Northeastern Professors Featured in Greta Thunberg’s New Book

Drought, wildfires, intense storms and rising temperatures–thinking about climate change can be overwhelming. It’s why international climate activist Greta Thunberg is using her new book, “The Climate Book,” which releases on Oct. 27, to educate people and give them hope for the future, with the help of scientists and scholars, including a couple of Northeastern’s. the finest

Northeastern professors Mauricio Santillana and Jennie C. Stephens are two of the more than 100 experts Thunberg has gathered to help share their expertise on how to combat climate change. Santillana is a professor of physics and network science, while Stephens is a professor of sustainability science and policy. Although they approach climate change from different fields, they are united in their insistence that climate change is a pressing issue that must be tackled with speed and ambition.

Left to right: Jennie C. Stephens, professor of sustainability science and policy and director of strategic research collaborations for the Global Resilience Institute, and Mauricio Santillana, professor of physics and network science and director of the Machine Intelligence Lab, Network Science Institute. Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

“Most of the authors in this book embrace a transformative lens,” Stephens says. “At this point we’re not talking about small, incremental changes. We’re talking about a bigger transformation of society that’s needed.”

Santillana, who co-authored his chapter with John Brownstein, Derek MacFadden and Sarah McGough, drew on previous research about the effect climate change has had on antibiotic resistance. His work drew Thunberg’s interest because of how it illustrates the subtle impacts of climate change, Santillana says.

Antibiotic resistance has been increasing, making it more difficult to fight bacterial infections with medicine like penicillin, which was long thought to be a “magic bullet,” Santillana says. In part, this has to do with the frequent use of antibiotics on humans and on animals that eventually become food, but Santillana says he and a team of researchers discovered that, in the US, antibiotic resistance differs based on region.

“The South has seen a larger prevalence of antibiotic resistance and the North not as much,” Santillana says. “We hypothesized whether it could be where farms were located, but at the end of the day when we combined weather data from the models that reconstruct weather in the past–the ones that we use for weather forecasting–we realized that there was a very strong correlation between places that were experiencing warming and antibiotic resistance.”

Santillana and his team later looked at 20 years’ worth of data from Europe and found a similar trend: Antibiotic resistance occurred more quickly in warmer places.

By illustrating these findings in Thunberg’s book, Santillana wanted to “go beyond the usual side effects that we know well about global climate change.” The impact of climate change on public health is still being unpacked, but what’s clear to Santillana is that antibiotic resistance “is one of the symptoms that happens as a consequence of a larger system.”

“The lesson here is that there are other ways in which the consequences of climate change will bite us, so it’s important to not look the other way and to do something and own our role in this ecosystem and to be more responsible–for the sake. of our generation but more so for the sake of future generations,” Santillana says.

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