The Harvard Chan School's Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment will be led by ex-Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy.

Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

Health

Fired-up McCarthy takes leadership role at Harvard Chan School

4 min read

Center for health and environment relaunched with former EPA administrator at the helm

The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health relaunched its center for health and environment on Wednesday, announcing a new name, a new director, and a new collaboration with Google to reduce indoor pollutants.

The launch of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (C-CHANGE) also served as something of an Obama administration reunion. The new director is ex-Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy, a Massachusetts native whose outspoken, rally-the-troops style has made her a favorite of Americans upset by President Trump’s efforts to roll back environmental rules.

Speakers at the event included John Holdren, who served eight years as President Obama’s top science adviser and is now the Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Holdren outlined the frightening science of climate change, noted that multiple scientific advisory positions remain unfilled in the current administration, and urged a return to science-informed decisions in federal policy-making.

Obama-era Secretary of State John Kerry also spoke, calling for citizens who care about the environment to become politically active. Kerry cited the role of activism and the first Earth Day in helping to drive environmental statutes in the early 1970s, including the Clean Water Act and legislation establishing the EPA.

Harvard Chan School Dean Michelle Williams said the new center will support cutting-edge research with an eye toward informing decision-makers.

“Climate change is one of the greatest public health challenges of our time, and with great challenges come the opportunity for us to bring about solutions,” she said.

Michelle Williams,
John Kerry

Image 1: “Climate change is one of the greatest public health challenges of our time, and with great challenges come the opportunity for us to bring about solutions,” said Harvard Chan School Dean Michelle Williams. Image 2: John Kerry (podium) with Aaron Bernstein (from left), Joseph Allen, Michelle Williams, John Holdren, and Gina McCarthy.

Photos by Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

The center was established 22 years ago at Harvard Medical School as the Center for Health and the Global Environment. It moved to the Harvard Chan School in 2012.

In her remarks, McCarthy, professor of the practice of public health, said that interactions with Harvard students have provided something of a salve amid efforts by the Trump administration to dismantle much of the Obama administration’s environmental measures.

McCarthy envisions a future where research drives individual action. She called health and climate a “magnificent twofer,” because efforts to improve health can also address climate concerns.

“Information is power, folks. If we get information out to people, I have great faith that people will do something with it — they’ll embrace it,” McCarthy said. “They’ll understand that the challenges we are trying to address are actually about them, not about polar bears in distant lands. It is about them and we can make the change that we want in the world if we work together, and that is what C-CHANGE is going to do.”

The center’s research initiatives include Healthy Kids and Climate; Healthy Buildings; and Healthy Cities and Climate.

As part of the launch, center Co-Director Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science, announced a partnership with Google to improve indoor health. The center and Harvard’s Office for Sustainability will collaborate with the tech giant to seek market-based solutions that promote the development of healthier building materials, he said.

The center’s goal “is to help all people in all buildings everywhere every day,” said Allen, who heads the Healthy Buildings program. “We cannot do this by producing research in a vacuum, because all too often academic journals are where great research goes to die. This center is going to work to ensure that doesn’t happen.”