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.
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:
- The Climate Mobility Network developed a new team-taught course at the M.A. in Climate and Society program and is building a partnership with the Global Centre for Climate Mobility.
- The Habitable Planet Network submitted a proposal for the development of a planetary habitability program within the Climate School and produced a manuscript critiquing the application of Earth-based environmental practices to other planets.
- The Healthy and Sustainable Food Systems Network developed and supported two graduate level courses and one undergraduate summer course (the latter in partnership with Stone Barns Center for Agriculture and Barnard College); a funded proposal on sustainable protein systems, which yielded four peer-reviewed journal articles (OneEarth); and a synthesis report to be launched at Climate Week 2023.
- The Environmental Justice and Climate Just Cities Network received a Columbia University Catalyst grant to develop a proposal for an Environmental Justice Center and forged a partnership with WEACT for Environmental Justice to support an Environmental Protection Agency Technical Advisory grant.
Spring 2023 also marked the launch of three new networks.
The Sustainability, Energy, and Entertainment Network (“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 learning 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, 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 email@example.com