Population Dynamics of Climate Change

The awareness and concern about climate change is not new to the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies. Sixty years ago, the founding director of HCPDS, Roger Revelle, was deeply committed to understanding the impact of the environment on populations. He was referred to as “the grandfather of the greenhouse effect” by President George H.W. Bush when the National Medal of Science to was awarded to Revelle in 1990, a year before he died.

The RISK Project, a longitudinal study of low-income parents who lived in New Orleans at the time of Hurricane Katrina, had advanced scholarship on disasters by showing how the effects of “natural” disasters depend on community characteristics and pre-existing social inequalities. Faculty member Mary Waters (who also served as acting director of HCPDS in 2020–2021) is Principal Investigator of the federally-funded project that continues to generate insights into the consequences of the disaster on the lives of vulnerable populations.

During a recent sabbatical, HCPDS Associate Director Jason Beckfield worked with team of scholars led by former Secretary of Energy Ernest J. Montiz on “The Roosevelt Project,” an endeavor that deepened his interest in the sociology of energy transition after learning that, on the U.S. Gulf Coast, the barriers to faster energy transition are not primarily technological or economic, but are instead social and cultural. He is currently participating in The Climate Research Clusters Program sponsored by The Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability at Harvard University by serving as co-investigator on the interdisciplinary research cluster “Strengthening Communities.” 

The HCPDS is seeking out additional ways to explore this burgeoning area of study, including exploratory workshops and funded projects, in order to contribute multidisciplinary research on the population causes and effects of climate change.