Alex Hall studies the climate system from both regional and global perspectives as a professor in the UCLA Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. Before participating in a panel on learning to live with climate change, he talked awkward cocktail party questions, his butterfly stroke, and ugly hand-me-down furniture in the Zócalo green room.
What’s your favorite thing about Los Angeles?
The way it’s changing and developing. It seems like it’s becoming a much more sustainable city. The burgeoning public transit network here is exciting, and the development of new neighborhoods that are now walkable is a lot of fun. I like the direction that L.A. is heading.
How are you different from who you were 10 years ago?
I would say that my life is much better defined. When you’re in your late 20s and early 30s, you’re still really scrambling to define yourself. And I think when you reach where I am now—I’m 41—you kind of feel like your life is very defined, and you know exactly what you’ll be doing for quite a while.
What’s the craziest question you’ve ever been asked about climate change?
There’s a question that comes up a lot at drunken cocktail parties, which is, “Are we totally screwed?” I never know how to answer that. Partially because I’m usually drunk myself but also because that’s very open-ended.
Who was the last person to leave you a voicemail?
I have to consult my smartphone. … A collaborator of mine at the University of Miami, a great guy who’s a very accomplished cave diver, and he’s the National Geographic explorer of the year, Kenny Broad.
What’s your favorite swim stroke?
Butterfly, by far. You really have to get into a rhythm to swim butterfly, and it takes quite a bit of training to get to the point where the pieces fit together. When everything falls in place you feel incredibly empowered and kind of in control of the water. It’s a very exhilarating experience to swim butterfly.
What do you proselytize for?
I would say that when I work with students and when I work with younger people in general, I really am a believer in being on a good path in life and kind of learning how to define yourself. And I would say if I proselytize for anything it’s probably that: getting on a good path in life and figuring out how to realize yourself.
What’s your ideal temperature?
I would say probably somewhere around 80 degrees. I get cold easily.
How would you describe your singing ability, in one word or one sentence?
I can sing on pitch, but it doesn’t sound very good.
What’s your favorite biome?
I generally like coniferous forests for hiking because I like being out of the sun, and I like being surrounded by life. In those types of forest environments you feel the sense of life being all around you—the larger trees and the smaller plants are everywhere.
What’s the ugliest piece of furniture you own?
There are quite a few. There are some nightstands I have that were given to me a few years ago by some relatives that kind of seem like they’re vintage pieces, but in fact they probably should have been trashed pretty soon after they were manufactured. But some people probably would think they’re nice.