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Harvard students share thoughts on environmental challenges

Liu is with Harvard Climate Leaders Program for Professional Students. Healy is with the Harvard Student Climate Change Conference. Both are students at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

HEALY:  As a public health student I see so many environmental challenges, be it the 90 percent of the world who breathe unhealthy air, or the disproportionate effects of extreme heat on communities of color, or the environmental disruptions to the natural world and the zoonotic disease that humans are increasingly being exposed to. But the central commonality at the heart of all these crises is the climate crisis. Climate change, from the greenhouse-gas emissions to the physical heating of the Earth, is worsening all of these environmental crises. That’s why I call the climate crisis the great exacerbator. While we will all feel the effects of climate change, it will not be felt equally. Whether it’s racial inequity or wealth inequality, the climate crisis is widening these already gaping divides.

Solutions may have to be outside of our current road maps for confronting crises. I have seen the success of individual efforts and private innovation in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, from individuals wearing masks and social distancing to the huge advances in vaccine development. But for climate change, individual efforts and innovation won’t be enough. I would be in favor of policy reform and coalition-building between new actors. As an overseer of the Harvard Student Climate Change Conference and the Harvard Climate Leaders Program, I’ve aimed to help mobilize Harvard’s diverse community to tackle climate change. I am also researching how climate change makes U.S. temperatures more variable, and how that’s reducing the life expectancies of Medicare recipients. The goal of this research, with Professor Joel Schwartz, will be to understand the effects of climate change on vulnerable communities. I certainly hope to expand on these themes in my future work.

SU LIU:  A climate solution will need to be a joint effort from the whole society, not just people inside the environmental or climate circles. In addition to cross-sectoral cooperation, solving climate change will require much stronger international cooperation so that technologies, projects, and resources can be developed and shared globally. As a Chinese-Brazilian student currently studying in the United States, I find it very valuable to learn about the climate challenges and solutions of each of these countries, and how these can or cannot be applied in other settings. China-U.S. relations are tense right now, but I hope that climate talks can still go ahead since we have much to learn from each other.

Personally, as a student in environmental health at [the Harvard Chan School], I feel that my contribution to addressing this challenge until now has been in doing research, learning more about the health impacts of climate change, and most importantly, learning how to communicate climate issues to people outside climate circles. Every week there are several climate-change events at Harvard, where a different perspective on climate change is addressed. It has been very inspiring for me, and I feel that I could learn about climate change in a more holistic way.

Recently, I started an internship at FXB Village, where I am working on developing and integrating climate resilience indicators into their poverty-alleviation program in rural communities in Puebla, Mexico. It has been very rewarding to introduce climate-change and climate-resilience topics to people working on poverty alleviation and see how everything is interconnected. When we address climate resilience, we are also addressing access to basic services, livelihoods, health, equity, and quality of life in general. This is where climate justice is addressed, and that is a very powerful idea.