For decades, Elizabeth Hadly, the Paul S. and Billie Achilles Professor in Environmental Biology, and her husband Anthony Barnosky, Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California Berkeley, have traveled the world to research dire challenges such as climate change and food security. Their new book, End Game: Tipping Point for Planet Earth, reads like a travelogue tying local stories, such as an Andean community’s conflict over firewood, to global issues, such as deforestation.

"Demain" ("Tomorrow" in French), documentary film based on Hadly and Barnosky’s work will be screened Sept. 30 in Palo Alto (more details). Hadly and Barnosky were recently appointed the new leaders of the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve.

Hadly, a senior fellow of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, discussed the new work and her long partnership with Barnosky in life and science.

How did you and Barnosky manage your work and family while developing this project over time?

As we’ve worked at different stages of our careers, we have always made sure to spend as little time apart and as much time with our kids as possible. We tried to do our research in similar places at similar times while working on different questions. Sometimes we each did our own projects, other times Tony would conduct his research while I babysat and vice versa. We called it tag-team parenting.

What that meant is we simultaneously experienced a lot of the world together and talked about it a lot. We saw that the work we were doing was being dramatically impacted by the features we discuss in the book. Our work became less about answering questions in time and space, and more of an obligation to bear witness to these changes. We wondered who was going to tell this story if we didn’t?

What brought about the personal theme of the book, given its focus on tackling issues of global significance?

That was very deliberate. I think so often people can’t see how these global issues really affect them and especially affect people in the developed world, so we were very deliberate about including the real personal view of climate change. The other thing people in the developed world often do a poor job of is putting themselves in other peoples’ shoes. So putting it through our eyes, we wanted to convey our sense of alarm by showing that we are all in the same boat. We really wanted to take it from global to personal.

What initially compelled you to study historic climate change prior to researching the current and future impacts of global warming?

I worked in Yellowstone Park for a long time and a big question was whether elk were native or not, many people thought elk needed to be eliminated. The best way to see if elk were native was to learn if they were there 100-200 years ago by using exclosures to see how plants responded without the presence of elk. This project led me to think about the bigger picture of how modern ecosystems had come together and about the moving picture that resulted in the snapshot we see today.

We weren’t around during the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum when temperatures were much warmer. We are an Ice Age animal, but now, with increasing temperatures, we do see humans acting the way other animals have in the past, such as leaving the equator and moving toward the poles.

Why does the book recommend individuals communicate future impacts with their friends and family to help tackle these global issues?

It is kind of the whole theme in a sense. If you tell people to limit their consumption, or that we need to produce more food and limit population, they get overwhelmed. You can lobby your presidents and prime ministers, but I think the hardest conversations are with your neighbors and your family. If you can make people understand what global change means on a personal basis, instead of just hiding behind politics or science, you’ve done a lot more than most global leaders can do. 

What makes your book distinct from other calls to recognize climate change impacts?

What we really wanted to do was emphasize that this is not just about climate change or just about extinction, and that you can’t solve any of these issues without looking at all of them. The fact that every one of these big issues is very tightly linked to the other is the difference in this book, and it was the most challenging part of this book as well.