Solving Climate | Humanistic Perspectives from MIT

In this ongoing series, MIT faculty, students, and alumni in the humanistic fields share ideas and research that are significant for solving the economic, political, ethical, and cultural dimensions of climate change.


Anne McCants
Professor of History, Director, MIT Concourse Program

How, in the nadir of the Little Ice Age, did the Dutch generate a Golden Age?

"History shows that not everywhere fares equally poorly when faced with climatic stresses. Open-access societies — ones that tolerate a diversity of views and do not restrict agency to a preordained elite — have proved more innovative and resilient than less-open ones." For example: the 17th century Dutch Republic.  Commentary


Kieran Setiya

Professor of Philosophy

The ethics of climate change

"Almost 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."  Commentary



Parrish Bergquist '19
MIT PhD in Political Science; post-doctoral Associate, Yale Program on Climate Change Communication


The significance of civic opinion

My research examines public opinion about the environment and climate change, policy responsiveness to public opinion, and the implications of political polarization for environmental policy in the American states. I focus on identifying the levers for influencing policy, engaging people in policy change, and designing effective climate policies. Commentary


Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab | J-PAL

Toward evidence-informed climate policy


Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the connections between human and planetary health are clearer than ever. J-PAL generates evidence to reduce climate damage, build more climate-resilient societies, and help leaders choose effective programs to combat climate change.  (Image: Produce vendor in Lahore, India, in smog)  Commentary


Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab
J-PAL North America

An agenda for climate change research in North America

Poverty and climate change issues are closely related. In this commentary you'll find a overview of J-PAL North America's contributions to the evidence base in environment, energy, and climate and a look at its agenda for further climate research in North America. (US Air Force Image: Overflying a flooded region)  Commentary


Comparative Media Studies/Writing
CMS.375 / Reading Climate Through Media

In a humanities media class, MIT students gain insights and skills to increase support for effective climate policy.


In CMS.375 students explore how climate is construed in the contemporary media in order to gain a better understanding of how views of climate change are shaped and received in the public sphere. And, they learn how to craft effective climate stories and messages themselves.  Story


Thiago Medalgia

Knight Science Journalism Fellow, 2020

Science communications for a world in crisis

"My vision has broadened to include a more human perspective of climate change: This is about working to reconnect people with the reality of the natural world, which includes ourselves. We too are nature."  Commentary


Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab
MIT Department of Economics

J-PAL launches King Climate Action Initiative

With a founding $25M gift from King Philanthropies, the King Climate Action Initiative at J-PAL will collaborate with leaders in government, NGOs, the private sector and cscientists worldwide to design, pilot, evaluate, and scale technological and policy innovations in four areas: mitigating carbon emissions; reducing pollution; adapting to climate change; and shifting toward cleaner, affordable sources of energy. The initiative aims to improve the lives of 25 million people over the next decade.
Story | About K-CAI at J-PAL

Anthropology, History, and EAPS

Climate change linked to rise and fall of medieval nomadic empires.

Paleoclimatology provides important context for examining the activities of past human societies. Meanwhile, present-day Mongolia is experiencing devastating droughts and winter weather as a result of global climate change. "Merging new climate data with the historical understanding of a place helps to put in perspective the catastrophic scale of climate change today,” said Anthropologist Manduhai Buyandelger. “For instance, the heavy snowfalls in Mongolia in recent decades are the harshest in known history.”





Amy Moran-Thomas 
MIT Associate Professor of Anthropology

On planetary change and human health

"During her research in Belize, Moran-Thomas noted that some people with diabetes, when talking about the impact of the diabetes epidemic, would invoke Hurricane Hattie (which ravaged their country in 1961) as a metaphor for the kinds of slow health changes that can suddenly erupt into a full-blown crisis. She appreciated their apt metaphor: 'In many ways,' she says, 'the chronic wear on both the planet and on people is accumulating like a gathering storm.'"

Clare Balboni

3M Career Development Assistant Professor of Environmental Economics

On Enviromental Economics

"Economic models and methods can enhance our understanding of how to balance the imperative for continued growth in prosperity — particularly for the world’s poorest — with the need to mitigate the environmental externalities that such growth creates."

Nadia Christidi

PhD candidate, Program in Science, Technology, and Society

"I think we are going to need a lot of imagination going forward. My work considers how creative practitioners are imagining the future of water.
Commentary forthcoming


New commentaries will continue in 2021.  If you would like to discuss an idea for this series, please contact: 


MIT Climate Resources

MIT Climate

MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative


MIT Energy Inititiatve | Renewable Energy Sources


MIT Dept of Earth, Atmospheric & Planetary Science | Climate Research






Series prepared by MIT SHASS Communications
Office of Dean Melissa Nobles
MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
Series Editor/Designer: Emily Hiestand
Consulting Editor: Kathryn O'Neill
Publication Associate: Alison Lanier
April 2020  — Present