About Melanie Lenart

Melanie Lenart, Ph.D.

Melanie Lenart focuses on working with the planet and its people in a variety of contexts. As a teacher, she guides students in environmental writing, science, and natural resources—including shaping the landscape to harvest rainfall to support trees and grow food.


As a writer, she topped off decades of writing for newspapers, magazines and other general publications with a book, Life in the Hothouse: How a Living Planet Survives Climate Change. The book examines how the planet has adapted to climate swings—from cold, dry ice ages to humid, ice-free hothouses—over the past 100 million years. Lessons for modern-day humans include that a warmer Earth needs more wetlands and forests.

As a scientist, her research has ranged from measuring the dynamics of natural systems to assessing perceptions of climate change. Her work since 2012, including with Linking Edible Arizona Forests, combines her background in forestry and natural resources with a growing interest in permaculture and other aspects of agroecology: the ecology of sustainable agriculture.


A native of Chicago and previous resident of Puerto Rico, she has lived in Arizona since 1996, working with the University of Arizona in Tucson for many years. In 2015, she joined the faculty Tohono O’odham Community College in southwestern Arizona with a focus on agroecology and water resources.


Melanie Lenart holds Ph.D. in Natural Resources and Global Change from the University of Arizona in Tucson, a master’s degree in forestry from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and a bachelor’s degree in journalism (1984) from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.


Her scientific research has involved studying carbon cycling, the effect of high carbon dioxide levels on plants, tree-ring dating and tree uprooting dynamics. She has explored both physical and social questions working in subtropical, temperate and tropical forests.


From 1982 through 1996, she worked primarily as a newspaper reporter and editor, including at Puerto Rico’s English-language daily newspaper The San Juan Star and several papers in the Chicago area. Since then, she has continued to report on climate and its impacts for a variety of venues, including Landscape Architecture and Nature Reports Climate Change.

In 2007, the UA Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) project published her book compilation, Global Warming in the Southwest. In 2010, the University of Arizona Press released her book Life in the Hothouse: How a Living Planet Survives Climate Change.


After spending many years focused on the problems of climate change, and conveying them to the public via presentations and publications, she shifted her focus more to climate change solutions.


In 2012, she earned a certificate in Permaculture Design from the Sonoran Permaculture Guild. That same year she began working with the Linking Edible Arizona Forests (LEAF) Network, including leading a University of Arizona branch involved in harvesting campus fruit trees. In 2013, she began co-teaching a university Water Harvesting course that featured hands-on projects.


Lenart currently works as an instructor with Tohono O’odham Community College, located in southwestern Arizona. She teaches courses in Water Resources, Plant Ecology and Agroecology, and works with TOCC Cooperative Extension to assist traditional agriculture efforts in the Tohono O’odham Nation.