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Harvard FAS Increases Climate-Related Courses Following 2022 Report

Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences increased the number of climate courses in recent years.
Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences increased the number of climate courses in recent years. By Frank S. Zhou
By Christie E. Beckley and Xinni (Sunshine) Chen, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences has increased the number of climate-related courses across several disciplines and departments in recent years, following University-wide efforts to expand climate curriculum.

In the 2021-2022 school year, there were more than 45 FAS courses focused on climate. According to the 2024-2025 course catalog released on my.harvard, there will be more than 50 courses focused on issues related to sustainability and climate change.

Notably, there has been a growth in climate-related courses in social studies and humanities departments like History, which previously did not offer many classes on climate change.

According to Government Professor Dustin Tingley, a co-chair of Harvard’s Standing Committee on Climate Education, the increase in courses is part of a broader University-wide effort to improve climate change education.

“I think that you’re seeing more courses offered,” he said. “We’re just now entering this next phase of establishing coherent structure rationalization, which isn’t itself a deliverable, but sets the stage for future deliverables.”

In 2022, a committee of 30 Harvard faculty members, including Tingley, released a report that laid out a strategic framework for the expansion of curriculum relating to climate change — increasing funding for climate education, establishing an advisory committee, and expanding faculty hiring. Other ideas the report discussed included the development of a new master’s program, a certificate program, and a “revamping” of undergraduate courses.

In January 2023, as a recommendation of the report, the CCE was established, consisting of 21 faculty members.

Under the CCE’s recommendation, every undergraduate division took inventory of the state of climate education in their own sector.

Tingley emphasized the importance of interdisciplinary climate learning through a “cross-fit approach,” ensuring that all students, regardless of concentration, have the chance to learn about and discuss climate change in the same room.

“Say you were taking an interdisciplinary junior seminar, on some topic,” Tingley said. “But there was also an engineering student, there was also a chemistry student, there was also a bio student, and there was also an economist.”

The 2022 report advocated for the creation of an Environmental Studies concentration that would “match the scope of the global climate challenge” and bring in faculty members and students working across both the humanities and STEM disciplines as a short-term actionable opportunity.

Anne Harrington, a history of science professor who also serves on the CCE, said Harvard should give students the tools to combat the interdisciplinary issue of climate change.

“We need to train our students with the skills to do the untangling,” she said. “We need to train students in a different way than even most of our concentrations.”

Courses across concentrations are starting to make these changes. English department faculty members have spoken at the Mahindra Environmental Forum and taught classes titled “Climate Change Literature.”

Economics 10a: Principles of Economics (Microeconomics), Harvard’s flagship economics introductory economics course, includes lectures on climate change and the externalities of carbon emissions and taxes in its curriculum.

Similarly, Harvard’s History Department has seen a record number of climate-related courses as part of their Environmental History Curricular Initiative.

In the 2023-2024 school year, the History department offered 19 courses that covered environmental content as either a primary focus or spent at least one to two weeks on it. Courses included History 15W: Warzone Earth: Environmental Histories of War and First Year Seminar 72Z: Oil and Empire.

The two-year initiative, which started in the 2023-2024 school year, aims to “capture student and faculty interest in an exciting emerging methodology that places the environment and climate at the center of the stories we tell about the past,” according to the Department’s website.

Since the inception of the initiative, history faculty members have developed climate-related courses that touch upon their areas of interest.

Camden R. Elliott, a graduate student who helped the History department create the Environmental History Curricular Initiative — along with History Department Chair Sidney Chalhaub — said, “We have quite a few faculty members who either think of themselves first or secondarily as environmental historians.”

“It was a chance to get folks together and think about classes that could mesh organically,” Elliot said. “We're interested in bringing their own kind of interests and research to bear on these contemporary questions.”

History Curriculum Coordinator Claire Adams said that the environment is inherently an interdisciplinary subject.

“A lot of history, even if it’s not labeled environmental history, ends up touching on these issues,” she said. “Because humans, the environment, we’re all interconnected.”

Harvard should equip students with the resources they need to tackle climate issues, according to Harrington.

“What kind of people do we need to put out into the world who are going to be able to tackle this?” Harrington said. “Your generation deserves a form of education that will prepare you for the world you're going to inherit.”

—Staff writer Xinni (Sunshine) Chen can be reached at sunshine.chen@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @sunshine_cxn.

—Staff writer Christie E. Beckley can be reached at christie.beckley@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @cbeckley22.

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