Climate Simulation

Climate scientists sometimes say that the problem with the world is that it’s only been run once.

With a climate model, you can run one simulation after another. If it’s a good climate model, it’ll give you a useful idea of what the world will look like if we try some different options. Our climate system will respond to things using less coal or planting more trees.

But how much? And how long might it take? And what else do you need to consider? That’s why you need a climate model, and you need to be able to do a lot of math very quickly. Some nice folks at MIT have developed such a model, called EN-ROADS.

This model can be run in a web browser, which means I can run an entire climate workshop from my house. Which I did.

Yup, that’s a climate model, and that’s my dining room.

We had fun! We got to talk as a group about how climate is full of feedback loops and unintended consequences. We saw that while there isn’t a silver bullet for mitigating climate change, there may be silver buckshot. We talked about some more conventional solutions and some that depend on technological breakthroughs. Our group included people who hadn’t thought much about climate change before, and it also included Stephen Apkon and Marcina Hale, who were producers on the film Fantastic Fungi (cool neighbors are a co-benefit of upstate life). So we were able to use the climate simulator as a point of departure for a larger conversation, while still being grounded in actual science.

Yes, you can go in yourself and decide the details of the changes you want to make. This participant already had a lot of expertise around natural gas, so we started there.

I’m excited to bring this workshop to more groups! There’s a game version, a longer version, a shorter version, etc. I’m hoping to bring it to some non-traditional venues as well as community groups and classroom settings. If you’d like me to come run a workshop for you, let me know.

The hanging-out-afterward part did take a while.
All photos (and the paining in the background there) by Richie Miller.

In Which Dr. Mermaid Returns to Informal Science Education.

Let’s talk about climate change. Not because we’re so clever and have all the answers, but because ignoring it hasn’t worked out all that well. It’s wonderful to have this conversation in the classroom, but it needs to be everywhere else, too. And it can’t only be for people who did well in science class.

Where else can you talk about climate change?

Clubs are a great choice, especially if it’s the House of Yes and you get to share a stage with your favorite drag queen, Madame Vivienne, and singer extraordinaire Liah Alonso.

Yes, she’s a narluga. (Video by Kurt Ritta, I think).

This performance was part of the annual-esque Mermaid Lagoon, which I co-produce with mermaids extraordinaire Kai Altair and Ali Luminescent. They are both world-famous performers; I am an oceanographer. We make it work.

Bathtubs at weird art events are also a great option. Nobody takes themselves too seriously when they’re listening to a mermaid in a bathtub accompanied by Bioluminescence on the ukulele.

Photo by Richie Miller

Festivals are a great place to talk about climate change, because the crowd is generally interested and open to learning new things. In 2014, I got to participate in TEDxBlackRockCity and give a talk on El Niño and how it relates to climate change.

My one-sentence biography: I gave a TED Talk on El Niño at Burning Man.

My very first Dr. Mermaid performance was at a much smaller festival back in 2012. I’ve taught workshops on natural history, climate change, and oceanography at various festivals throughout the US since then, and I hope to teach more.

Immersive Education

I enjoy doing immersive education, but recently I’ve discovered that I can teach others to do their own science teaching. This is so much more fun.

Filmed at House of Yes, August 2019

That’s Heather Mo’Witz and Amy Hope singing about how to stimulate coral. They’re not just fun and sexy and adorable; if you listen to the lyrics they wrote, they’re all scientifically sound. Of course, this was part of the Mermaid Lagoon at House of Yes, because who else would let us do this sort of thing?


The Immersive Education Team (2019)

These brilliant, creative, wonderful people took some ocean and climate related talking points and turned them into immersive education.

Nobody minds talking to a lobster about ocean conservation, or hearing what a bleached coral is going through. Everyone is interested in what the raver jellyfish has to say.

From the left: Amber Holland (as a lovely lobster), Heather Mo’Witz (as a healthy coral), me (Dr. Mermaid), Pris Stratton (as an imposing yet accessible jellyfish), and Amy Hope (as a bleached coral who hopes to recover soon). Photo by Victoria Golos.



Please note: I am currently on hiatus from everything in my life due to a medical condition.

If I owe you an email or other response, I do apologize.

I plan to recover fully, but until then I am very sensitive to light and have limited screentime.

Tippy Ki Yay!

There’s a thing about me on the Medium, written by the brilliant and lovely Tippy, aka Thalia Patrinos.

Dr. Mermaid saves the world – and shows everyone how sexy science is.

This is what I do, apparently:

When Dr. Tillinger is not teaching climate science in the ordinary places where one would expect to find it, such as the Marymount Manhattan College or the American Museum of Natural History, she can be found blowing minds at popular outdoor festivals like Burning Man and Gratitude Migration. Her alias at these unlikely places is “Dr. Mermaid,” and her ultimate goal is making science education more accessible to the public.

View at

The Facts & Feels of Climate Change

Now that I’ve updated those resources….

Event page:


The Facts and Feels of Climate Change with Dr. Mermaid
Sunday, April 23rd

You know that climate change is happening. You know that it is bad. You know that you have feelings on the subject. But you may not know how the climate system works, where current global warming fits in the larger story of the Earth, or how truly connected we are to the physics of the universe. In this class, we will cover basics of the climate system, snappy comebacks for science deniers, and a whole bunch of really cool shit about the Earth.

Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door.

***If you are a community organizer, artist, or protestor who cannot afford this, please email***

Dr. Debra Tillinger teaches the science of climate change to the general public, other educators, and students of all ages. She works at the American Museum of Natural history as an adjunct visiting scientist in the graduate education program and as an educator for the Our Earth’s Future series. Our Earth’s Future, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, has provided informal after-hours classes, one-day intensives, and several online courses. The program won the 2015 REVERE award for teaching “Beyond the Classroom.” Her work also includes teaching in-service educators the science of climate change and contributing to the development of a project-based climate curriculum for public schools.

Dr. Tillinger holds a Ph.D. in ocean and climate physics from Columbia University and teaches courses on physics, natural disasters, and oceanography at Marymount Manhattan College and CUNY. In addition to formal science education, Dr. Tillinger also presents scientific information through the arts in character as “Dr. Mermaid,” at venues including TEDxBlackRockCity, Gratitude Migration Festival, the annual Mermaid Lagoon Fundraiser, and Bushwick’s House of Light.

Her lovely assistant, Madame Vivien V, began her career as a drag queen over four years ago. Since, Madame has become a strong presence in the New York nightlife scene. She is the first and only drag queen in history to have spoken and performed at New York City Hall, has consecutively won Circus Performer of the Year at the past two Brooklyn Nightlife Awards for her work as a licensed fire artist, and was nominated for a Manhattan Glam Award. A graduate of the Commercial Theatre Institute, she produces events to excite, entertain, but also encourage community. She is member of the entertainment team at House of Yes and the founder of the erotic variety show Bordello. You can most easily find her on Instagram or in your husband’s bed.

Would you like to know how climate change works?

Here is a free online class that I developed at the American Museum of Natural History.

Here is the first resource that I generally recommend on the subject: What We Know

And here is the next class I’ll be teaching for the public at the American Museum of Natural History.

I teach the basic science of climate change to anyone who would like to understand how our climate system works, how it has changed in the past, how we know so much about it, and/or what will happen next. Sometimes I teach at museums, sometimes I teach college classes, sometimes I teach other teachers, and every so often I appear as Dr. Mermaid at festivals, fundraisers, and the annual Mermaid Lagoon.



The American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting is always a good time, and this year is no exception. If you’re here in San Francisco, please join me for my talk, “Improving the Perfect Storm: Overcoming Barriers to Climate Literacy” (Friday 1:40pm in Moscone South 104) and be sure to check out Dreams of the Last Butterflies at AGU Cinema!

And I promise that when my talk from TEDxBlackRockCity, The Math and Madness of El Niño, is available, I will post it here.

The sixth annual Mermaid Lagoon will be held early in 2016. More details to come…

And after hearing an excellent talk about science and storytelling, I’m inspired to finally post my talk from last year’s Mermaid Lagoon:Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 11.58.15 AM.png