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Radcliffe Launches Five-Year Focus on Climate Change with Symposium of Interdisciplinary Scholars

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A panel of activists, scientists, and journalists discussed the human impacts of climate change at an event hosted Friday by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

The event, titled “Pale Blue Dot under Pressure: Climate Change, Justice and Resilience in Our Rapidly Warming World,” kickstarted a new five-year focus on climate change at the Radcliffe Institute that seeks to examine the impact of global warming by bringing experts and the public together. The project will include a collaboration between Radcliffe and the newly-founded Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability.

At the event, more than a dozen panelists discussed topics ranging from the warming’s relation to a longer spring allergy season to connections between carbon emission clean-up and waste management.

“This is not a symposium that’s designed for experts to talk to other experts,” said Edo Berger, an Astronomy professor and co-director of the Harvard Radcliffe Institute’s science program, who helped organize the event. “We wanted people who can really break it down and really bring a certain level of energy to their talks and their discussions.”

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Debra C. Roberts, co-chair of the working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said the IPCC’s 4,000-page report on climate change was “a reality check.”

“Every action and decision each one of us individually takes, from today onwards, is a key part of solving this particular challenge,” Roberts said.

Panelist Lis M. Bernhardt, a member of the United Nations Environment Programme, called for “a global Marshall Plan for climate change” to “protect the most vulnerable” from the threat of environmental disaster and degradation.

Some attendees said they appreciated the way the symposium engaged a variety of experts, professionals, and activists.

Hannah Lee, a Harvard Ph.D. student in epidemiology, said she came to the symposium to learn how scientists can communicate effectively to the public.

“How do you communicate the risk of these events, but also how do you work with non-science partners to bring about change?” Lee said. “That’s been the main lesson.”

Berger, the Radcliffe Institute Science Program co-director, said it is important to foster interaction between scientists and the public on the topic of climate change.

“A lot of the programming that we’re going to do on climate change in the coming years is an outward-facing, multidisciplinary approach,” Berger said.

In her closing remarks, Immaculata De Vivo, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and director of the Radcliffe Institute’s science program, called for optimism in the fight against climate change.

“Hope is often missed,” De Vivo said. “And what I learned from more than one of the speakers was to imagine a better world, imagine with passion and empathy.”

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