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Clark’s Legacy of Climate Research and Action

Since 1939, Clark University has been at the forefront of research and activities related to climate and global change.

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Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

IPCC logo

Ed Carr, director of Clark’s International Development, Community, and Environment Department, is a lead author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report by Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability.

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Marking 100 years of environmental research

National Research Council logo

Clark’s Graduate School of Geography marks the 100th anniversary of its founding and, in turn, 100 years of environmental — and subsequently — climate change research. President Wallace W. Atwood — a geographer himself — launched the school in September 1921. Today, the Graduate School of Geography is top-ranked by the National Research Council, which was established under the National Academy of Sciences.

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Arctic Report Card leader

NOAA Arctic logo

Internationally recognized polar scientist Karen Frey, a Clark geography professor, marks her 10th year as the lead author of an entry for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Arctic Report Card.

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Youth Climate Strike

Youth marching downtown

Three days before the U.N. Climate Summit, Clark students join a march to downtown Worcester to demand action around climate change. The march was part of worldwide protests by an estimated 4 million people, inspired by Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg.

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20th anniversary of the HERO Program

Students measuring tree

Clark celebrates 20 years of the Human-Environment Regional Observatory (HERO) program, through which undergraduate fellows work with graduate students and stakeholders on research issues related to climate change. Over the years, more than 135 HERO fellows have participated in the program, which has received $2.5 million in research funding, most of it from the National Science Foundation, and generated approximately 45 book chapters and articles in peer-reviewed journals.


1.5 degrees Celsius

2018 IPCC report

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) releases a groundbreaking report about the urgency of the world’s taking dramatic steps to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. If not, the world could see even more extreme weather, rising sea levels, and diminishing Arctic sea ice.

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Clark backs Paris Agreement

Paris Agreement

The United States withdraws from the Paris Agreement, an international treaty covering climate change mitigation, adaptation, and finance, prompting Clark President David Angel to sign a joint open letter, “We Are Still In,” joining leaders of colleges and universities, cities and states, and over 3,000 organizations and businesses to support the agreement.

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Climate Change Teach-In

Clark University climate change panel

Clark holds its second — and largest yet — Climate Change Teach-In, bringing together the campus for a deep consideration of the challenges to the planet’s health. Activist and author Naomi Klein delivers the opening lecture, followed by more than 50 faculty- and staff-led panels, presentations, and open classes, assisted by a team of student facilitators. Tony Bebbington, director of the Graduate School of Geography, moderates a keynote panel (above) with panelists Clark President David Angel; Ed Carr, director of International Development, Community, and Environment; Geography Professor Jody Emel; and Sociology Professor Parminder Bhachu.

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EPA’s Science Advisory Board

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plaque

Robert Johnston, an environmental economist and director of the George Perkins Marsh Institute at Clark, is appointed to the Science Advisory Board of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Serving through 2017, Johnston will develop methods that are now a central part of how the agency quantifies water quality benefits for nationwide regulatory impact assessments.

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NOAA leader Jane Lubchenco

Jane Lubchenco and NOAA

Clark invites NOAA leader Jane Lubchenco, an internationally known marine ecologist and environmental scientist, to campus for the Geller Endowed Lecture Series. Her visit results in Clark’s launch of the Marsh-Mosakowski NOAA Fellowship Program, providing undergraduate students with summer internships at NOAA research sites.

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Extractive industries and environmental change

Anthony Bebbington

Ph.D. alumnus Anthony Bebbington returns to Clark University as director of the Graduate School of Geography, after having been elected to the National Academy of Sciences. His work focuses on extractive industries and socio-environmental conflicts in South and Central America. He later will be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and serve as director for natural resources and climate change at the Ford Foundation.

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Clark’s Climate Action Plan

Carbon neutral graphic

Clark University, under the leadership of President John Bassett, releases a Climate Action Plan outlining the University’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ultimately become carbon-neutral.

Third World Climate Conference

The World Meteorological Organization convenes the Third World Climate Conference in Geneva to achieve “better climate information for a better future.”

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First LEED Gold building

Lasry Center for Bioscience building exterior

Clark opens the Lasry Center for Bioscience, the first building in Worcester to receive nationally recognized Gold Certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System.


First Global Day of Action

Protesters advocating for climate change refo

The first Global Day of Action occurs during U.N. climate talks in Montreal. Going forward, the annual event will spark worldwide protests to take action against human-induced climate change, including reducing fossil fuels.

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Founding of IDCE

Bill Fisher speaking with IDCE students

Clark founds the International Development, Community and Environment (IDCE) department, hiring William Fisher as director, with a mission to cultivate a transdisciplinary approach that prepares students to become agents of social change. Later, climate change and adaptation will become part of IDCE’s research focus.


Kyoto Protocol

In Japan, industrially advanced nations agree to the Kyoto Protocol, the first international treaty to mandate the reduction of greenhouse gases.

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‘Regions at Risk’

REgions at risk cover

Part of a United Nations University research initiative, the Clark-based Project on Critical Environmental Zones publishes Regions at Risk: Comparisons of Threatened Environments, an international, interdisciplinary report exploring nine regions facing large-scale, human-induced environmental changes. Editors are Jeanne X. Kasperson, research associate professor and research librarian for the George Perkins Marsh Institute, and geography professors Roger E. Kasperson and Billie Lee Turner. “In nearly all these regions, trajectories of change are proceeding to greater endangerment, sometimes rapidly so, while societal efforts to stabilize these trajectories and to avert further environmental deterioration are lagging,” they conclude.

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George Perkins Marsh Institute

Marsh Institute artwork

Clark establishes the George Perkins Marsh Institute, emerging out of earlier research clusters around environmental risk and hazards. The institute is named for George Perkins Marsh, who, in the 19th century, spoke of the impact of humans on the environment.


Second Climate Conference

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) holds the Second Climate Conference in Geneva, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) releases its First Assessment Report, warning that human activities are increasing the atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gases, resulting in additional global warming.

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United Nations University

United Nations University

Clark Geography Professor Roger Kasperson promotes research and international discussions around global environmental change, receiving funding from the United Nations University. He also begins a National Science Foundation-funded examination of “Critical Zones in Global Environmental Change: Comparing Driving Forces, Awareness, and Societal Response.”

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World-changing GIS software

Researchers using IDRISI software

Under the direction of J. Ronald Eastman, Clark Labs debuts IDRISI, an integrated geographic information system (GIS) and remote sensing software affordable and accessible to researchers, nonprofit organizations, and students around the world, essentially democratizing a valuable resource. Clark Labs’ GIS and remote sensing software technologies are used today by climate scientists worldwide.

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‘The Earth Transformed by Human Action’

Earth Transformed by Human Action book cover

Organized by Clark geographers Robert Kates and Billie Lee Turner and Harvard’s William C. Clark, an international symposium, “The Earth as Transformed by Human Action,” draws widespread attention from the global scientific community. The symposium will help lay the foundation for the creation of Clark’s George Perkins Marsh Institute, and encourage Clark’s research in earth system science and sustainability science. Three years later, Cambridge University Press will publish The Earth as Transformed by Human Action, co-edited by Turner and Kates. The book, a major stocktaking of the anthropogenic impacts on the planet and its ecosystems over 300 years, is deemed “a landmark study.”

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Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment

Climate Impact Assessment

The Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) publishes the “Climate Impact Assessment: Studies of the Interaction of Climate and Society,” co-edited by Clark Geography Professor Robert Kates. The report notes that scientists widely agree “long-term global warming … is underway” and that a “scientific study of climate and society will inform societal response.”

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Sustainable energy

Sustainable energy

To further its sustainability practices, Clark opens the cogeneration plant, one of the first grid-connected such plants in the country. The plant’s engine converts natural gas into steam for heat and electricity for lighting. Waste heat produced when generating electricity is captured and reused, while surplus energy in the form of electricity can be sold to the electrical grid.

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Pioneering land change science

Billie Lee Turner

The Graduate School of Geography hires Professor Billie Lee Turner II, who becomes an internationally recognized environmental research scientist and pioneer in the field of land change science. He later is named to the National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and American Association for the Advancement of Science.


First World Climate Conference

In Geneva, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) holds what is now called the First World Climate Conference.


‘Global warming’ emerges

1975 global warming repor

The term “global warming” gains widespread use after publication of an article titled  “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?” by U.S. geochemist Wallace Broecker in the journal Science.


First Earth Day

New York Times cover of Earth Day

On April 22, the world — and Clark University — celebrates the first Earth Day, now an annual event that draws attention to environmental issues, most notably climate change. The first event sees pro-environment demonstrations in Washington, New York, and other cities, and litter cleanup throughout the country.

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Increased environmental research

Roger Kasperson

Alumnus Roger Kasperson returns to Clark Geography, this time as a faculty member. An academic leader and world-renowned expert in risk assessment and the human dimensions of global change, Kasperson will join Robert Kates in building Clark’s environmental research programs. Kasperson will be appointed to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board; elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, National Academy of Sciences, and American Academy of Arts and Sciences; and head the Stockholm Environment Institute.


‘Greenhouse effect’ warning

President's of the United States seal

In its “Restoring the Quality of Our Environment” report presented to to President Lyndon B. Johnson, the U.S. President’s Science Advisory Committee raises concerns about the “greenhouse effect.”

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Robert Kates

Robert Kates begins his tenure on the geography faculty at Clark, where he lays the groundwork for research in global and climate change. An internationally recognized expert in human ecology, Kates later is appointed executive editor of Environment magazine, and to the National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Academia Europaea. He and his fellow members on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will be awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

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Wind Chill Factor

Paul Siple

Clark first enters the arena of polar and climate studies via Paul Siple, who has accompanied Admiral Richard E. Byrd on two expeditions to Antarctica. Siple defends his Clark geography dissertation, “Adaptations of the Explorer to the Climate of Antarctica,” in which he develops the theory of the wind chill factor. He will join Byrd on three more expeditions and earn three Congressional Medals of Honor.