Climate Change Initiative

House and trees in flooded water courtesy of Getty Images

Harvard Radcliffe Institute’s Climate Change Initiative is an effort to explore the impacts of the climate crisis through an interdisciplinary lens and to address issues of climate justice—particularly the disproportionate effects on marginalized communities locally and globally.  

At the heart of this work is the Institute’s commitment to supporting and sharing research that promotes innovative solutions and greater equity. This initiative is driven by the mounting urgency of the global climate crisis and our belief that Radcliffe’s unique approach—interdisciplinary by design and animated by a legacy of promoting inclusion—will generate valuable new insights.

The Institute brings together scholars, students, and practitioners to engage with issues that can only be fully understood by drawing on research from across all disciplines. Climate change is precisely such an issue, one already affecting the lives and livelihoods of people around the world. Radcliffe’s interdisciplinary approach has repeatedly proven to advance research in unexpected and fruitful ways by placing scientific inquiry in dialogue with insights into human behavior and other fields of study. The Institute will support research on issues as varied as reducing human-caused climate change, developing public education on the causes and consequences of the climate crisis, and mitigating the effects of climate change, particularly on the most vulnerable.

The legacy of Radcliffe College—an institution created to allow women access to a Harvard education—animates our ongoing commitment to opportunity and inclusion. This is the foundation upon which we continue to engage with issues affecting historically marginalized communities, which stand to be hardest hit by climate change. Women in particular bear a disproportionate burden, as the United Nations has documented. 

Human-induced climate change … has caused widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people. Across sectors and regions, the most vulnerable people and systems are … disproportionately affected.
—Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report

On a global scale, the most severe climate risks threaten nations in the Global South, which often lack the resources to mitigate climate impacts. While climate change affects the Global South most acutely, its causes lie primarily in the Global North: the World Resources Institute found that from 1850 to 2011, the United States produced 27 percent of the total climate change–causing carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. No other single country came close.  

Over the next five years, Harvard Radcliffe Institute will support our interdisciplinary community of faculty, fellows, staff, and students in their pursuit of climate solutions that address critical questions of human impact and equity. Radcliffe’s work will also include a range of efforts implemented in partnership with Harvard’s Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability.   

The climate crisis and its devastating effects demand urgent action and bold solutions. Indeed, by supporting rigorous interdisciplinary research, I believe that we can generate powerful new tools for reducing threats to our planet and the inequitable impact of the climate crisis locally and globally.
—Tomiko Brown-Nagin, dean, Harvard Radcliffe Institute

Among other activities, Harvard Radcliffe Institute will convene leading scholars, policymakers, artists, activists, and others to: 

  • foster the interdisciplinary exchange necessary to drive research and discern innovative solutions to the climate crisis; 
  • explore such issues as food sustainability and insecurity; human impacts of extreme weather events; uneven health and economic consequences; access to water, energy, and other vital resources; the role of business and industry; and the intersection of climate and gender; 
  • center the experience and elevate the insights of those most affected by the climate crisis; 
  • raise awareness of and support for climate justice work being driven by youth leaders at Harvard and beyond; and 
  • use our public programming and communications channels to bring climate science from academia and the private sector to a broader public audience.
Harvard Radcliffe Institute is perfectly positioned to tackle interdisciplinary issues such as climate change, and I admire the Institute’s vision to make climate change a theme for years to come. I feel that I am in the right place at the right time.
—Hong Yang, 2022–2023 William and Flora Hewlett Foundation Fellow, Harvard Radcliffe Institute

Public Programming on Climate 

Harvard Radcliffe Institute reaches national and international audiences through its public programming. Radcliffe supports vital conversations—from small group gatherings to major public conferences—that create productive dialogue around difficult and complex issues, advancing discourse on topics related to climate change and climate justice. 

2022–2023 programs related to climate include:

Courtney Murdock | Predicting Mosquito-Borne Disease Transmission in a Rapidly Changing World (June 21, 2023)

Garrett Dash Nelson | More or Less in Common: Environment and Justice in the Human Landscape (June 8, 2023)

Next in Food Sustainability and Climate Change (May 8, 2023)

Joe Roman | Eat, Poop, Die: How Animals Make Our World (April 26, 2023)

Play video of fellow's presentation by Joe Roman

View video of the 2023 Kim and Judy Davis Dean’s Lecture in the Arts by John Luther Adams

Play event video for Hurricanes and Breezes: Visualizing Climate Change

Play video of A Pale Blue Dot under Pressure symposium: Climate Change and Impacts

Research Support for Climate-Related Work 

Harvard Radcliffe Institute invests in the work of leading scholars, public intellectuals, and practitioners focused on climate change and climate justice through its Fellowship Program. Radcliffe also sponsors private multidisciplinary seminars led by Harvard- and Radcliffe-affiliated scholars to launch and support important research agendas. Each seminar convenes 10–15 scholars and practitioners from around the world to advance their work in a collaborative setting. 

Awarded fellowships include:

  • Chris Bowler, CNRS Director of Research and director of the plant and algae genomics laboratory at the Institut de Biologie de l’Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. At the Radcliffe Institute, Bowler explored ancient DNA from diatoms in sediments accumulated over the millennia on the sea floor. From such studies, he hoped to learn how diatoms were affected by past environments, thus helping to understand how they will be affected by climate change in the future. 
  • Olatunde Samuel Dahunsi, research professor at Bowen University, in Iwo, Nigeria. His broad research focus is in waste management, renewable energy generation, and sustainable agriculture. He has a special interest in biofuel generation from different biomasses and wastes as well as biofertilizer production and utilization for agricultural sustainability in Africa and beyond. During his Radcliffe fellowship year, Dahunsi will address the waste-management scenario in developing countries. 
  • Ann-Christine Duhaime, Nicholas T. Zervas Professor of Neurosurgery at Harvard Medical School. Duhaime’s focus on modification of brain function and brain plasticity as director of pediatric neurosurgery at Massachusetts General Hospital has nurtured a parallel interest in how advances in behavioral neuroscience might intersect with the “big picture” issues of resource utilization and climate change. 
  • Gidon Eshel, research professor of Environmental and Urban Studies at Bard College. At Radcliffe, Eshel collaborated with scientists from the Harvard University Center for the Environment and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health on developing multi-objective metrics of diet to improve public health while easing environmental burdens. 
  • Stefan Helmreich, Elting E. Morison Professor of Anthropology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At Radcliffe, Helmreich worked on an ethnographic account of how scientists measure, model, and monitor ocean waves in an era of climate change. 
  • Stephanie LeMenager, Barbara and Carlisle Moore Distinguished Professor in English and American Literature and professor of environmental studies at the University of Oregon. LeMenager’s work at the Radcliffe Institute pursued the question of how the humanities can help to shape modes of being human that are more ecologically connected and prepared for living with climate change. 
  • Amala Mahadevan, senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. During her fellowship year, Mahadevan devoted time to understanding how the physical complexity of upper ocean dynamics affects oceanic ecosystems. 
  • James P. O’Dwyer, associate professor in the Department of Plant Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. O’Dwyer explored the commonalities between biological and social complex systems, with a focus on cooperation and the exchange of resources. 
  • Thea Riofrancos, associate professor of political science at Providence College and a member of the Climate + Community Project. At Radcliffe, Riofrancos explored the politics of the transition to renewable energy through the lens of one of its key technologies: lithium batteries.  
  • Joe Roman, conservation biologist, naturalist, and writer at the University of Vermont (UVM). His research focuses on endangered species conservation, marine mammal ecology, and ecosystem services. At Harvard Radcliffe Institute, Roman will complete a popular book—“Eat, Poop, Die”—that explores how animals shape our world through predation, defecation, and death. As our understanding of animal ecology has changed, the way we value marine and terrestrial ecosystems is also in transition, with a shift from industrial extraction, such as fisheries, to the services that ecosystems provide, such as climate regulation.  
  • Hong Yang, Charles J. Smiley Chair Professor of Science and Technology and inaugural vice president for international affairs at Bryant University. Yang’s intellectual interests lie in global climate change, plant evolution, and international education, and his interdisciplinary research is focused on investigations of modern and ancient organisms and their adaptations to environments and climate.

Select research seminars in recent years include:

In addition, the Harvard Radcliffe Institute awards grants to undergraduate and graduate students at Harvard who are pursuing research, service, and creative projects in fields related to climate justice and climate science.

Archival Resources Related to Climate

Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America is accessible to researchers inside and beyond Harvard University. The Schlesinger Library is a resource for discussion about not only the threats to archives that climate change presents but also its threats to the cultural heritage of vulnerable communities.

Among the Library’s holdings, there are also collections that reflect the lived experiences and environmental activism of American women, including: 

  • the records of the Silent Spring Institute, the leading scientific research organization dedicated to uncovering the links between chemicals in our everyday environment and women’s health;  
  • the papers of Harriet Louise Hardy, a physician who worked on toxicology and environmental-related illnesses and the first woman to hold a full professorship at Harvard Medical School; and 
  • the papers and videos of Ariel Dougherty, a feminist filmmaker whose work turned to environmental activism in the 1980s.