State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Ruth DeFries, Jeffrey Sachs Named University Professors

Ruth DeFries and Jeffrey Sachs have been named University Professors, the highest rank Columbia University bestows on its faculty, President Lee C. Bollinger announced today.

Jeffrey Sachs
Jeffrey Sachs

Sachs is director of the Earth Institute and Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development and professor of health policy and management. DeFries is Columbia’s Denning Family Professor of Sustainable Development and co-director of the undergraduate program in sustainable development at the Earth Institute.

“It is fitting that Professors DeFries and Sachs receive this honor in tandem, as they are two of the world’s foremost scholars investigating how to ensure a sustainable future for our planet,” Bollinger said. “As is always true, but especially so here, by recognizing their many contributions through this honor, we also strengthen their, and our, capacity to serve the entire Columbia community and the world.”

Ruth DeFries
Ruth DeFries

DeFries’ work has examined how humans have transformed the earth’s surface through the ages. Her lab, in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology, aims “to develop the scientific underpinnings for sustainable land use that balances societal needs for food and other necessities with conservation of biodiversity, climate change mitigation, and healthy environments.”

She helped create several innovative Earth Institute programs, and her public advocacy is responsible for advances around the world concerning climate change, food and water insecurity, and nature conservation. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2006 and the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2008. In 2007, she received a Fulbright Award for research in India and a MacArthur Fellowship.

Sachs is an economist who has dedicated his life to building a sustainable future and reducing global poverty. He came to Columbia in 2002 to serve as director of the Earth Institute. Under his leadership, the institute became a world leader in research, teaching and public outreach regarding earth sciences and sustainable development. He has been a longtime special advisor to the UN secretary general and oversaw the adoption and implementation of the United Nations’ Millennium Development goals, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals agreed to last year.

He is director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which convenes at Columbia and at the Columbia Global Center in Europe, under the auspices of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

You can read commentaries by Jeffrey Sachs and learn more about his work, at his website, here.

You can read an interview with Ruth DeFries about her recent book, “The Big Ratchet,” on State of the Planet. Her website is here.

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Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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