UW News

June 10, 2022

Q&A: Amy Snover, outgoing director of the UW Climate Impacts Group

UW News

For over a quarter of a century, the UW Climate Impacts Group has blended science and decision-making to help the Pacific Northwest region prepare for a changing climate. For the past 10 of those years, director Amy Snover has been at the helm.

Amy Snover

Amy Snover

Snover recently announced that she will retire on June 15 and plans to travel and spend time outdoors with her husband. Jason Vogel will act as interim director, and four senior staff members — Vogel, Meade Krosby, Guillaume Mauger and Crystal Raymond — will together carry out Snover’s duties until a new director is hired in the fall.

Snover’s impact on the local community isn’t going unnoticed: King County declared June 7, 2022, as “Amy Snover Day” and celebrated at the Washington Park Arboretum. During her last week on campus, UW News sat down with Snover to reflect on what she’s learned in almost 25 years of climate preparedness work.

When did you join the Climate Impacts Group?

AS: I was finishing up a UW doctorate in chemistry in 1998, and I wasn’t seeing a path that I wanted to walk down, so I took a leave of absence from graduate school to try to figure things out. Ed Miles, late professor of marine and environmental affairs, had just started the Climate Impacts Group. He was frustrated by the global nature of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and climate change assessments; he wanted to work on climate change, climate impacts and policy responses at a scale where people actually make decisions.

I was trying to find a way to connect science and decision-making and to work on what I cared about, which was the environment of the Pacific Northwest. I worked for Ed, helping to organize the first conference on the impacts of climate change on the Northwest, while on leave from graduate school. After finishing school, I went to work at CIG in 1999 as a postdoc, and I’ve basically been there ever since [laughs].

The Climate Impacts Group just celebrated its 25th anniversary, and you’ve been affiliated with the group for most of that time. How has CIG changed during your tenure?

In the late 90s, there was very little research on what climate change meant for the region, or what we should do to prepare for impacts. Our evolution has been moving from where we didn’t know much, to having done lots of the science necessary to actually know what impacts to expect. We’ve built awareness of the need to prepare for those impacts, and also the capacity in the region to do that preparation.

At the same time, people have started paying more attention to climate change. Part of that is because we’re harping on it, and part of it is because the world is changing. Now people who got their degrees at the UW, and have worked with the Climate Impacts Group, are in planning positions all around the region.

How has our region changed in terms of climate preparedness?

I have this saying, especially for people who worry about climate change, that the happy secret is how much work is going on, especially in our region, to prepare for climate impacts. Of course, there’s also the reality of the glass only being half full – there’s still not nearly enough being done to prepare for the changes we know are coming, not enough urgency, not enough concern. But over time we’ve just seen more awareness of the fact that climate change actually matters for people and this region. I think there’s an emerging awareness that it matters now.

Another change that’s happened more recently is there’s so much more awareness of the distributional impacts of climate change – that many communities because of their positions, exposures, marginalization, etc., are more at risk than others. Part of preparing for climate change is making sure that those inequities are not only recognized but addressed.

What CIG projects – past, current or future – stand out to you as fulfilling the goal of regional climate preparedness?

The thing that jumps to mind is an old one, but we’re all really proud of it: In 2007 we published a guidebook for local governments that we co-wrote with King County on preparing for climate change. It was really widely used around the country, and the world, on how to think about climate risks and preparation in the context of local government and do something on a local level.

It’s not as flashy, but what comes to mind is that this kind of thinking is now embedded in all these different places, all over the region and the state. It’s a long list of smaller things. There’s a park in Tacoma that was redesigned because of sea level rise. Our state Department of Transportation considers future climate risks in all its project designs and long-term plans. Our state’s protocol for cleaning up toxic waste sites has been adapted to consider climate change. All those examples have some climate science embedded in the plans or the decisions.

A bigger recent highlight was a partnership with Washington Sea Grant to develop new sea level rise scenarios that were very locally specific, where people could look up different locations on the coast to see how much sea level is expected to change in a specific place, with different levels of certainty. It really advanced people’s ability to do risk-based planning.

Looking forward, CIG recently got significant NOAA funding for a five-year collaboration focused on advancing climate resilience for and with front-line communities in the Northwest. It’s a partnership with 10 different organizations, including the Affiliated Tribes of NW Indians, Front and Centered, and others. This is an exciting opportunity for us to build new partnerships and deepen existing ones to support coastal tribal communities and rural communities in achieving their own climate resilience goals. I’m definitely excited to see how it unfolds.

What would you say to people who feel depressed or hopeless in the face of climate change?

What I always say and think to myself is that, no matter how bad it looks, the future isn’t actually written yet. What that means is that we have a choice. And yes, it’s hard, it’s really complicated, nobody knows all the details of how to reorient our lives, our society, our communities and our businesses to address the existential need for both reducing and preparing for climate change. And yet — the future isn’t written. Every day, we as individuals, we as society, still have that chance to help create the future we want.

Climate was originally thought of as an environmental issue. But increasingly, people are seeing that climate is embedded in every aspect of ecology and society. When climate changes, everything is affected.

No matter what you do, or what your skills are, you can have a role in shaping that future and thinking about how we prepare for and reduce climate change. Early on it seemed like you had to be a scientist or an engineer to have a role in this issue, but that’s not true at all. Everyone is implicated in building a resilient society, by which I mean: everyone is responsible, and everyone has something to give.


For information, contact Snover at aksnover@uw.edu or Climate Impacts Group communications manager Tess Wrobleski at tessw2@uw.edu