An Update from the Standing Committee on Climate Education

An update from the chair of the Standing Committee on Climate Education at Harvard University.
Nov 20, 2023

Dear Members of the Harvard Community, 

In January 2023, Harvard University Vice Provost for Climate and Sustainability, Jim Stock, established a new University-wide Standing Committee on Climate Education (CCE) consisting of 21 faculty members and senior teaching administrators from across all of Harvard’s schools.  The Committee’s mission is to advance the work of the Spring 2022 ad hoc Committee on Climate Education to envision the future of climate education across Harvard’s schools, as well as to prioritize initial steps that can be taken to improve climate education at Harvard in the short run. 

As the chair of the Standing Committee on Climate Education, I am pleased to report that we have made significant progress in service towards engendering deeper collaboration across the university to advance our mission.  

Envisioning the Future of Climate Education Across Harvard’s Schools

The Standing Committee on Climate Education convened throughout the Spring 2023 semester with two main purposes: to bring awareness to and share information about the current or planned climate and sustainability education offerings across Harvard’s schools and to have a set of subcommittees work on specific, time bound tasks that can report up to Vice Provost Jim Stock and other senior leaders.   Specifically, Committee members worked throughout the semester to engage stakeholders within their school and/or department to capture their local climate education landscape which included credit-bearing classes, special workshops and events, curricular innovations, and other student facing opportunities.  I have included highlights from their work throughout this update.  

Further CCE members worked collaboratively on discrete tasks to advance climate education within three subcommittees: “Programs,” “Partnerships,” and “Placement”.   

  • The Programs Subcommittee, co-chaired by Rakesh Khurana, Danoff Dean of Harvard College and Professor of Sociology and Organizational Behavior and Suzanne Cooper, Academic Dean for Teaching and Curriculum at Harvard Kennedy School and Senior Lecturer in Public Policy focused on exploring and helping to push forward innovative, cross-School academic programs and curricula such as new degree offerings and certificates in the climate and sustainability space. 
  • The Partnerships Subcommittee, co-chaired by Catherine Claypoole, Dean for Academic and Faculty Affairs at Harvard Law School, Erin Driver-Linn, Dean of Education at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and faculty member in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Rebecca Nesson, Dean for Academic Programs at Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences explored identifying both opportunities- internally and externally-to partner with organizations, communities, and people as part of Harvard’s climate and sustainability focused educational offerings as well as the principals and processes to guide and responsibly support these partnerships.  
  • The Placement Subcommittee, co-chaired by Ian Miller, Faculty Dean of Cabot House and Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Department of History, and Lynn Schenk, Director of Business and Environment Initiative at Harvard Business School explored pathways to enhance awareness of and provide greater opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to find climate and sustainability focused internships, jobs, and research opportunities.  
Advancing Climate and Sustainability Curricular Innovation

What are academic programs that Harvard can explore building? What curricular innovations can Harvard strategically invest in?

Co-chairs: Rakesh Khurana, Suzanne Cooper, Dustin Tingley

Members: Missy Holbrook, Richard Lazarus, Lynn Schenk, Rob Stavins, Karen Thornber, Mike Toffel, Lindi von Mutius

Imagine we were Harvard: offering vital programs that could significantly contribute to building a more sustainable and resilient world using Harvard’s unique resources and breadth. To this end, the Program’s Subcommittee convened over the course of the Spring 2023 term to explore opportunities for both near, medium-, and long-term to develop a life cycle of climate education programs from introductory to more advanced offerings and to build curriculum in areas where there are large and important gaps such as developing a new masters program and certificate program in climate and sustainability and revamping undergraduate offerings.   Members of the Subcommittee worked collaboratively to articulate key guiding principles to inform the overall development of programmatic innovation including a focus on an inter-multidisciplinary and experiential learning approach to climate and sustainability education and research as well as the importance of convening scholars, students, policymakers, scientists, artists, and stakeholders from diverse scholarly backgrounds to collaborate while modeling the future in our culture and operations.   Further, in partnership with the Salata Institute, the committee directly began the process of analyzing both the intellectual and market justifications for new degree programs and certificate programs in climate and sustainability.

Additionally, Committee members from across Harvard’s schools captured throughout the semester in their own reports, curricular innovations within their local climate education landscapes.  

  • Gaurab Basu, Director of Education and Policy at the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health and instructor at Harvard Medical School highlighted that in January 2023 Harvard Medical School approved the Climate Change and Health curricular theme, which is a four year interwoven curriculum, embedded into all components of the MD curriculum.   “Our goal is that no matter what you care about within medicine, the curriculum teaches you that understanding how climate change impacts health makes you a better clinician. That you can develop a practice of understanding how climate change creates and compounds disease that impacts your patients,” said Basu.
  • At Harvard Kennedy School, Professor Mark Fagan, Lecturer in Public Policy, teaches future policy practitioners to take a systems thinking approach to understanding supply chains and service delivery, while accounting for the related environmental and social impacts of these processes in his course, “Systems Thinking and Supply Chain Management: Climate, Poverty, and Human Rights.”  “Having the students understand climate change challenges in a systems context will enable them to be more thoughtful and effective policymakers,” Fagan said. A better understanding of the sustainability, human rights, and poverty alleviation potential of supply chain design and operation “can help us all to live in a more sustainable and equitable world.” 
  • Professor Daniel Agbiboa, Assistant Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University explores in his interdisciplinary course, “Mobility, Power, and Politics” the intersection of climate change and conflict, displacement, and mobility.  Drawing upon case studies from Africa and Asia to North America and Europe, students examine these challenges through a mobility lens to explore the reality that climate change is not restricted to any one area, it is mobile at its core and thus requires an adoption of a more broad, interconnected perspective. Further the innovative course structure invites learners to put their own personal experiences in conversation with policy issues and current affairs and to share their personal views with respect.
  • Lindi von Mutius, CCE Committee member and former Director of Sustainability and Global Development Practice Graduate Programs at the Harvard Extension School launched four new micro certificates in sustainability to address a different facet of sustainability, leveraging essential concepts, tools, and skills needed to apply to real-life problems. Students can deepen their expertise in sustainable finance, regenerative agriculture, life cycle assessment and circular economics upon the successful completion of 2-courses. 

In an effort to continue the work of the CCE to highlight and share information about innovative climate and sustainability curricular offerings across Harvard’s schools, the Salata Institute is featuring articles on courses and examples of curricular innovation in the Student Hub and Faculty Hub throughout the semester and has launched a new University-wide climate and sustainability course catalog

Building Climate Education Partnerships

What are the opportunities–both internally and externally–to partner with organizations, communities, people as part of our climate and sustainability educational offerings? What principles should guide this process?  How can we responsibly support access to these partnerships?

Co-chairs: Catherine Claypoole, Erin Driver-Linn, Rebecca Nesson, Dustin Tingley

Members: Janet Gyatso, Laura Schifter, Hannah Teicher, Gaurab Basu 

Climate problems are inherently interconnected, crossing sectors, countries, societal roles, organizations, and institutional roles. For Harvard to educate our students effectively about climate problems, solutions, and actions, we need to collaborate across silos and think differently about the assumed boundaries of our institution and the rest of the world.  Throughout the Spring 2023 term, members of the Partnerships Subcommittee considered the critical role climate education partnerships play in educating Harvard students to be effective leaders in finding equitable solutions to climate change. Good, effective climate education partnerships will deepen student learning, result in mutual benefit, and ideally positively impact the climate. The Committee identified a wide range of the different kinds of climate education partnerships that exist along a spectrum of commitment, which represents time, effort, engagement, and complexity from addressing tangible, practical projects to working across regional or national boundaries.  The Committee drafted a working document that outlines both the principles and processes that can serve as a guide for Harvard’s climate education partnerships as well as articulated recommendations for the Salata Institute to support a range of engagements –both internally and externally– with departments, schools, alumni, organizations and communities.  As a result, in the near term, the Salata Institute is collaborating with the  Mindich Program in Engaged Scholarship  (MPES) to create resources for Harvard faculty to support innovations in teaching and learning through civically engaged climate and sustainability focused experiential learning in or with community beyond the Harvard context.  Over the course of the Fall 2023 and Spring 2024 term, the Salata Institute in partnership with MPES will work together to create both digital resources as well as pilot a series of workshops that aim to support faculty specifically interested in integrating academics and climate and sustainability centered community engagement.

Committee members highlighted in their reports a range of existing climate and sustainability engagements-both internally and externally-with people, organizations and communities.   

  • 14 Harvard Schools, centers, and institutes across the University’s Cambridge and Boston campuses collaborated in partnership to convene climate experts, leaders from business and government, advocates, organizers, academics, and students for the first-ever Harvard Climate Action week.  Over the course of the week in more than a dozen events, each gathering brought together the Harvard community with leaders in business, government, and civil society for discussions on the ongoing work of combating climate change and what more needs to be done.  
  • Harvard Divinity School hosted a student-led Climate Justice Week April 10 – 14 2023. This week provided an opportunity for HDS students and members of the Harvard community to build connections, activate their passion around environmental justice, and understand the role that religion, spirituality, and the Divinity School play in the conversation around climate.
  • Stephen Ansolabehere, Professor of Government, and Dustin Tingley, Professor of Government and Deputy Vice Provost for Advances in Learning, launched in the Spring 2022 term,  GOV1722 “Politics of the Environment and Climate Change” which contends with climate change as a fundamentally political problem, and challenges students to tackle real-world issues facing surrounding communities.  In the Spring 2023 term,  the Salata Institute facilitated a connection with EPA District 1 for the course, enabling students to work with environmentally vulnerable communities and assisting local policymakers with EPA grant applications.  
Connecting Learners to Career Opportunities 

How can we enhance awareness of and create more opportunities, etc. for our students finding internships, jobs, and careers in climate and sustainability? 

Co-chairs: Ian Miller, Lynn Schenk, Dustin Tingley

Members: Courtney Fairbrother, Logan McCarty

The Placement Subcommittee in coordination with the Salata Institute, Harvard University Center for the Environment (HUCE)  and Harvard FAS Mignone Center for Career Success worked throughout the Spring 2023 term with the goal of proactively establishing clear, accessible, robust and scalable opportunities for students to connect their climate and sustainability interests to opportunities in the world through internships and job placements.  Their combined efforts have resulted in several key initiatives:

  • Harvard FAS Mignone Center for Career Success in partnership with the Salata Institute and career service organizations across campus is hosting the first-ever, university-wide Salata Institute Climate and Sustainability Expo on December 1, 2023 at the Gutman Conference Center. This event is a new collaborative effort across all of Harvard’s Schools career services to connect organizations focused on climate, sustainability, and the environment with Harvard undergraduates, graduate students, and alumni.
  • Harvard FAS Mignone Center for Career Success launched a new centralized webpage for climate and sustainability internships and job opportunities
  • The Salata Institute in partnership with the Harvard Kennedy School is sponsoring the Harvard Climate Internship Program, a university-wide program supporting graduate students who work in climate policy-oriented summer internships. This summer, HCIP welcomed 41 graduate students as its 2023 cohort of summer intern fellows.
  • The Salata Institute is launching in the Fall 2023-Spring 2024 term the Careers in Climate Action Speaker Series featuring Harvard alumni and leading climate and sustainability practitioners from a broad range of industries and sectors.
  • Plans to integrate HUCE’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF) Cambridge- based recipients into Harvard College’s successful Summer Undergraduate Research Village (HSURV) which would create a critical mass of undergraduate researchers working on climate across multiple disciplines
Highlighting Additional Climate and Sustainability Initiatives 

CCE members also collected a range of interesting climate and sustainability activities, some of which are mentioned above.  Listed below are several additional activities that CCE members highlighted  throughout the Spring 2023 semester.   

  • The Department of History at Harvard College, under the leadership of Professor Sidney Chalhoub, is engaged in a comprehensive review of teaching aimed at the environment and climate. This work is meant to create a curriculum for AY 24-25 designed to include, ideally, climate elements in offerings from every faculty member in the department, with emphasis on undergraduate teaching. At a minimum, the effort will reach every faculty member or teacher (lecturer, graduate student, et al.) in the Department of History, with consultation from experts on how to fold climate into existing courses and extra support for faculty building new course offerings. Sidney has created a committee for this work and recruited prize-winning graduate assistants to support faculty in these efforts. It would be worth reaching out to Sidney (cc to me if you like) about this work.  Additionally Professors Emma Rothschild and Victor Seow with the support of the Salata Institute created a new course on “Writing Histories of Climate Change” that can be used as a model for other efforts in regard to staffing, orientation, and approach.
  • Harvard Graduate School of Education has taken several steps to integrate climate related issues at the school. Using this year as a learning year, the school has held public convenings to further understand issues of climate change and education.
    • On October 27, 2022 HGSE held an Askwith Forum on Education and Climate Action which featured three panels. The first panel included HGSE faculty members. The second included school leaders from Dallas (School Board Member Ben Mackey is an alum), Denver, and Prince George’s County. The third panel included Vice Provost for Climate Jim Stock, and economist Spencer Glendon in conversation with Dean Bridget Terry Long.
    • On March 8, 2023 HGSE’s Education Now series hosted a conversation with Zuzu Qadeer, high school senior and Anya Kamenetz, author and journalist, moderated by Laura Schifter about “How to Talk about Climate Change with Kids.”
    • On May 10, 2023 HGSE hosted  Building Our Resilient Future: Education Driving Hope, Innovation, and Action. This public convening in conjunction with the University Climate Action Week included a local panel featuring leaders from Boston, a national panel with John King, Chancellor of SUNY and former US Secretary of Education, Superintendents from LAUSD and Batesville Arkansas.
  • Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health has several affiliated research centers with ongoing climate education activities, curricular  innovations, and internship opportunities some of which are highlighted below.
    • Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (C-CHANGE)’s mission is to deliver solutions-based research and use education and outreach to shape climate actions that improve the health of our most vulnerable populations like children, seniors, and environmental justice communities.  The Center hosts courses, workshops, speakers and symposiums, funds research, fellowships and interns, and runs a year long student ambassador program.  The Center also  publishes the Climate Optimist Newsletter and provides a list of climate related activities across the university at Airtable Gallery.
    • Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health is an active participant of the Planetary Health Alliance with more than 360 universities, non-governmental organizations, research institutes, and government entities from around the world committed to understanding and addressing global environmental change and its health impacts.
    • Harvard Cyprus Internship Program, supported by and in collaboration with the Harvard Cyprus Endowment Fund on Environmental and Public Health, is an opportunity for first year HSPH Environmental Health Master of Science students to gain experience at the forefront of Public Health challenges from across the Globe. 
    • A small number of MPH students (3-5 per year, between June 2019 and August 2022) worked on an independently developed climate-related practicum to meet a degree requirement. Student work was conducted both domestically or internationally, with themes ranging from climate resilience, decarbonization, and heat wave impacts on vulnerable populations; to zoonotic diseases, transportation, and water infrastructure.
  • The Mittal Institute at Harvard University opened its inaugural climate change workshop co-sponsored by the Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability in New Delhi with opening remarks from Mr. Tarun Kapoor, Advisor to the Prime Minister’s office; plenary address by Dr. V.K. Saraswat from NITI Aayog; special remarks by Dan Schrag from Harvard University; and a keynote by Reema Nanavaty from Self Employed Women’s Association. In a panel discussion moderated by Prof Tarun Khanna, leading green tech innovators from across India shared how their work is addressing the climate challenge. The panel had discussants from the International Finance Corporation, Sequoia Capital, and HeroMotocorp Ltd. The conference was organized to coincide with the launch of the Mittal Institute’s Climate Change Platform in South Asia. 
  • Memorial Church in partnership with Harvard Divinity School hosted a series of lectures through the William Belden Noble Lectures that plunge into the moral and ethical questions surrounding the global climate crisis and the role of religious institutions, organizations and members of the general public, outside the scientific community focused on saving the planet.
Continuing to Advance Our Mission 

During this academic year, the Committee will continue to convene to envision the future of climate education at Harvard by working on a set of time bound discrete tasks within subcommittees. It is an honor to continue to work alongside my colleagues from across Harvard’s Schools who not only bring a deep subject matter expertise but also a heartfelt commitment to use Harvard’s unique resources to significantly contribute to building a more sustainable and resilient world.  

I am grateful to the members of the Standing Committee on Climate Education and the Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability and am hopeful that we will together continue to make significant strides to advance climate education at Harvard and beyond in the coming semesters. 

Thank you, 

Dustin Tingley, Professor of Government, Deputy Vice Provost for Advances in Learning, and Chair, Harvard Standing Committee on Climate Education