“The Emerald Tutu” wins NSF grant for design to protect Boston’s coastline

The Emerald Tutu began as a simple idea for a new kind of coastal protection system to address flood risk in Boston — and as a commentary on the urban history of the city. “The spirit of the Emerald Tutu is to re-imagine what public infrastructure can do for citizens,” says Gabriel Cira ’08, CEO of The Emerald Tutu, Inc. “To address the true danger of climate change in Boston, we wanted to focus on making infrastructure green, inhabitable, and accessible, rather than reinforcing the division and erasure that Boston’s major infrastructure initiatives of the 20th century brought.” The U.S. National Science Foundation agreed, as they recently announced the award of a $256,000 research grant to help The Emerald Tutu realize their vision.

Read the full story at MIT News.

Rapidly Responding in a Complex World

by John E. Fernández

August 13, 2020

Environmental justice and fossil fuel infrastructure; industrial agriculture and climate change; a post-COVID global hunger crisis; the real message of climate models; the asymmetrical social and economic burdens facing communities battling for toxic cleanups; the weakening of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act; the dangers to vulnerable horseshoe crab populations from pharmaceutical companies… these are just a sampling of the 44 diverse issues that a group of 20 students took on this summer as inaugural members of the ESI Rapid Response Group (RRG).

Members of the Summer 2020 ESI Rapid Response Group

Members of the Summer 2020 ESI Rapid Response Group

Formation of the group was motivated by two distinct needs: first, to provide well-timed, science-based assistance to people working to advance climate and environmental priorities. Second, to do for policy-making what we do so well at MIT for science and engineering, learning by doing. When learning about the underlying social and economic structures, legal and political processes, indistinct interests and shifting motivations driving policy discussions and decisions, there is no substitute for doing the work of engaging directly with individuals, communities, institutions, companies, and government.

For example, consider that 70 percent of workers in the industrial meat workforce are people of color, more susceptible to serious health consequences of COVID and without significant workers’ rights to organize, leading to “systemic human rights violations” according to Humans Rights Watch. This is in an industry that is under increasing pressure to address its greenhouse gas emissions. Connect these issues and pathways for significant beneficial reforms emerge. Or consider the increasing reliance on private financing to fill the funding gap needed to adequately address resilience in urban communities. As private money is mobilized, equity may suffer leading to the next generation of environmental injustice. Already today, the greater prevalence of green spaces in wealthier urban areas – beneficial to moderate the consequences of flooding and provide relief from climate-induced urban heat – is leading to resilience inequities.

Consider the increasing impact of air pollution from trucks arriving and leaving from warehouses serving our digital purchasing needs – Amazon “fulfillment centers” and others. As e-commerce has exploded during the pandemic, air pollution around these warehouses and other facilities has increased and disproportionately affected residents of lower income and less education – and increased worries of a correlation to bad COVID-related health outcomes. Another reason to accelerate the development and deployment of electric trucks and creative and equity-driven land use planning.

What students of the RRG learn quickly is that solutions are as varied, and often as complicated, as the situations themselves. The work of the RRG is non-partisan and built on the principle that a working democracy requires an informed citizenry that holds government to the idea that it derives its powers “from the consent of the governed.”[1] To do this effectively, we believe it’s important to engage directly; to understand the complexity and to accept that expressing one’s views in a climate march is one thing, but real solutions almost always require much, much more.

During this summer of COVID, the RRG collaborated with several congressional offices, Cambridge City Councilors, various community organizations, the MIT Washington Office, many MIT professors and researchers, a range of environmental groups, industry trade groups, individual companies, and many others. The RRG project portfolio is the result of a weekly pitch session in which all members bring one or more new projects to the table and then vote to activate. Group members have produced state of the art synopses, fact sheets, talking points, research agendas, Op-Eds, panel discussions, information pieces and more.

The RRG is now accepting applications for the 2020 Fall term. All MIT undergraduate and graduate students are eligible to work for pay and undergrads for UROP credit. Please send an email to esirrg@mit.edu if you or someone you know may be interested in joining us.

Summer RRG undergraduate members

MIT: Danielle Grey-Stewart, Diane Li, Jess Cohen, Melissa Stok, Naomi Lutz, Jessica Horowitz, Ben Delhees, Tessa Weiss, Lucy Milde, Ava Waitz, Jacob Fine

Reed College: Samantha Hordyk

Holy Cross: Emily O’Regan

Summer RRG graduate members

MIT: Alexander Gant, Priyanka deSouza, Zak DeGiulio, Nina Mascarenhas, Jack Hanly, Caroline White-Nockleby, James Minor

 


[1] The Declaration of Independence – you can find this phrase in the sentence right after “the pursuit of Happiness.”

MIT and Wyoming Explore Energy and Climate Solutions

Members of Wyoming’s government and public university met with MIT researchers to discuss climate-friendly economic growth.

The State of Wyoming supplies forty percent of the country’s coal, used to power electric grids across the country. The production of coal and other energy resources contributes over half of the state’s revenue, funding the government and many of the social services—including K-12 education—that residents rely on. With the consumption of coal in a long-term decline, decreased revenues from oil and natural gas, and growing concerns about carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the state is actively looking at how to adapt to a changing marketplace.

Recently, representatives from the Wyoming Governor’s Office, University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources, and Wyoming Energy Authority met with faculty and researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in a virtual, two-day discussion to discuss avenues for the state to strengthen its energy economy while lowering CO2 emissions.

“This moment in time presents us with an opportunity to seize: creating a strong economic future for the people of Wyoming while protecting something we all care about—the climate,” said Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon. “Wyoming has tremendous natural resources that create thousands of high-paying jobs. This conversation with MIT allows us to consider how we use our strengths and adapt to the changes that are happening nationally and globally.”

The two dozen participants from Wyoming and MIT discussed pathways for long-term economic growth in Wyoming, given the global need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The wide-ranging and detailed conversation covered topics such as the future of carbon capture technology, hydrogen, and renewable energy; using coal for materials and advanced manufacturing; climate policy; and how communities can adapt and thrive in a changing energy marketplace.

The discussion paired MIT’s global leadership in technology development, economic modeling and low-carbon energy research, with Wyoming’s unique competitive advantages: its geology that provides vast underground storage potential for CO2; its existing energy and pipeline infrastructure; and the tight bonds between business, government and academia.

“Wyoming’s small population and statewide support of energy technology development is an advantage,” says Holly Krutka, executive director of the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources. “Government, academia and industry work very closely together here to scale up technologies that will benefit the state and beyond. We know each other, so we can get things done and get them done quickly.”

“There’s strong potential for MIT to work with the state of Wyoming on technologies that could not only benefit the state, but also the country and rest of the world as we combat the urgent crisis of climate change,” says Bob Armstrong, director of the MIT Energy Initiative, who attended the forum. “It’s a very exciting conversation.”

The event was convened by the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative as part of its Here & Real project, which works with regions in the U.S. to help further initiatives that are both climate-friendly and economically just.

“At MIT, we are focusing our attention on technologies that combat the challenge of climate change—but also, with an eye toward not leaving people behind,” says Prof. Maria Zuber, MIT Vice President for Research.

“It is inspiring to see Wyoming’s state leadership seriously committed to finding solutions for adapting the energy industry, given what we know about the risks of climate change,” says Laur Hesse Fisher, director of the Here & Real project. “Their determination to build an economically and environmentally sound future for the people of Wyoming has been evident in our discussions, and I am excited to see this conversation continue and deepen.”

For media inquiries, contact Laur Hesse Fisher: lfi@mit.edu.

 

Student Sustainability Journeys: Gabriela Cazares

ESI launched the Minor in Environment & Sustainability in 2018, which means we now have the pleasure of seeing our first cohorts of graduates go out into the world. As they depart MIT, we’ll be interviewing a few of them to understand what worked and didn’t work in their sustainability careers on campus.


Gabriela Cazares came to MIT from Mission, Texas, where some outstanding teachers in chemistry and environmental science already had her thinking about the impact she could have on the planet. That commitment to sustainability never wavered at MIT, but it took her some time to find the right links between her field of chemistry and her interest in the environment.

Gabriela Cazares

In her chemistry GIR 5.111 Principles of Chemical Science with Prof. Moungi Bawendi, the connections clicked for her. Prof. Bawendi gave a lecture on thermodynamics where he tied the subject to the challenge of powering the planet. “When he was talking about enthalpy of reactions, he talked about chemical bonds breaking and forming and how that relates to energy density,” says Cazares. “So why we use fossil fuels, and what is the challenge of electric cars and solar energy. And that was the moment where I was like, there is a link in chemistry, right? So I was like, I can do this.”

Cazares became interested in atmospheric chemistry, but she had a hard time getting a toehold in real lab work. Many opportunities were unwilling to teach the foundational skills she would need to get ahead in the field. “I had zero experience in anything, so I had such a hard time finding UROPs,” she says. “They were like, what’s your experience using this, and what’s your experience coding. And I was thinking, well, nothing, because I didn’t start taking labs, nor did I start coding until junior year.” Her second year at MIT, she finally broke through with a UROP under Prof. David McGee, reconstructing the ancient climate of Mexico with a graduate student named Gabriela Serrato Marks. “She was like, don’t worry about the experience. You’ll learn here. Out of everyone, she was the biggest help at MIT for me. I still talk to her to this day. She was super helpful with the academic part, but also with the personal side.”

“I can code now,” Cazares adds. “Like, once you get one job, other jobs are like, okay, you have experience.”

Cazares is still pursuing the connections between chemistry and climate, as she heads off to UC Berkeley to pursue a PhD in physical chemistry in order to research atmospheric dynamics. She also found ways, in her last year at MIT, to extend her interest in sustainability beyond her lab work. As part of the spring 2020 class EC.719 D-Lab: Water, Climate Change and Health, Cazares and some of her classmates began designing a climate change class for high school and early college students, called “Surviving and Thriving in the 21st Century.” “And then we actually went through with making the course and teaching it in the summer,” Cazares says. With her classmate Clara Gervaise-Volaire, Cazares brought the class online and ran it for high school and college students.

“But there were also all of these other projects that had the potential of continuing,” she says. She continues to spend the summer working with the MIT administration on the education portion of MIT’s Plan for Action on Climate Change. “The idea that I like the best is implementing climate change into classes,” she says. “Most fields have something to do with climate change. There don’t have to be a lot of issues with changing a whole syllabus.” After all, this worked for Cazares herself, when Prof. Bawendi brought the climate crisis into his thermodynamics lecture back in her sophomore year.

“It’s not like a major change in classes,” she says. “I think this would be the most efficient way to introduce climate change education at MIT.”

 

 

Innovations in environmental training for the mining industry

ESI collaborated with multinational mining company Vale to bring sustainability education to young engineering professionals in Brazil. Read the full article at MIT News.

D-Lab moves online, without compromising on impact

With the campus shut down by Covid-19, the spring D-Lab class Water, Climate Change, and Health had to adapt. Read the full article at MIT News.

Letter from the Director: “Welcome to an Extraordinary Individual During Extraordinary Times,” June 2020

ESI Director John E. Fernández welcomes MLK Visiting Scholar Luis G. Murillo-Urrutia and introduces ESI’s Principles of Conduct and Engagement.

I like to think we have entered a period of new futures. A new future of thoughtful and principled consideration of MIT’s donor relations; a new future in which we have a renewed appreciation of our ability to respond quickly to global challenges—today the pandemic, tomorrow a range of climate change consequences; a new future of taking real action against murderous human rights abuses born of systemic racism.

On the one hand, it is important to consider each of these separately—in order to act with measurable progress—to make each new future a reality. You probably know or have recently become aware that the percentage of African American professors on the MIT faculty has remained at 4 percent since 2005 and while Blacks represent a little more than 12 percent of the U.S. population they are awarded only about 9 percent of science and only 4 percent of engineering bachelor’s degrees[1]. The situation is particularly troubling for so-called “green” STEM fields—those focused on the climate, conservation, the environment, earth and atmospheric sciences[2].

On the other hand, the intimate connections between categorically distinct types of injustices substantiate the reality that harm to historically marginalized people and communities comes in many forms and is often coordinated. For example, and only one of many examples, African Americans are exposed to 1.5 times more of the type of air pollution (PM2.5) that is directly linked to lung and heart disease and premature death than white Americans[3]. As Robert Bullard, the renowned professor of urban planning and environmental policy points out… race, not poverty, is the strongest indicator of exposure to health-related particulate matter in the U.S. In fact, it is very well documented that environmental injustices of many kinds are the direct result of the history and present reality of systemic racism.

Will we take good advantage of this moment for a new future? As an optimist who loathes being disappointed, this new future is ours to lose. Unless we act, in real ways with an urgency akin to our response to COVID-19, these new futures are nothing more than fantasies.

So, it is my very great pleasure to welcome Luis G. Murillo-Urrutia as an MIT 2020-2021 MLK Visiting Scholar hosted through the Environmental Solutions Initiative. From 2016 to 2018, Murillo was Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development for Colombia in the administration of former President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Juan Manuel Santos. He also served as Governor of the Department of Chocó, a predominantly Afro-Colombian region of Colombia. Murillo served in these roles at an historical inflection point for the country as it was ending half a century of conflict that had resulted in the deaths of 220,000 people, mostly civilians, and displaced several million. Throughout the peace process and afterwards, the confluence of human rights, environmental stewardship, science-based decision-making and community engagement has been central to a better future. Minister Murillo played a critical role in making this new future for Colombia.

Murillo has been a lifelong advocate of Afro-Colombians and Afro-Latinos through his expertise in regional development, the environment, sustainable development and peace building. In 1993, at the age of 27, he was appointed to the Office of Director General of the Corporation for Sustainable Development of the State of Chocó and subsequently launched a reorganization of the office to focus on the protection of biodiversity and the land rights of Afro-Colombians and Indigenous communities of the Chocó River Valley Region. At 31 Murillo was elected Governor of the state of Chocó and soon afterward created a new Secretariat of Ethnic Affairs and the Office of Environmental Development. During this period rampant violence against the Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities led Murillo to declare Chocó a state of peace, with implications for UN involvement. After leaving office under a controversial and much-criticized ruling by Colombia’s Supreme Court, Murillo continued his advocacy until he was kidnapped and his family threatened. He left Colombia for the U.S. with his family and did not return until 2011.

In addition to his central role in the domestic Colombian political transformation, he has been an active voice in urging fundamental changes to the formulation and deployment of U.S. foreign aid in ways that promote truly equitable and just development in Latin America. Murillo served as U.S.-Colombia Policy Coordinator and subsequently Senior International Policy Analyst at the Lutheran World Relief and has served as a Senior Fellow and Vice President for Programs and Strategy at the Phelps Stokes Fund where he led an effort to promote youth leadership in areas of institutional transformation and social and economic rights, especially inclusive of Afro-Descendants, Indigenous and other marginalized communities.

The Environmental Solutions Initiative is proud to host and partner with Minister Murillo as we develop our programs in Nature Based Solutions for Climate Change and Cities and Climate Change. With Minister Murillo’s wise counsel and direct engagement, we plan on acting on a variety of issues of environmental justice with a concentration on marginalized communities. Through his various roles in government and civil society Luis has been on the front lines of conceiving of and realizing a new and better future for the people of Colombia. We welcome Minister Murillo to MIT as a key advisor as we consider practical and concrete steps toward a new future at MIT[4].

Finally, we are also announcing today the release of the ESI Principles of Conduct and Engagement. While you may understandably presume that the origin of this document was a direct consequence of the Jeffrey Epstein situation earlier this year—it was not, though that event certainly motivated us to complete it. We started discussing the need for a document during the early summer of 2019 and have produced a statement that captures our collective values for conducting ourselves and engaging with others in a manner consistent with our core mission.

These principles will be reviewed by the entire ESI team on a regular basis as we initiate and develop many more relationships with diverse individuals, organizations, companies and governments. Let us know if you have any comments or suggestions.

John E. Fernández, Director
June 12, 2020
Cambridge, Massachusetts


[1] National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. 2019. Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2019. Special Report NSF 19-304. Alexandria, VA. Available at https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd

[2] Pearson, A. and J. P. Schuldt (2014) Facing the diversity crisis in climate science. Nature Climate Change, 4: 1039-1042, accessed 11 June 2020 at http://research.pomona.edu/sci/files/2014/11/PearsonSchuldt2014NCC.pdf

[3] Ihab Mikati, Adam F. Benson, Thomas J. Luben, Jason D. Sacks, and Jennifer Richmond-Bryant, 2018: Disparities in Distribution of Particulate Matter Emission Sources by Race and Poverty Status. American Journal of Public Health. 108: 480_485, accessed 11 June 2020 at https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2017.304297

[4] Special gratitude and credit goes to Marcela Angel, ESI Research Associate and Juan Camilo Osorio, ESI Research Affiliate, DUSP PhD candidate and Assistant Professor Grad Center for Planning, Pratt Institute for bringing Minister Murillo to MIT. Also, much appreciation goes to Prof. and Deputy Mayor of New York City Phil Thompson for the initial introduction to Minister Murillo.

 

 

Peatland drainage in Southeast Asia adds to climate change

ESI Seed Grant recipient Charles Harvey is part of a team that used novel satellite data to reveal the true extent of peatland loss in Malaysia and Indonesia, with robust estimates of just how much CO2 is entering the atmosphere as a result. Read the full story at MIT News.

New interactive website leads the public through the knowns and unknowns of climate change

MIT Professor Kerry Emanuel has made it a personal mission to speak publicly about climate change. He felt a new and surprising duty to speak up after the scientific issue became politicized in the United States. In fact, political identity is the number one indicator of whether or not an American agrees with the irrefutable science of climate change.

“The only remedy I can see is for scientists to make more effort to inform the public with hard evidence, presented in an easily digestible but accurate way,” says Emanuel, who is the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Atmospheric Science at the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. “Fortunately, more and more scientists are stepping up to this challenge.”

Read the full story at MIT News.

Letter from the Director: “The Exquisite Science,” April 2020

“The highest effect of the sun’s rays I have found to be in carbonic acid gas”[1]. With that simple sentence we began to understand the effect of human actions on the Earth’s climate.

In recent years there has been an enormous outpouring of articles on the various crises we face including conflict and migration, urban air and water pollution; biodiversity loss; water scarcity; and the crisis that captures many of these and more, climate change. Of course, at the moment and for the foreseeable future our attention is on the pandemic. Global and threatening to everyone on Earth—though not everyone is vulnerable in the same way—the coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and the disease it causes COVID-19 now dominates our thinking about crises, the short and long-term consequences on us as a species and our individual and collective responses.

Despite the US President’s assertion that no one could have predicted this pandemic, many people did. We knew it was coming. Books were written, studies were completed, TED talks delivered. In 2017 the US Department of Defense completed an internal document[2] that predicted many of the consequences of a pandemic. On the very first page it reads, “The potential for a large biological incident to impact the United States is real.” And, “Novel contagious pathogens capable of human-to-human transmission via aerosol with high virulence for which no MCM[3] exists may present the greatest challenge to response and recovery.”

All of this is also true of climate change, including another analysis by the DoD highlighting threats to national security. In a 2015 report[4], the DoD “…recognizes the reality of climate change and the significant risk it poses to U.S. interests globally. The National Security Strategy, issued in February 2015, is clear that climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources such as food and water. These impacts are already occurring, and the scope, scale, and intensity of these impacts are projected to increase over time.”

The timing of a pandemic was, of course, not known but how it would likely manifest was a matter of some agreement and fairly confident and informed speculation. It would likely result from a novel virus making the leap from an animal to a person. The worst-case scenario would then include airborne transmission from person to person.

This has now happened. In the early messy weeks of this global crisis, strangely, several conspiracy theories that the virus had been invented in a lab (American, Chinese or North Korean) had some play in the press and in the dark corners of the internet but also with a US university president and even among some world leaders. Now some, citing his TED talk of 2015, have targeted Bill Gates as an evil genius plotting to profit from the pandemic.

Roughly the same strangeness has long infected popular discourse of climate change—remember “it’s a Chinese hoax”. The coronavirus did emerge in China, not in a lab but most likely in a “wet market”. It quickly made the enormously successful evolutionary leap from animals to humans and found in us a global population of 7.8 billion ready hosts frenetically moving about the earth. Once public health experts fully understood the potentially massive health consequences unprecedented steps were taken to broadly nullify social norms and shut down or drastically contract the vast majority of economic activities.

This week Earth Day is upon us and already there is a proliferation of perspectives on how a post-COVID-19 future may offer opportunities to redirect our world into a more environmentally positive path. We can, it turns out, act together to combat a global challenge. We can, and have, dramatically altered our individual behavior for the collective good. We have also placed our confidence in and directed our actions on the advice of scientists: at least the vast majority of us have. We have done all of these things when we understood our lives, and everyone else’s lives were in the balance. Again, climate change comes to mind.

Now, these two streams of crisis—COVID-19 and climate change—are flowing into one another. A lot has been written in the popular press and a lot of people are taking notice. Among the many thoughts on offer, I would like to direct attention to one element that has received less notice but should be called out every Earth Day every year, during a pandemic or not.

That one element can be summed up in a visit I once made to Prof. Susan Solomon’s office on the 19th floor of the Green Building here at MIT. When I arrived, Susan was clearly excited by what she was about to tell me. “It’s clear now we have the evidence to show the ozone hole is healing.” With that simple statement she made clear there was now “evidence” and it was still up to her and colleagues to “show” that the hole was healing—a scientist’s way of delivering good news. They were in the midst of writing a paper on their findings[5].

At that moment, a recurring thought came back to me—that the beauty, the awe, the breadth, the sheer scale of the science of the Earth is not well known to most people and certainly not deeply appreciated by people generally—at least that’s what I perceive. There is so much more to the science of the planet than greenhouse gases and yes, there is certainly much to talk about besides the science including the political stasis; the organized campaigns to deny climate science; the utter tragedy and inequity of the emerging consequences, and so much more. Yet, it is not often that we pause and consider that it all began with science driven by the sheer joy of learning how it all works.

The beauty of the science of our planet’s climate deserves celebrating on this Earth Day, 50 years after millions of Americans started it all on April 22, 1970. It is estimated 1 in 10 Americans (1 in 10!) heeded the call from the “Conservation Governor” and then Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin who wondered, “If we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public… we could generate a demonstration that would force the issue onto the national political agenda.” For a while it worked and the EPA was born soon after. Today we might say the US has taken many steps back on controlling pollution, protecting species and ecologies and committing to long term leadership on climate change.  All of that has been easier to do because science has been under siege for some time now.

Imagine, if you have not, trying to understand the complex interactions between the oceans, the atmosphere, land, all marine and terrestrial species and a range of human activities, like burning fossil fuels, flying airplanes, industrial fishing and cutting down forests and so much more. Imagine describing those interactions using physics, chemistry and biology and drawing conclusions that hint at a worrisome future. This is the exquisite science—the science of the earth—of our home, that which begat us and all other living things through evolution. The word exquisite derives of the Latin ‘exquisit’ meaning to carefully seek out. Modern usage includes ‘carefully ascertained’ and the science of climate change has certainly been carefully ascertained.

In our celebration let us recognize how old the science is. Eunice Newton Foote (interesting fact—her father was named Isaac Newton, originally of Goshen, Connecticut) described the warming property of carbonic acid (then a reference to CO2) in 1856 three years before the publication of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”. Forty years later in 1896, Svante Arrhenius is credited with being the first person to describe the warming of the planet resulting from an increase in carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels[6].

Since then the progression and range of work has been truly astonishing in its creativity, diversity and increasing resolution: investigations of the thermal equilibrium of the atmosphere[7]; early characterizations of the greenhouse effect[8] and observations confirming a rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide[9] leading to the famous Keeling curve. Then there is the work that attempts to reach far back into the deep past as paleoclimatologists search for clues[10] of temperature changes and CO2 concentrations. Others have examined the influence of climate change on weather events[11], like a superstorm or a heat wave, and others have examined future risks including self-reinforcing feedback loops that threaten runaway warming leading to a “Hothouse Earth”[12].

Let’s also celebrate the diversity of astounding questions that can be asked about the Earth, our place on it and all other species: for example, the proposal for a new geologic era, the Anthropocene[13] and the state of global biodiversity including a recent attempt at a “census” of the total biomass on Earth[14]. Of course, there is also all the work attempting to describe a new and sustainable world, projections and proposals on how to get us there including novel concepts like the climate “stabilization wedges”[15] and plans[16] and roadmaps[17] for reaching important climate goals and then there is the idea of Social Tipping Dynamics that can lead to effective climate mitigation[18].

I could go on and on—for days really. There is so much more to cite and so much more to celebrate in the awesome breadth of the scientific journey that has led us to an incomplete but always improving understanding of the Earth. On this Earth Day, let’s celebrate the science of it all.

It is of value to note that the many other branches of science can be lauded in the same way I am doing here, from physics to biology to computer science and epidemiology. Today, and every day for the foreseeable future, we are celebrating the scientists working to solve the human health crisis we find ourselves in. As the entire world waits for word on effective treatments and a vaccine, there is not much doubt that it will come one day. Such is our confidence in the branches of science that have contributed such wondrous improvements in human health. In the meantime, science-based decision-making will substantially determine how many people contract the virus and how many succumb to its fatal consequences. No one but the terribly deluded will find reason to deny the primacy of scientific knowledge and judgment in our current situation.

When politicians scoff at the words of scientists and dismiss their recommendations as outside of political and economic reality or not practical, hopelessly unrealistic, too costly and out of touch with what people need, consider how science is acting to try to save us today. When politicians take immoral and shameful advantage of the low quality and often incomplete public education that many Americans suffered through to shamelessly obscure and confuse the science of climate change, or when the ultra-wealthy bankroll the spewing of disinformation to confuse and redirect for delay and diversion from real action for profit, science suffers and we all lose. What will save us today and tomorrow is science.

John E. Fernández, Director
April 17, 2020
Cambridge, Massachusetts


[1] E. Foote. (1856) Circumstances affecting the Heat of the Sun’s Rays. Read before the American Association, August 23rd, 1956.

[2] USNORTHCOM Branch Plan 3560 Pandemic Influenza and Infectious Disease Response 06 January 2017.

[3] MCM: Medical countermeasure dispensing – the ability to provide medical countermeasures including vaccines, antiviral drugs, antibiotics, antitoxins, etc.

[4] National Security Implications of Climate-Related Risks and a Changing Climate, submitted in response to a request contained in Senate Report 113-211, accompanying H. R. 4870, the Department of Defense Appropriations Bill, 2015.

[5] S. Solomon et al. (2016) Emergence of healing in the Antarctic ozone layer. Science, 353(6296): 269-274: 10.1126/science.aae0061

[6] S. Arrhenius (1896) XXXI. On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature of the ground, The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, 41(251): 237-276, DOI:10.1080/14786449608620846

[7] S. Manabe and R. T. Wetherald (1967) Thermal Equilibrium of the Atmosphere with a Given Distribution of Relative Humidity. Journal of Atmospheric Sciences, 24(3): 241-259.

[8] Wang, W.C., Yung, Y.L., Lacis, A.A., Mo, T. and J. Hansen. 1976. Greenhouse Effects due to Man-Made Perturbations of Trace Gases. Science, 194(4266): 685-690.

[9] C. Keeling et al. (1976) Atmospheric carbon dioxide variations at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii. Tellus XXVIII, 6: 538-551.

[10] For example, Emiliani, C. (1955) Pleistocene Temperatures, The Journal of Geology 63 (6), 538-578 and Barnola, J., Raynaud, D., Korotkevich, Y. et al. (1987) Vostok ice core provides 160,000-year record of atmospheric CO2. Nature 329, 408–414.

[11] K. Emanuel (2017) Assessing the present and future probability of Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall. PNAS, 114(48): 12681-12684: www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1716222114

[12] W. Steffen et al. (2018) Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene. PNAS, 115(33): 8252-8259: www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1810141115

[13] P.Crutzen (2002) Geology of mankind. Nature, 415, January 3, 2002: pg. 23.

[14] Bar-On, Y.M., Phillips, R. and R. Milo (2018) The biomass distribution on Earth. PNAS, 115(25): 6506-6511: www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1711842115

[15] S. Pacala and R. Socolow (2004) Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies. Science, 305(5686) 968-972: DOI: 10.1126/science.1100103

[16] C. Figueres et al. (2017) Three years to safeguard our climate. Nature, 546: 593-595.

[17] J. Rockström et al. (2017) A roadmap for rapid decarbonization. Science, 355(6331): 1269-1271: DOI: 10.1126/science.aah3443

[18] I. M. Otto et al. (2020) Social tipping dynamics for stabilizing Earth’s climate by 2050. PNAS, 117(5): 2354-2365: www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1900577117