Interview: behind the scenes with meteorologist and children’s book author Guy Walton
I recently had the privilege of interviewing Guy Walton, aka @climateguyw on Twitter, about his journey as both a professional meteorologist and children’s book author. Guy shares my passion for education and creating characters that bring home the message about our era’s environmental and climate crisis.
Guy, how did you go from climate science to writing children’s books about climate change?
I was hired at The Weather Channel as a forecaster in 1983. I began to hear a bit about climate change in the ’80s and became convinced that the planet was warming. There was a lot of controversy back then, but the scientific world was becoming convinced that global warming was taking place. Some of my peers at the Weather Channel didn’t agree though, and basically I was arguing with them back and forth.
Ever since Dr. James Hansen’s testimony before Congress in 1988, I have observed the struggle experts have endured in convincing Americans about the urgency of the global warming. One reason for that is because carbon dioxide is a faceless, odorless, colorless gas. That faceless gas has increased in the atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels, while at the same time, average temperatures have risen dramatically over the Earth, especially since the beginning of the 21st century. Even so, there are still enough cold weather events every winter to cause intelligent people to believe that climate change is either not occurring, or is of minor importance. Add to that the habit of humans to act only on what seems urgent, plus our tendency to largely accept information that confirms our preexisting beliefs, and we end up generally ignoring the biggest environmental problem facing the world today.
Fast forward to the twenty-teens, after a decade of logging data recording an increasing pattern of record-high temperatures in the US mainland, and I started wondering if there was anything I could do to educate people, especially children. Ever since the 90s when I was arguing with my peers at the Weather Channel I was angry about people denying the science about global warming; I guess that anger fuelled my ambition to become a children’s book author.
In 2015 I suffered a serious accident that set me back, but from my hospital room I continued to write these short stories about Thermo, a little flying thermometer created in Hawaii (around the time Obama was born in 1961 – that was like a little shout out to him). It wasn’t until I met Nick Walker that we created this little book called World of Thermo. It narrates the adventures of Thermo with natural phenomena and CO2, in the form of the character ‘Carbo’. Carbo is Thermo’s nemesis: he represents the interests of the fossil fuel industry, greed, and just about all the nasty things from human nature.
What is Thermo’s main message?
If Thermo could actually talk to kids after going around the world for 60 years, he would say the science is real, but never give up. If civilisation is to survive, everything needs to be run by electricity generated by renewables, and everything needs to be sustainable. Throughout the trilogy, Thermo never gives up. He never gives in to fear – like Winston Churchill I suppose – where there is life there is hope. Like we see in the middle three stories of Star Wars, things get dire, but there is a comeback at the end.
Did you find it challenging to mix the science with storytelling? Was it difficult to find that balance?
I have a fairly analytical mind. I thought by 2013 I could write for children, but it took me 5 years to learn that no, I had a long way to go to improve my writing skills!
What are you working on now and what comes next?
I’m ready to publish the second book and I’m searching for a publisher. If that doesn’t work out soon, I’ll probably self-publish it. It’s sort of my gift to the world, and as an older paraplegic I don’t know how much time I’ll have on this earth anyway.
The second book will be named ‘Carbonated’. It will be Carbo’s story, and we’ll see how from 2005 to 2020 Thermo and his female counterpart, Therma, lose just about every battle against Carbo, who outwits them at every turn. Since Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, to 2020 we haven’t been able to control carbon pollution enough to prevent climate catastrophes. The chickens are coming in to roost, with the 2019 fires in Australia and the Amazon, and the fires and hurricanes happening right now in the US.
A final word?
In my alternative universe, inanimate objects come to life in amusing and sometimes frightening ways. As the global warming problem worsens, so does Thermo and Therma’s plight. I have presented climatologists and meteorologists as heroes, particularly those whom I have personally known in my 30-plus year career at The Weather Channel. I am confident you will enjoy the stories, and I hope they spur you to action in joining efforts to prevent the climate crisis from getting much worse.
Thanks for reading!
Please share this blog if it resonates with you in any way. The idea is to keep discussion and conversation about the ecological crisis and the solutions that are within our reach top of mind, tip of tongue.
Remember to read my other blogs about the connections between climate change, sustainability, comics and cartoons, and if you like interviews be sure to check out the highlights of my chat with Clare Shakya, Director of Climate Change at IIED.