Amber Pairis, Founder of Climate Science Alliance, Named KPBS Community Hero
By Linda Ball
Dr. Amber Pairis, who likes to say her “superpower” is bringing people together, has been selected as a KPBS and National Conflict Resolution Center Community Hero for her collaborative, community-centered approach to climate change.
Pairis founded and directs the Climate Science Alliance, an organization that strives to safeguard communities by increasing awareness of climate change impacts by promoting solutions and action, according to its website. Pairis said she prefers hope to “doom and gloom.”
“I’ve spent just enough time with climate scientists to be terrified of our future, but I can’t live in that place of fear,” she said. “This is a sustained and long-term issue that we have to deal with and we have to start making headway now.”
Pairis has worked in the climate change field for 15 years. Former Gov. Jerry Brown appointed her assistant secretary for climate change at the California Natural Resources Agency in 2013. She formed the Climate Science Alliance in 2015.
“In creating the Climate Science Alliance, I wanted to bring together researchers with natural resource managers, with nongovernmental organizations, with foundations, with artists, and with educators,” she said. “I wanted to create a space where people could come together and look at how we build resilience on a regional scale.”
The Climate Science Alliance focuses on solutions for southern California and Baja, though it has projects as far-flung as Puerto Rico. Its network of partners share approaches that help communities build ecosystem-based resiliency, which Pairis defines as taking a “holistic approach” by looking at climate change impacts on people and natural resources.
“The climate story for our region is really a story of extremes,” she said. “We can expect that we are going to have more extreme flooding events, more extreme heat events, more extreme fire, more extreme drought. These things impact not just natural resources, but our communities. The work that I do is focused around how we build this resilience, how we safeguard these places where we live and that we love.”
Attesting to Pairis’ superpower to bring people together, Climate Science Alliance now works with more than 360 organizations and agencies. Among the organization’s numerous projects is assessing climate change impacts on the culture and traditions of tribal communities. The organization has even created a pocket guide called “Ten Things We Can Do to Give Wildlife a Break.”
The organization also has a program for children called Climate Kids. “We focus our Climate Kids' activities around both being very honest and explaining what climate change is, but also in bookending that with things you can do right now to help,” she said.
Pairis grew up in Idyllwild and spent time outdoors learning about plants and animals. She is also an artist and graduated from Idyllwild Arts Academy. In 2005, she earned a Ph.D in environmental studies from Antioch University New England and became deeply interested in climate change. She served as the climate change advisor for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife before her appointment by Brown.
Now Pairis’ office is housed at the University of California, San Diego, which gives her direct access to what she calls the “hub and heart” of climate research. She said she is surrounded by amazing researchers who want to see their work applied. She sees her organization’s role as being a bridge between climate researchers and communities, Pairis said.
“We can translate and disseminate the information and get it into the hands of people who need it,” she said.