UT professor awarded grant by France’s President Macron to ‘Make Our Planet Great Again’

Jennifer Liu

One UT professor will travel to France to continue her research on climate change, thanks to a grant from French President Emmanuel Macron.

On June 1, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump announced the U.S. would no longer participate in the Paris climate agreement, an international plan to mitigate the effects of climate change. In response, Macron launched “Make Our Planet Great Again,” an initiative to offer foreign researchers the opportunity to move to France and receive funding to continue their climate change research. It attracted a total of 1,882 applicants, 18 of whom were ultimately awarded a grant.

Camille Parmesan, an adjunct professor in the Jackson School of Geosciences, is one of the 18 researchers to receive the grant. Parmesan has researched climate change since 1990, and her credentials and qualifications were integral for her proposal to stand out, according to Professor Michael Singer, her husband and a professor emeritus from UT’s Department of Integrative Biology.

“I have known her since she was a 21-year-old with no achievements at all, and (she’s) just a smart person,” Singer said. “I can tell you, I certainly didn’t expect this to happen at all. I’m very proud of her.”

Parmesan, who teaches part-time at UT, currently teaches at Plymouth University in the UK, where she lives with Singer. They moved to the UK a few years ago, but Singer said he has sensed a more narrow-minded outlook toward immigrants like themselves after the Brexit vote.

Parmesan said that when she was looking to leave the UK, she started to inquire in the U.S. about available university positions.

Yet President Trump’s priorities did not align with hers. His 2018 budget request would have significant implications for scientific research due to proposed cuts. According to a Washington Post article, the National Science Foundation would suffer a loss of $776 million, for example.

“It was very clear to me that I had a choice to come back to the U.S., and again live in an environment that was totally against not only the kind of research that I was doing, but (where) all of my colleagues would also be severely impacted,” Parmesan said.

Parmesan began looking into other options. She applied for a position in Canada and was looking into Germany’s Max Planck Institute when President Macron started his “Make Our Planet Great Again” initiative.

“We’ve always wanted to live in France for a few years, and we thought, ‘perfect, all the pieces are coming together,’” Parmesan said. 

Parmesan said she plans on taking pilot programs she has conducted in the background the past few years and making them more prominent parts of her research with this grant. 

Her work to date has been documenting the effects of climate change on natural systems and doing global meta-analyses, or statistically analyzing the results of several separate but similar experiments.

“I feel like we’ve gotten where we need to be with those, and I am starting to move on more into societal implications,” Parmesan said. 

She wants to go back to her study systems and go into more detail about impacts on the butterfly populations she has studied for 35 years. 

“So (to) get away from the big global picture: I think we’ve been there, done that, said it all — as much as needs to be said for policymakers to take action,” Parmesan said. “And what I’m interested in now is going back into the field systems and looking in more detail about the responses they’re having to climate change. Getting more toward the conservation perspective and the more societal consequences of climate change is where I’m going the next few years.”