Solving Climate | Humanistic Perspectives from MIT

A solar engineer maintains street lighting in Tinginaput, India; Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Panos Pictures

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.

Also visit
Fast Foward: MIT's Climate Action Plan

MIT Council on an Uncertain Human Future


Given what we know, how do we live now?
MIT's Council for the Uncertain Human Future

The Council convenes small circle groups to reckon with the climate crisis in solidarity. Sponsored jointly by MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative, the Dean's Office of MIT SHASS, and the Council leadership, the ongoing program is part of Fast Forward: MIT's Climate Action Plan for the Decade.

Feature Story
Sidebar: Reflections from Council Participants


Bettina Stoetzer
Class of 1948 Career Development Associate Professor of Anthropology

Envisioning a livable future

A lively conversation with MIT anthropologist Bettina Stoetzer on her new book, her environmental justice class, and how people and societies can expand their imagination for how to live otherwise." Her research combines perspectives on ecology and environmental change with an analysis of migration, race, and social justice. Here she shares insights from anthropology and from her forthcoming book, Ruderal City: Ecologies of Migration and Urban Life in Berlin (Duke University Press, 2022).

Stoetzer's MIT webpage



The Civic Design Initiative
Lab in Comparative Media Studies/Writing 

Conversations at the frontline of climate


Novel communications infrastructure from the CMS/W-based Civic Design Initiative (CDI) aims to support communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis. In its flagship endeavor, the Deep Listening Project, CDI works with a frontline communities in Nepal and indigenous tribes in the U.S. and Canada. The goal is to co-design technologies that enable institutions and frontline communities to collaborate towards effective, just climate adaptation. The project is one of 28 finalists in the MIT Climate Grand Challenge."  

CDI's Deep Listening website



Nazli Choucri
Professor of Political Science 

Can the world change course on climate?  

MIT Political scientist Choucri discusses challenges and hopes for global coordination on sustainability and climate issues — and the role of political science in the process. More



Kieran Setiya
Professor of Philosophy

Why do some people call climate change an “existential threat”?


What does an “existential threat” really mean, and why are so many people in positions of responsibility now using this phrase? Kieran Setiya, an MIT professor of philosophy who co-teaches "The Ethics of Climate Change," offers a three-part response.  Commentary


John D. Sutter 

Fellow, Knight Science Journalism Program 


Stop blaming yourself for the climate crisis.


Sutter, a Fellow in our KSJ Journalism program writes, "The narrative must shift from one of individual responsibility — if I turn off this lightbulb, I'm saving the planet — to one of governmental and corporate accountability. In the United States, this means the voting public must force Congress to enact sweeping climate legislation." Commentary at CNN



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


Sami Grover 

Undark Magazine, Knight Science Journalism 


Opinion: The messy truth about carbon footprints
"We are not each on an individual journey to slash our footprint to zero. We are on a collective mission to shift the only true footprint that matters: that of society as a whole."
Commentary at Undark



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 scientists 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 and Policy 

"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, HASTS Program (History; Anthropology; Science, Technology, and Society)

Imaginative Capacities: The Arts & the Future of Water


Christidi's research focuses on three cities and the role that the arts play in the ability of planning institutions to imagine and plan for possible futures. "As climate change gets underway, we’re seeing a lot more emphasis on adaptation, and imagination is key to adapting to a set of totally different circumstances," she says. "This belief has led me to explore the 'imaginative capacities' of planning institutions, the impact of popular culture imaginaries on our preparations for the future, and the role that creative practitioners can play in expanding our imaginative possibilities."

Caroline White-Nockleby
PhD candiate, HASTS Program (History; Anthropology; Science, Technology, and Society)


On the socio-environmental complexities of renewable energy

"Renewable energy must be collected, stored, and transported; it requires financing, metals extraction, and the processing of decommissioned materials. Energy access, mining, and waste deposition are material, geographically situated dynamics. Not everyone stands to benefit equally from renewable energy's potentials, and not everyone will be equally exposed to its socioenvironmental impacts."



















MIT SHASS Community


Keeping humanity central to solving climate change


MIT scholars in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences are helping to solve the economic, cultural, political and policy dimensions of the world's energy and climate challenges. 
Story by Kelley Travers, MIT Energy Futures magazine 





MIT Open Courseware


A directory of 20+ free, climate-related humanistic classes at MIT

Here you will find courses in economics, philosophy, public policy, writing, anthropology, and other fields that provide key perspectives for understanding climate change — and alleviating its impacts.

Gallery of OCW Humanistic Climate Courses







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



MIT Climate Resources


Fast Forward
MIT's Climate Action Plan for the Decade

MIT Climate


The MIT Council on an Uncertain Human Future

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 the Dean
MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
Series Editor/Designer: Emily Hiestand
Consulting Editor: Kathryn O'Neill
April 2020  — Present