20 for the Next 20 2015
Assistant Professor of Geography, University of Hawaii
Camilo Mora is no stranger to controversy. His research calculates climate departure – the point at which an area’s climate moves beyond the limits of its historical variations and doesn’t revert back – and his work has inspired both accolades and condemnation.
“I got a lot of emails, some threatening. People were shocked,” he says. But Mora remains undeterred. “We realize that this is happening faster than people thought. Commonly we hear: ‘This is a legacy we’re leaving for our children.’ But we will live to see this.” The date for Hawaii’s climate departure? 2029, he says.
“He wants to answer those big questions,” says Thomas Giambelluca, a UH climatologist who has collaborated with Mora. For instance, he says, Mora layers climate data over countries where there are both environmental threats and poverty. Growing up in Colombia, Mora saw how the environment’s transformation could hurt communities in the developing world. That early experience, he says, helped create his drive to solve social ills.
Mora is a pioneer; few scientists link climate science and social issues. But this is crucial to a real change, Mora says. He explains how an ecologist might suggest a protected marine area, a social scientist might recommend improvements in social welfare and a climatologist might advocate reducing emissions, but “all these are solutions that independently are not going to work. We need unifying solutions.”
Perhaps his greatest challenge is to get people to keep paying attention. He keeps offering recommendations – like drastically slowing the rate of population growth and pursuing worldwide carbon neutrality – all while conducting new research through his unique, multidisciplinary lens.
His next project, which he is funding out of his own pocket, is elegant in its simplicity. “There isn’t a single place in the world that is carbon-neutral. We want to make Hawaii the first,” he says. His vision is for us to plant trees, thereby offsetting our personal carbon usage. He is working with engineers to build a robot that would care for plants and is designing an app for people to manage their own carbon-neutrality.
“We want people to race to be the first to become a carbon-neutral person. Then it will be a race to be the first carbon-neutral city. … Then the politicians will start buying into it. But, of course, we need money for it!”