BU Climate Change Expert Anthony Janetos, Who Spent His Career Researching the Fate of the Earth, Dead at 64
Anthony Janetos Remembered for His Leadership, Dedication, and Scholarship
World-renowned CAS expert on climate change died August 6
Anthony Janetos was not only an internationally renowned expert on climate change, he was fearless in the face of deniers.
Janetos, who died August 6 of pancreatic cancer, cut short a lecture last winter at the Andover, Mass., library—he’d been invited as director of BU’s Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future—when a heckler yelled “liar” at him. When other spectators grew disruptive as well, the moderator ended the talk and summoned police to make sure things remained calm.
Janetos shrugged off the tempest.
“I look at this as I’m not out to change anyone’s mind, but I’m just out to tell you the truth,” he told the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune.
Janetos was eminently qualified to discuss the truth of climate change science. Before coming to BU, where he was also a College of Arts & Sciences professor and chair of earth and environment, six years ago, he’d headed the Joint Global Change Research Institute at the University of Maryland, directing specialists in multiple fields in tracking climate change and mapping possible fixes. He had also held positions at NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency.
He also advised the United Nations on climate change, President Robert A. Brown wrote in announcing Janetos’ death to the faculty.
“Tony was (and will ever be remembered as such) vital, energetic, engaged, and intelligent,” Brown wrote. “His death is hard to countenance against the recollection of his vitality and because it comes out of what we prefer to hope are the normal seasons of life.” (As one example of that vigor, Janetos played what he called “old man baseball” in a summer adult league.)
“He issued warnings [about climate change],” the president wrote, “some necessarily urgent, but these were not proffered in the manner of a scold but with the judiciousness of the scientist steeped in evidence and concerned to make a difference.”
I look at this as I’m not out to change anyone’s mind, but I’m just out to tell you the truth.
Addressing lay audiences, as in Andover, showcased his “ability to be both scientist and communicator of the science, bridging the gap with which so many others struggle,” says BU sustainability director Lisa Tornatore (CAS’02).
Janetos’ scholarship blended disciplines to tackle issues like a warming planet, says Gloria Waters, vice president and associate provost for research. “He was able to look at global issues through a variety of lenses—scientific, environmental, policy, economic—and he brought together teams of natural scientists, social scientists, biologists, and engineers to work on these issues,” she says.
Waters cites his leadership role in several national and international climate change study groups, in particular as cochair of the US National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change, part of a congressionally mandated program to coordinate federal research and investment.
As founding program manager of NASA’s Land-Cover and Land-Use Change Program more than two decades ago, Janetos was a “visionary in promoting understanding of the role that humans play” in global environmental change, particularly in society’s modifying land surfaces, says Mark Friedl, a CAS professor of earth and environment. Janetos also was a contributing author to last year’s National Climate Assessment, drafted by experts under a federal advisory committee.
Tackling “some of the hardest challenges facing society,” Janetos chaired BU’s Climate Action Plan Task Force, notes Lucy Hutyra, a CAS associate professor of earth and environment. The Task Force drafted the blueprint under which the University will spend $141 million over 10 years on capital improvements that will cut greenhouse gas emissions. It also recommended that BU invest in green power from outside New England’s relatively clean grid. That recommendation was one of the reasons for last year’s decision to buy power from a wind farm under construction in South Dakota, for resale in the midwestern United States.
“He pushed us forward on critical, systemic change at the University,” Hutyra says. She also notes his work with students, particularly Pardee’s Graduate Summer Fellows—“one of his favorite parts of the year”—providing BU grad students with research and writing opportunities.
Dennis Carlberg, associate vice president for University sustainability, became close to Janetos while serving with him on the Climate Action Plan Task Force, “one of the greatest privileges in my professional career,” he says.
“Tony has been a critical partner in its implementation,” Carlberg says. “His loss is painful personally, but the loss of his future contributions to the University is what concerns me most.”
At the Pardee Center, Janetos “expanded the reach of our network to bring in other disciplines,” says center associate director Cynthia Barakatt. Among those efforts are the Faculty Research Fellows, who conduct two- or three-year interdisciplinary projects with seed money from the center.
That interdisciplinary focus found footing as well, Barakatt says, in his work to provide policymakers with models of both climate change and the financial costs from it. He coauthored a paper two years ago that proposed indices for measuring climate policies’ effects on industrial companies, investment funds, and governments.
Even after his cancer diagnosis, Janetos remained upbeat, says Guido Salvucci, a CAS professor of earth and environment and interim department chair. “In fact, he didn’t step down from the chair position at first, and instead worked through it until chemotherapy treatments started to tire him too much. He was extremely dedicated, positive, and optimistic.”
Waters, who met with Janetos monthly, says he and his wife, Valerie Gamache, recently moved from Boston to North Hampton, N.H., near where he grew up, and his “first topic of discussion was always the traffic on Route 1 and the Tobin Bridge. Next, we moved to his family—his kids, what they were doing, where they were traveling as a family, sometimes a little bit about the cats and dogs—and then it was on to business.”
He was as attentive to the families of others. Knowing Hutyra’s six-year-old son had a passion for geology, Janetos and his wife assembled a display box of rocks for him—cleaning, treating, and organizing the samples. “I brought the rocks home and my son was over the moon,” Hutyra says. “Tony regularly just did the little things to make our community a better place.”
A Red Sox and Celtics fan, he coached youth basketball when his children were growing up, Barakatt says.
“Tony Janetos was an outstanding and accomplished scientist, scholar, teacher, and leader,” Jean Morrison, University provost, says. “He was a tireless and eloquent advocate who devoted his career to imagining and working collaboratively to create a better world for all of us. Perhaps most importantly, he was a fantastic person and friend to so many across our campus and beyond.
“Someone so generous with both his time and himself—he was just a lovely human being. His impact will be felt for many, many years to come, and our hearts go out to his family and loved ones.”
Janetos earned a bachelor’s degree magna cum laude from Harvard in 1976 and a master’s and a PhD in biology from Princeton.
He is survived by his wife, his children, Peter and Anna (CAS’18), four brothers, and many nieces and nephews. Funeral arrangements are pending.
Tony was a jewel of a human being. He knew how to bring people together.
I meant Tony when he came to K-State during the NASA FIFE experiment at Konza Prairie . He was always such a nice person that you could almost forget how how of a great scientist he was. He will be missed.
It is hard to imagine BU, the Pardee Center, and broader science community without Tony’s quiet and genuine leadership. So grateful and honored to have had him as a boss and mentor.
My heart goes to Valerie, Peter, Anna, and the rest of the family.
Thank you for all you have done for science, BU, and humanity. It was a privilege to collaborate with you. My heart goes out to Valerie, Peter, and Anna.
As the Centerfielder on Tony’s “Old Man Baseball” team, I had the opportunity to play beside him in the outfield, share some frustration and always a laugh or two each game especially during pre-game warmups when two left handers played catch. Tony’s presence in Left Field will be missed by the Pirates.
I will truly miss my teammate & friend.
Will always remember Tony not only for his contributions to science but mostly for his generosity and optimism. His laughters can easily fill not only the room but also people’s hearts. He will be sorely missed.
Such a loss for us all. Tony was a great scientist but he was also a very thoughtful, kind person and treated everyone with such respect. He will be very sorely missed. My deepest condolences to his family – I am heartbroken for you.
I’ve had the pleasure of playing on the same baseball team with Tony over the last couple of years. Tony was the embodiment of a team player. On the field, Tony had a quiet wit as well as a quiet intensity, but he was a giant of a man in terms of his compassion, unselfishness and humility! I will miss that quiet leadership & his friendship, as well as our “Red Sox” chats that we constantly had between our at-bats.
Though we joke about it, I, for one, refuse to call what we played, “old man baseball.” Pragmatically, it is actually the antithesis of ‘old man baseball’ and Tony was the epitome of that! In his “real” life, Tony was a respected, renowned expert who was buttoned-down, focused & always a professional. But on the ball field, Tony got to leave that all behind, to come play a kids game with us for a few hours!
Tony will always be the perfect teammate, friend & role model; I am grateful and humbled to have had the opportunity to get to know him over the last few years! God Bless and May You Rest in Peace, Tony!
I am sorry to hear of his passing. Professor Janetos was an impressive leader on climate change issues.
I am so sorry to hear of Tony’s death. I worked for ESSIC and his office was under mine in Maryland and once in a while I would notarize something for him. We would have great discussions about the birds that we shared from our office windows. May he rest in peace.
From 2006 to 2011, Tony coached the youth basketball team (the Celtics!) that his son Peter and a more than a dozen other sons, including ours, had the good fortune to play on. It was the kind of positive experience that all parents desire for their children … emphasizing comradery, good sportsmanship and fair play on the court. It was great fun for all. Our family, and many others on the team, carry fond memories and friendships from this special time together that Tony helped make possible.
‘Old man’ indeed! I wish he could have been much older. Tony was younger than me, but still a father figure. In these terrible times, may we be worthy of his kind bravery.
There are many facets to a man’s life. Tony excelled in his given field. Yet another field in which Tony excelled was left field. Our teammates may call it “old man baseball,” however it is not so much chronological as it is attitudinal. Our bodies may not respond as quickly or as smoothly as it once did, but the joy of being on the field and doing our best lifted our spirit and brought a sense of contentment and fulfillment. That feeling is SPECIAL.
The joy of being on the field with Tony has been a blessing. He will be missed, and he will always be an MVP to us.
I have known Tony for 30 years through various Washington, DC environmental science and policy organizations and activities. Most recently I had the pleasure of working with Tony on the National Science Foundation’s Advisory Committee on Environmental Research and Education, which Tony chaired. Tony was respected and appreciated by everyone who worked with him. His death is an enormous blow to all of us who know and loved him and to the planet and all of its inhabitants that he worked so hard and so effectively to protect. I hope that BU and others will create awards in his name. The rest of us will have to work even harder to try to make up for Tony’s absence.
Janetos s distinguished scientific career was supported by his loving family his wife Valerie Gamache, his son Peter and his daughter Anna. Tony balanced his work in science with an active family life that included being Valerie s long-distance running partner, Peter s basketball coach and Anna s softball coach. Tony came from a family of accomplished athletes, and he played baseball much of his adult life, the last few years in a seniors league in Boston. During his final weeks, he enjoyed watching his beloved Red Sox on TV and discussing books with Valerie at their home in coastal New Hampshire.