As a doctoral student in natural resource sciences and specializing in climate assessment and impact, Jerome Okojokwu-Idu always has climate on his mind. Day to day, he is constantly thinking about ways climate affects people’s lives in his home country of Nigeria.
As someone acclimated to a much warmer temperatures, Okojokwu-Idu is also thinking about how far he has come in getting used to these Nebraska winters while researching climate at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
“My family and I came in 2021, and I would say the first experience was horrible,” he said, laughing as he recalled his jarring experience. “The second winter wasn’t any better. I believe now this is the third, and I’m like, ‘Alright, I’m getting the hang of it.’ It’s the first one where I’m not in and out of the hospital.”
Gripes with winter weather aside, Okojokwu-Idu’s experience at Nebraska has more than made up for the steep adjustments needed to be comfortable with snow, ice and cold.
Though he’d never been to Nebraska before, a personal connection led him to the university. While working in climate activism in Nigeria, Okojokwu-Idu was initially encouraged by his wife — who was already doing research at Nebraska — to explore UNL as a place to develop his work.
“My wife Margaret said, ‘You should look into Nebraska, it’s a special place.’ I was already thinking about a Ph.D. and was able to find something really great here related to my work,” he said.
Okojokwu-Idu’s research examines ways to advocate for the rights of Indigenous people in fossil fuel-rich areas of Nigeria as the global economy phases into clean energy, as well as the ways these areas are threatened by climate change.
“The percentage of Africa’s contribution to greenhouse gases is very small compared to the entirety of the world,” he said. “So, when we talk about transitioning to renewables, we must also factor these people in, whether it’s giving them a longer period for them to transition or building infrastructure that will help them move from where they are right now to renewables.”
Using data from the National Weather Service, Okojokwu-Idu also looks at ways to cut down on damage and suffering from climate-related disasters.
He quickly found that his work can benefit Nebraskans as well as Nigerians.
“This work benefits Nebraskans as well,” he explained. “You’ll find that it costs the U.S. economy billions annually to address issues related to climate change, and my work is to find where Indigenous people fit in all this. Where does traditional ecological knowledge intersect with Western science when it comes to improving climate resilience and adapting to a changing world? It’s where my heart beats.”
And while the winters still feel cold, Okojokwu-Idu finds the people in his Husker community to be quite the opposite.
“Everyone I’ve been working with is exactly how my wife described — warm and welcoming,” he said.