State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

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Columbia’s Earth Networks Offer Collaborative and Innovative Opportunities to Address Climate Change

What do plastic pollution, storytelling, and mental health have in common?

These are all pathways Columbia scholars and students are taking to tackle the climate crisis, from different areas of expertise, through the Earth Networks program.

Climate change and related environmental challenges are a messy, “wicked” problem that touches on many aspects of the way we live today: energy, consumption, biodiversity, water, inequality, technology and much more. These intersecting challenges demand diverse and multifaceted approaches, with scholars and practitioners from across Columbia University along with external partners working together on different pieces of the puzzle.

A classroom activity with masked and unmasked participants sitting and standing, looking at a board and presenter
Earth Network members build their teamwork muscles in a “Radical Collaboration” workshop led by Kirya Traber and the Office of Interdisciplinary Engagement.

The Climate School’s Earth Networks program is helping to build this type of cross-cutting partnership by encouraging interdisciplinary teams to apply for three years of funding around a topic of their choosing. Networks promote novel approaches to research, education and impact in alignment with the Climate School’s mission to “further knowledge and educate leaders to equitably and justly address the changing climate and other sustainability challenges.”

In spring 2023, the first cohort of Earth Networks completed the three-year program, and launched a range of initiatives:

Spring 2023 also marked the launch of three new networks.

The Sustainability, Energy, and Entertainment Network Smiling man in suit jacket and tie(“SEEN”) network, led by M.S. in Sustainability Management alum Shaun Hoyte, aims to create a coalition across entertainment industries to promote knowledge sharing on best practices for reducing their environmental footprint. The Network will focus initial efforts on the sports industry, and includes members from Columbia Sports Management, Columbia Alumni Affairs and several external groups.

The Climate Education for a Resilient Future Network will explore climate education in the K-12 sector, with leadership from Dannie Dinh, Radhika Iyengar, and Laurel Zaima-Sheehy. In the United States, students spend an average of just two hours per year learningThree women's headshots about the climate crisis; network members estimate that figures in many other countries are not much better. Given this need for stronger climate education for younger learners, this network aims to identify, map, and establish a database of ongoing and active programs, collaborators, and best practices, as well as develop products, resources, and tools to support climate learners and educators around the world.

The third new network, Foundations for the Social Climate,Black and white headshot of smiling man seeks to accelerate understanding of climate mental health as a community phenomenon, create greater social resilience in impacted communities, and bring mental health and social resilience into broader resilience planning. Led by Gary Belkin, this network will connect with the BillionMinds project and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Race to Resilience, bringing Columbia researchers and scholars from public health, psychology, risk management, and resilience into collaborations around mental health, social resilience, and climate change.

All of these networks have one thing in common: They unite diverse, interdisciplinary teams from across the Columbia community to work together on a shared topic. The program as a whole provides an entry point to the Climate School for collaborators from across the University; each team is provided support from the Climate School Office of Interdisciplinary Engagement, including tailored workshops to develop key skills and to advance projects.

For example, in 2023 the Healthy and Sustainable Food Systems Network participated in an Office of Interdisciplinary Engagement workshop series led by expert facilitator Kirya Traber. The group identified their core values and goals. They spent time discussing power dynamics and identifying action areas in a workshop on “Centering Justice.” They had several “Radical Collaboration” working sessions to move their project forward, and honed their ability to share their work with non-expert audiences in a “Storytelling” workshop.

Networks are always actively recruiting and growing their contact lists. Interested parties should contact the respective network director, or earthnetworks@climate.columbia.edu

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

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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