Advocate: Janel Hanrahan ’05
As an atmospheric scientist, Janel Hanrahan ’05 was used to talking in front of crowds. But that night in March 2017 was different. Instead of speaking before her peers, she was about to give a presentation to her community of northeastern Vermont, where she lives with her family and works as a professor for Northern Vermont University. The topic of her talk: climate change.
A few minutes before the event began, one of Hanrahan’s students tapped her on the shoulder. “There are people outside with signs,” he said. Hanrahan’s heart momentarily seized. She went outside and introduced herself to the protestors, some of whom held signs that read, “They spray us.” They had embraced scientifically inaccurate beliefs about jet contrails and thought that global warming was actually far worse than scientific evidence indicated.
“I’m used to dealing with people who say that climate change isn’t real, and that it’s no big deal, but these folks were on the other end of the spectrum,” says Hanrahan. “They were saying that I was covering up the truth.”
Thankfully, the presentation went on without incident. But for Hanrahan, it reinforced her commitment to improving climate change literacy. Not only does she teach courses around atmospheric science to future climate scientists and meteorologists, but she also leads efforts to educate the public about climate change. As director of The Climate Consensus, she and Northern Vermont University students engage with the public through community events, visits to schools, presentations at conferences and digital content.
In 2017, they went to the Climate March in Washington, D.C. In May, they participated in a half marathon relay in New York City. By wearing neon-green bandanas and shirts that say, “I’m running for all life on our planet in the race to solve climate change. Will you join me?” the runners hoped to bring the issue to the forefront.
Speaking to crowds doesn’t come naturally to Hanrahan. But she attributes her courage to her Alverno education. “Before my Alverno experience, those nerves crippled me, and I never would have done it,” she says.
“I think Janel found herself here,” adds Susan Pustejovsky, an Alverno mathematics professor and one of Hanrahan’s advisors.
After Alverno, Hanrahan began graduate studies, and it became clear that disagreements about the existence of climate change were happening outside of the scientific community. In 2012 she was hired as a professor at Northern Vermont University. One day, two students proposed launching a science outreach program in local schools. Hanrahan had just given birth to her son, Caden, and was busy with work and her role as a new mother. But she didn’t want to pass up the opportunity. “Everything took off from there,” she says.
Arguably, the timing couldn’t have been better. Hanrahan says that having a baby changed her perspective in ways she didn’t anticipate. Many climate models predict outcomes, such as global temperature or sea level rise, out to the year 2100. Hanrahan realized that Caden could still be around and that the climate predictions she reads on a regular basis could become his reality. He will have to deal with extreme weather events, mass migrations and water shortages. Seeing her son fuels her when she gets discouraged.
“I want him to know I tried as hard as I could,” she says.
Advocates in Action
Alverno alums like Hanrahan dedicate their careers to social justice causes. Click the names below to read their stories of advocacy, and if you know of an Alverno alum who is working on behalf of others, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appears in the spring/summer 2019 issue of Alverno Magazine.