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MIT School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences - Great Ideas Change the World

Making a Better World | Health of the Planet
climate, energy, food, water
 



To help double energy and food production, halve carbon output by 2050, and set a path to net-zero carbon emissions by 2100, MIT has a strong, collaborative focus on climate, environment, and energy research, combining technical advances with innovations in the political, cultural, and economic dimensions of climate, energy, food, and water issues.

Informing policy | resolving social and economic barriers

MIT's social science and humanities fields contribute to increased planetary health with research that informs and guides better public policy, and that reveals solutions — including more strategic science communications — to the barriers that prevent people, organizations, and governments from supporting advances in environmental practices and policy.

The fauclty of the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Science (MIT SHASS) also teach every MIT undergraduate, empowering the next generation of problem-solvers with political, economic, cultural, and historical perspectives.

 

Featured Story

 


 

3 Questions | Benjamin Olken on the economic impact of climate change
"There has been a lot of emphasis on studying the effects of climate change on agriculture. But if it’s affecting other aspects of the economy — like industrial output, investment, and innovation — the long-run impact could be much bigger. As far as political conflict stemming from climate change...there is consistent evidence that increased temperatures lead to increased conflicts. The weather makes your crops grow badly, which in turn could lead to unemployment, which could lead to more conflict. The literature tells us that weather can affect things in many ways."
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Selected Stories

The MIT Campaign for a Better World


Announcing the new comprehensive campaign, MIT President L. Rafael Reif said, "Humanity faces urgent challenges — challenges whose solutions depend on marrying advanced technical and scientific capabilities with a deep understanding of the world's political, cultural, and economic complexities."

Discover the role of MIT's Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences fields in solving the economic, cultural, and political dimensions of global issues, and in problem-solving in collaboration with our STEM colleagues.  More

HEALTHY PLANET 

Environmentalist and explorer

Senior Elizabeth Rider uses atmospheric chemistry research to create international connections. More

THE HUMAN FACTOR | CLIMATE CHANGE

Kieran Setiya on how philosophy can address climate change

"[A]lmost anyone engaged with global issues of human well-being, the distribution of resources, or the future of society is doing moral philosophy. Even the most technocratic assessment of costs and benefits makes assumptions about the value of human life and the demands of justice....Making our ethics more explicit, being self-conscious about our principles and premises, improves our moral thinking. This is particularly true when the questions are ones of public policy."
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RESEARCH TO POLICY | CLIMATE

Study: Climate policy focused on local impacts is most effective for Americans
 

In a recent talk at MIT based on his recent book, Clean and Cheap, political scientist David Konisky PhD '06 says citizen demand for climate policy is so soft in the U.S. that new tactics are needed to address global warming. More

HEALTHY PLANET | ENERGY ECONOMICS

Power play
 

MIT SHASS economist Daron Acemoglu and three colleagues present a uniquely detailed model of the dynamics of innovation in the energy industry. In so doing, they indicate how supporting clean energy R&D, not just a carbon tax, might be the best way to help clean energy technologies compete with traditional forms of energy. More

HEALTHY PLANET | CLIMATE COMMUNICATIONS

Knight Science speakers cite communication as vital to progress on climate change
 

“The climate change crisis is no longer primarily a scientific problem. At this stage, it is a communications issue.” That assessment, from Scott Denning, Monfort Professor of Atmosphere Science at Colorado State University, was a frequent refrain during a recent MIT Knight Science Journalism “Bootcamp on Energy and Climate.” Many of the distinguished presenters at the intensive three-day course emphasized that scientists have established the evidence about climate change, and journalists now have a crucial role to educate the public about its impacts. More

THE HUMAN FACTOR | PLANETARY HEALTH

What is Wild: 3Q with Historian Ritvo

Scientists, social scientists, and humanists explored the question during a workshop convened at MIT by Harriet Ritvo, Arthur J. Conner Professor of History at MIT, and Sally Shuttleworth, professor of English literature at the University of Oxford. The "Call of the Wild" workshop featured presentations spanning disciplines from biology to astrophysics to history and literature. More

Ken Oye, MIT Political Science

THE HUMAN FACTOR | MULTIDISCIPLINARY SOLUTIONS

Political scientist Ken Oye and the art of sociotechnical collaboration

Over the course of 26 years at MIT, political scientist Kenneth Oye has discovered that collaborating with technologists is a very effective way to inform good policy on the issues he cares most about — from climate change to synthetic biology. More

PLANETARY HEALTH | ENVIRONMENT + HEALTH

The high value of water
 

A study by MIT economist Esther Duflo finds evidence that people willing to pay more for running water report much higher levels of happiness when they have it. More

PLANETARY HEALTH | ECONOMIC INCENTIVES

MIT economics students testing projects to reduce pollution in India
 

In India, industrial development and rapid urbanization have far outpaced efforts to protect the environment, resulting in levels of air and water pollution that pose major threats to human health. Working with the Tata Center, two MIT SHASS economics doctoral students are addressing this challenge by generating incentives for polluters to change their ways. More

PLANETARY HEALTH | ECONOMICS OF CLIMATE CHANGE

Study: Trade may not help a warming planet fight its farming failures
 

A new study co-authored by Arnaud Costinot, MIT professor of Economics and an expert on international trade issues will help countries make better plans for dealing with the impacts of climate change; his research suggests that countries should not rely on international trade to alleviate climate-induced farming problems, but seek other approaches.  More

BASIC RESEARCH | ETHICS OF CLIMATE CHANGE

MIT philosopher Kieran Setiya analyzes the sources of moral action


“I really feel compelled right now by questions about climate change ethics … the worry that nothing I do may make a difference, the fact that decisions we’re making in the next generation will affect many billions of humans, or possibly even whether human life will exist in a few hundred years’ time,” Setiya says. “I feel there are very challenging, often upsetting, but unavoidable questions raised there.” More

RESEARCH TO POLICY: ENVIRONMENT AND HEALTH

JPAL launches U.S. State and Local Innovation Initiative
 

A transformative new program from the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT-SHASS will partner with U.S. state and local governments find solutions to public policy issues across a wide range of social issues including crime, education, employment, health, and housing. Selected governments will receive access to JPAL researchers to help them design and implement randomized evaluations and use the results to make evidence-based decisions for policy that really works. More

PLANETARY HEALTH | CULTURE AND ENVIRONMENT

Anthropologist Susan Silbey on the role of culture for solving environmental issues
 

"Transferring the models of physical matter or rational calculation to these massive global problems can do a great deal to help solve our current issues — but only when they are informed by a nuanced understanding of how humans and human organizations operate." More

THE HUMAN FACTOR | MAKING GOOD POLICY

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf PhD '81 on the politics of global issues
 

"The search for the answers to society’s most pressing questions always involves a political science dimension. Politics is the art of figuring out what you want to do, how you’re going to do it, and how you’re going to convince others to go along with what you want to do." More

HEALTHY PLANET | THE ROLE OF SCIENCE COMMUNICATION

How do we tell the story about climate change?

Meet five MIT Knight Science Journalism colleagues and one oak tree. By closely observing the phenology of trees and other plants — the seasonal changes in their physical characteristics — researchers are identifying a trend toward longer growing seasons. Winter is arriving later, and spring earlier. More

ADVANCING POLICY: PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT WITH SCIENCE

The Knight Science Journalism Fellowships at MIT

Meet the Knight Science Fellow for 2014-2015. This year MIT's Knight Science Journalism program welcomed 11 acclaimed journalists who investigate topics ranging from phenology and climate change, to medicine and human health, to quantum mechanics to hone their science reporting skills. In this article, the Fellows offer their insights on the challenges and rewards of their field.   More

SOCIO-TECHNICAL COLLABORATION

MIT SHASS at SOLVE

An October 2015 conference on the MIT campus marked the launch of SOLVE — an MIT project dedicated to generating ongoing thinking, research, and collaboration to solve the world's toughest problems. Meet MIT SHASS participants in some of the initial events.   More

HEALTHY PLANET | WATER

Water, water everywhere: But is there enough to drink?

MIT experts address the challenges of supplying clean, safe water to a growing world population. More

RESEARCH TO POLICY: CLIMATE CHANGE

Benjamin Olken on the economics of climate change

How is climate change going to affect our economic activity in the future? Many researchers have dug into this subject empirically in recent years. Now Olken, along with economists Melissa Dell of Harvard University and Benjamin Jones of Northwestern University, has co-authored a review article for the Journal of Economic Literature, surveying this research and suggesting areas needing further study. Olken sat down with MIT News to discuss the climate-economy connection. More

RESEARCH TO POLICY: CLIMATE

Panel at MIT assesses the benefits/uncertainties of climate engineering

As the human and economic costs of climate change threaten to rise—and with little progress in reducing global carbon emission—some activists, scientists, and politicians are searching for new ways to respond to the global climate crisis. More

RESEARCH TO POLICY: ENERGY

An experiment puts auditing under scrutiny

In an eye-opening experiment involving roughly 500 industrial plants in the state of Gujarat, in western India, changing the auditing system has indeed produced dramatically different outcomes — reducing pollution, and more generally calling into question the whole practice of letting firms pay the auditors who scrutinize them. More

RESEARCH TO POLICY: ENVIRONMENT + HEALTH

Innovative study estimates extent to which air pollution in China shortens human lives

A high level of air pollution, in the form of particulates produced by burning coal, significantly shortens the lives of people exposed to it, according to a unique new study of China co-authored by an MIT economist. More

HEALTHY PLANET: POLITICS, CRISIS, AND ENERGY

Sizing up Japan, after the disaster

“When we talk about crises, they are instruments, or tools,” MIT political scientist Richard Samuels reflects. “They’re not independently transformative. They’re tools in the service of people with preferences, and those preferences are remarkably sticky.” More

RESEARCH TO POLICY: ECONOMICS OF CLIMATE CHANGE

The economic cost of increased temperatures

A study by MIT economist Ben Olken finds evidence that warming episodes hurt poor countries and limit long-term growth. “Higher temperatures lead to substantially lower economic growth in poor countries,” says Olken. More

radiation check, March 2011, Japan

HEALTHY PLANET: NUCLEAR ENERGY + POLICY

CIS Starr Forum examines Japan's nuclear crisis and governmental response

Special forum on March 16, 2011, co-sponsored by the Center for International Studies and the MIT Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering.  Three MIT experts discuss Japan's nuclear past, present, and future from a political and engineering perspective. The presentation includes an eyewitness account of the crisis and the Japanese government's response.  More + Video of the Forum

RESEARCH TO POLICY: ENERGY

Why Japan relies on nuclear power | CNN interview with MIT political scientist Richard Samuels

Japan has more than 50 nuclear power plants and had planned to build two dozen more by 2030, according to Samuels, Ford International Professor of Political Science, and director of MIT's Center for International Studies, who has written on Japanese energy and security policy.   More

Kresge Auditorium

RESEARCH TO POLICY: ECONOMICS

Economics Symposium launches MIT's 150th celebration | From Theory to Practice to Policy

This symposium, organized by the School's Department of Economics and the Sloan School of Management, celebrated the role of MIT’s faculty and students in advancing the fields of economics and finance, in putting the latest developments into practice, and in contributing to the design of public policy. Story + On Demand Videos

Girl drinking water

RESEARCH TO POLICY: ENVIRONMENT + HEALTH

Global water issues call on humanities and social science research  

"Rethinking Water" workshop shows significance of research in the humanities and social sciences for meeting global water needs.  More

explosion of energy

ENVIRONMENT: ENERGY

Energy challenge calls on political, economic, and cultural realms   

Meeting 21st energy requires both technological solutions and innovation and input from economic, political, social and cultural spheres. Technical issues have human and social components, and there is no one solution to the complex energy issues.   More

Lake

PLANETARY HEALTH

Critics call Ritvo's Dawn of Green "enthralling"    

The controversy in the 1870s over Thirlmere, a picturesque body of water in Britain’s Lake District, created a “template for subsequent environmental struggles,” writes Harriet Ritvo, the Arthur Conner Professor of History at MIT. Ritvo’s recent book, The Dawn of Green, published in 2009 by the University of Chicago Press, explores this episode and its ongoing influence on the way we frame environmental discussions and debates. More

HEALTHY PLANET: SHASS ENERGY STUDIES

School offers courses for Studies in Energy Minor

Multi-disciplinary approach
MIT's energy minor provides a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the policy, economics, science and technology of energy. All MIT undergraduate students now have a new academic option available: a minor in energy, which can be combined with any major subject. The minor is inherently cross-disciplinary, encompassing all of MITs five schools. SHASS-based courses include: Environmental Policy and Economics; Energy Economics and Policy; and Energy, Environment, and Society.   More