supported programs to provide opportunities and mentorship for underrepresented minorities, helping them overcome barriers and succeed in scientific careers.

The institute’s free public lecture series is made possible by Maury Strauss, a longtime Roanoke businessman and benefactor who recognizes the importance of bringing leading biomedical research scientists to the community. 

The public is welcome to attend the lecture, preceded by a 5 p.m. refreshments in the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at 2 Riverside Circle in Roanoke. Shepherd’s talk will be streamed live via Zoom and archived on the institute’s website.

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