Six Harvard professors representing a diverse mix of disciplines convened in Sanders Theatre last night to present a joint lecture on global climate change, and the critical role that Harvard should play in alleviating it.
The event, entitled “Harvard Thinks Green,” was organized by the Harvard Office for Sustainability and was based on the format of TED talks—to educate the audience of approximately 250 about the most pressing facets of the global warming crisis.
Professor of Biological Oceanography James J. McCarthy kicked off the event, speaking about current climate conditions and measures in place to combat global warming. According to McCarthy, the New York Times recently reported that 2010 showed the largest ever reported jump in global carbon emissions—5.9 percent. However, McCarthy also cited examples of successful incremental plans, such as Harvard’s goal to reduce its emissions by 30 percent from 2006 to 2016. He stressed the importance of Harvard as a trendsetter.
“Small changes, that often have no impact on our lifestyles, add up to significant change,” McCarthy said.
Law School Professor Richard J. Lazarus criticized Washington’s failure to pass comprehensive climate change legislation and urged Harvard students to innovate environmentally within the private sector. “Don’t just occupy Wall Street—become Wall Street,” said Lazarus. “Real profits can be made by being green.”
Lazarus also criticized what he sees as short-sighted political stagnation inhibiting global warming initiatives, and said that Congress is ill suited to passing long term, incremental legislation.
For example, according to Lazarus, in 2011 President Obama has discussed global warming in just one speech, in contrast to 73 speeches that touched on the subject in 2010.
“Global climate change has become the Lord Voldemort of issues—the problem that even the President dare not name,” said Lazarus, eliciting a round of laughter from the audience.
Dovetailing with McCarthy’s points, Harvard Business School Professor Robert S. Kaplan discussed the “leadership impasse” that has led to inaction in Washington, and praised the efforts of Harvard administrators such as President Drew Faust to lead by example.
HBS Professor of Environmental Management Rebecca Henderson provided an economic view of the situation, saying that capitalism must eventually have a significant impact on solving global warming. According to Henderson, despite the difficulties that come with decarbonizing the private sector and the conflict that will arise between social value and profitability, there is reason to be optimistic about the effects business could have on the climate crisis.
Students were appreciative of the perspectives the program raised.
“The talks were really intriguing,” said Jonathan D. Young ’15.
“It was awesome to see so many perspectives,” added HLS student Lung-Kuan Wang. “It really helped me see how we as students can create real changes.”
—Staff writer Ethan G. Loewi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.