Harvard C-CHANGE spurs action by making climate change personal and urgent and leveraging science from across Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and beyond.
Carbon pollution is not just polluting our air, it’s threatening our health, the sustainability of our planet, and our children’s future. The climate crisis demands bold and broad action to eliminate the world’s reliance on fossil fuels and to power today’s growing economies.
Harvard C-CHANGE engages and empowers key audiences like young people, the media, policymakers, and physicians to become climate leaders by:
- Communicating how climate change impacts the health of families—especially kids;
- Analyzing the health, equity, and economic benefits of climate solutions;
- Turning climate science into action by connecting researchers across disciplines to improve health today; and
- Engaging and inspiring the medical sector to adapt care delivery and use their voices to call for action.
Turning Evidence into Action Through Policy-Focused Research
Harvard C-CHANGE supports the design of climate actions that maximize health benefits, particularly for the most vulnerable. Our researchers conduct cutting-edge analysis to engage and inform the public and decision-makers about intended and unintended impacts of climate policies and regulatory actions.
Translating Science Through Media Outreach and Trainings
Harvard C-CHANGE ensures more storytelling and coverage of meaningful and effective climate actions. We work with media through outreach and trainings to enhance access to climate and health research by turning the science from the Harvard Chan School and other leading academic partners into digestible information.
Supporting Future Leaders
Harvard C-CHANGE supports students at the Harvard Chan School with monthly mentoring events, quarterly skills-based workshops, a year-round Student Ambassador Program and a small grant program for researchers. The Center also engages with students outside Harvard through an internship program, providing support for student activists and guest lecturing in elementary and high schools.
Helping Journalists Cover Climate Change
Major sustained media coverage on climate and health is needed to capture the breadth of this crisis and implement the solutions we need to address it. To increase coverage and change the framing for how climate stories are written, Harvard C-CHANGE brought together top reporters in their fields, scientists, physicians, policymakers, and academics.
- We pitched the Nieman and MacArthur Foundations on co-hosting an intensive 3-day workshop to bring together a diverse group of reporters to deepen their skills and expand their thinking around climate-related issues and how they intersect with all beats.
- It featured 28 speakers and 35 journalists. We identified and recruited all the participants and speakers, and organized panels and a field trip to a green tech incubator. To ensure engaging conversations and an effective workshop, we organized calls and prepared briefings for each panel.
- Our Director Gina McCarthy wrote a Nieman Lab article with advice on how to make climate journalism “relevant, personal, and actionable.” We promoted the workshop on social media, created a video and tip sheet summarizing the top takeaways.
- Reporters and editors learned new tools to communicate the current and future impacts of climate change, with an emphasis on telling stories through a public health lens. They left with creative ideas for increased local storytelling, new connections, and sources to bring back to their newsrooms.
- We increased the Harvard Chan School’s reputation as trusted voices, raised the visibility of public health research on climate change and highlighted faculty across Harvard working on climate issues.
Understanding the Health Impacts of Natural Gas
As a direct response to the Interagency Task Force on Natural Gas Storage Safety (formed after the Aliso Canyon leak) to collect, analyze, and quantify the health and safety risks of underground natural gas storage wells to population centers, our study in the Journal of Environmental Health found that people in PA, OH, WV, MI, NY, CA live much closer to wells than previously thought.
The data shows that 53,000 people in six states are living within 650 ft. of UGS wells, the length of an average city block and more than half (~65%) of the Aliso Canyon-style gas storage wells in the U.S. are located in residential suburban areas—not commercial, industrial, or even rural areas.
- To raise the visibility of our Center and ensure targeted audiences received this research, the team identified key takeaways from the study, both overall and within each of the six states studied and developed talking points for why the study matters for the public, for industry, for policymakers, and for health, safety, and climate impacts. These messages were used to develop a fact sheet, a press release, social media posts, and web content.
- The team partnered with the Science Communications Network (SCN), a non-profit organization that supports environmental researchers to conduct interview training with our lead researcher to help focus and clarify his message and key talking points.
- The materials were sent to reporters and editors from trade magazines and radio and news outlets from the six states included in the study. The team facilitated an exclusive interview with The New Republic so that major coverage was guaranteed the day the of the study’s release and secured additional interviews for the lead researcher.
Researching the Health Benefits of Renewable Energy
Two Harvard C-CHANGE studies were released back-to-back in 2019 from our Research Associate Jonathan Buonocore, on where to install renewable energy in the U.S. and across the world to achieve the greatest climate and health benefits.
The U.S. study in Environmental Research Letters found building renewables in areas where it will displace coal, as well as near denser populations, will generate significantly more benefits than placing it in areas with natural gas and renewables already on the electricity grid.
The international study in Palgrave Communications showed climate benefits are greatest in countries where the electricity grid is largely powered by coal with less-efficient plants and health benefits are greatest in countries with higher population densities where people are living downwind of emissions sources.
- Policymakers now have a guide for designing climate plans because of our studies. Investors can estimate the climate and health benefits of renewables at the country-level and the benefits of individual companies. The private sector can use this model to influence how an estimated $2.5 trillion per year can be invested to help achieve the SDGs more effectively.
- We ran practice interviews with the lead author and secured 17 interviews, which generated 34 media clips in national, local and trade publications, including Columbus Dispatch, Reuters, Milwaukee Public Radio, Earther/Gizmodo, Michigan Radio, Popular Science, and Inside EPA. It was in the top 5% of all research tracked by the data science company Altmetric. Our international study generated 11 media clips, including Fast Company and E&E News
- We shared the studies with key stakeholders, created a video of the findings and promoted the studies on social media. The articles were shared over 6,500 times on social media (not including Twitter) and 29 journalists tweeted about the study.
- We developed a U.S.release that was sent to reporters and editors targeting the Midwest, Great Lakes, and Mid-Atlantic regions, as well as to national and trade outlets. Our international release was sent to international reporters and editors, as well as business and finance trade outlets.
- The lead author was invited to write guest articles for the Environmental Forum and SDG Knowledge Hub.
Launching the 2019 Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change
Babies born today will face unprecedented health risks and life-long health consequences from rising temperatures, according to new research published in The 2019 Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change. Our Harvard C-CHANGE fellow Dr. Renee Salas was the lead author of the U.S. Policy Brief, which accompanied the global report, and we worked closely with Climate Nexus to release it. The brief summarizes how vulnerable and marginalized populations are disproportionately harmed by the climate crisis, as well as how children are likely to face far greater health impacts than previous generations.
- The team organized for Dr. Salas and our Director Gina McCarthy to speak on an embargoed press call that was joined by 28 journalists representing national news outlets.
- Prominent stories appeared in over 1,200 news outlets (estimated audience reached at 851 million) including AP, The New York Times, NBC, Time, USA Today, Vox, Huffington Post, Wired, CNN, Fast Company, and NPR.
- The team prepared Dr. Salas for interviews with AP, NPR, CNN, TIME, Fast Company, Mother Jones, Inside Climate, Newsy and others.
- The team created a social media kit for climate and health partners to promote the report once it launched. The Lancet-earned media coverage was shared over 6,000 times on Facebook, with 19 million impressions on Twitter.
- Our Center advised on the launch event, recommending it be held on Capitol Hill to highlight its policy recommendations and that House Science Chair Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson and former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy keynote. Dr. Salas gave a keynote speaker and we secured a reporting fellow with E&E News to moderate the panel discussion.
Examining EPA Power Plant Standards
Harvard C-CHANGE joined forces with researchers from Resources for the Future, Syracuse University and Boston University in 2018 to conduct a timely analysis of the Trump administration’s plan to replace EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP)—a nationally significant action that will affect the health of all Americans and our ability to address climate change. Our study, “The Affordable Clean Energy Rule and the Impact of Emissions Rebound on Carbon Dioxide and Criteria Air Pollutant Emissions,” showed that EPA’s proposed replacement for the CPP may be worse for climate and health than no carbon regulations. It would increase greenhouse gas emissions in 18 states and Washington, D.C. due to an “emissions rebound”. It raised questions about the rule’s legal standing and showed that most emission rises would be in high-emitting and red states. We organized the researchers and developed the communications materials and rollout plan to release these findings. We successfully navigated the timing and outreach to key audiences to ensure they understood why EPA’s proposal matters for the nation, the courts, for states, and for our health.
- Our study and communications outreach cemented our reputation as a trusted research center that can offer timely analysis on nationally significant actions that impact health and climate to inform policymaking and legal actions.
- Added important knowledge to help the public and policymakers understand what EPA’s ACE proposal means for the courts, our health, and state and national policies.
- Was raised as part of Andrew Wheeler’s confirmation hearing in an exchange between Senator Jeff Merkley and Wheeler about our study.
- Has been cited by legal experts as evidence for why ACE may not be legally sound.
- Included public comments on the ACE proposal submitted from the authors to EPA
Shining a Light on the Death Toll in Puerto Rico
In 2018, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers released a survey showing that Puerto Rico’s death toll from Hurricane Maria was over 4,600 deaths, significantly higher than the official death count of 64. Harvard C-CHANGE put this research into action by providing advice on messaging, media strategy, and stakeholder outreach and engagement. Our support maximized the impact of their survey, increased public awareness and helped the government of Puerto Rico understand the results so officials can better prepare for future extreme weather events to protect their people.
- The study was the most popular academic paper of 2018, according to the data science company Altmetric. It was also the most widely shared paper in the Altmetric Top 100’s six-year history.
- The paper received broad media attention across national and local outlets like the New York Times, Associated Press, Washington Post, CNN, NPR, El Nuevo Dia, and social media channels.
- The White House responded to reporter questions about the study, acknowledged the new findings and affirmed their commitment to transparency, accountability, and assistance to the people of Puerto Rico.
- Within three days of the study being published, Puerto Rico released the death counts for the months after the hurricane that they had thus far not released, which showed there were an additional 1,397 deaths from September to December 2017 compared with the same period the previous year.
- The Governor acknowledged the paper, welcomed their findings, and publicly expressed interest in learning more. It provided actionable information for the Governor’s meeting on the Island’s hurricane preparedness plan, which took place the same week as the results were released, about how best to prevent future deaths and displacement.
Translating the Science Connecting Mercury and Health
The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (Harvard C-CHANGE) showed the value of in investing in trusted voices, science translation and communications with its recent Mercury Matters: A Science Brief for Journalists and Policymakers. In advance of an expected proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to weaken the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), Harvard C-CHANGE convened researchers, prepared a briefing for reporters and arranged a press call on the most up-to-date research on the health and environmental effects of mercury. The purpose of drafting and releasing the document was to provide information for reporters as they were preparing to write about upcoming EPA actions and to ensure that the latest research on health improvements that have occurred since the adoption of MATS were fully understood and reported accurately.
- With our briefing and press call we showed the value Harvard C-CHANGE provides to reporters and built relationships with reporters to serve as sources for future stories.
- We elevated the expertise of our faculty and raised the visibility of HSPH and the Center.
- By providing a rapid synthesis of relevant science that researchers, reporters, and others could trust we highlighted the importance of scientific research in helping the public understand different policy implications.
- Most major news stories on the proposed MATS rollback incorporated our messages ensuring that the health impacts of changing MATS were included in the announcement. Fifteen media outlets joined our press call and two wire services Reuters and AP, wrote on it, which meant their stories ran in outlets across the country and internationally. Coverage included NPR, Washington Post, Energy Reporters, WBUR (2), WAER Radio, Bangor Daily News and Politico (2), Clean Technica, The Guardian, USA Today, VOX and Slate.