Earth Networks Take Interdisciplinary Work to the Next Level

Working across the university, the Earth Networks will focus on climate mobility, environmental justice, habitable planets, and sustainable food systems.

Sydney Williams
December 21, 2020

The Earth Institute, through its Earth Networks program, is providing a framework of support for interdisciplinary collaboration across Columbia University, to promote fresh approaches to research, education and impact on themes related to climate, sustainability and the future of the planet. Earth Networks are three-year working groups formed around any interdisciplinary topic that relates to the Earth Institute’s mission.

On December 9, the Earth Institute hosted a town hall to introduce its newly funded networks to the community. These are the Healthy and Sustainable Food Network, the Climate Mobility Network, the Environmental Justice and Climate Just Cities Network and the Habitable Planet Network.

Missed the town hall? Watch the recording here, or read on for a brief introduction to each network below.

faces on zoom meeting
Top, left to right: Caleb Scharf, Alexander Halliday, Jacqueline Klopp. Bottom, left to right: Alex de Sherbinin, Ama Francis and Walter Baethgen

The Healthy and Sustainable Food Network

The Healthy and Sustainable Food Systems Network, co-led by Jennifer Woo Baidal (Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University Irving Medical Center) and Walter Baethgen (International Research Institute for Climate and Society) is focused on combating the main challenges of agriculture and food systems.

One of their main goals is engaging faculty, researchers, and students from across Columbia in order to bring areas like nutrition and health, climate, economics, human behavior, policy, equity and vulnerability together. The work is expected to contribute to the establishment and development of the food-related themes of the Columbia Climate School, as well as support the university’s goal to “bring knowledge and experts to the world and solve real world problems.”

The network will achieve these goals by developing collaborations across Columbia and beyond in education, collaborative research and practice, and engagement and outreach. For example, the group will create a resource to identify all existing classes on food systems at Columbia; develop new courses, capstone projects and executive education material; and design a food systems curriculum for the Climate School. The network will also engage with stakeholders in New York City such as community-based organizations, food banks, local government and private companies, designing a process to support investment strategies in food systems in NYC.

The network aims to reach across the university, and its steering committee spans a number of schools and centers, including several centers of the Earth Institute as well as Columbia University Irving Medical Center, Mailman School of Public Health, the School of International and Public Affairs, the School of Social Work, the School of Dental Medicine, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Teachers College, and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. In addition, the network leverages support from external programs, such as the CGIAR Research Program for the Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security  and the Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project.

pyramid showing different levels of organization
Healthy and Sustainable Food Network’s team structure and levels of involvement.

If you would like to learn more about the network or get involved, please contact Alison Rose at [email protected].

The Climate Mobility Network

Co-led by Ama Francis, a climate law fellow at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, and Alex de Sherbinin, a geographer and associate director at the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), the Climate Mobility Network aims to catalyze research insights and data in order to guide the development of program and policy responses to climate mobility. The network will build capacity to teach, think, and develop policy about climate mobility, informed by an understanding of the complex interactions among social, political, economic and environmental drivers. Alex de Sherbinin and Ama Francis explain that the reason they used the term ‘climate mobility’ is because it captures voluntary and forced migration that are influenced by climate variability and change, including internal displacement, refugee flows, managed retreat and planned relocation.

The group will develop a network of migration researchers, education, and law and policy practitioners across the social, physical and health sciences. The network is building on work with the World Bank, United Nations Development Programme, the Platform for Disaster Displacement, The UN Refugee Agency, and International Organization of Migration, as well as the Columbia Global Centers Committee on Forced Migration.

The network has aligned its outputs with the four purposes of Columbia University and the Climate School. The network plans to develop a trans-disciplinary course, teaching aids and tools to help build curriculum and pedagogy on climate mobility. This spring, the network will launch an interdisciplinary reading group to take advantage of network members’ science and policy expertise on climate mobility, and will facilitate working groups leading to journal articles. In addition, the network will produce an array of content on the topic through blog posts and opinion pieces in major media outlets, while engaging with national, regional and international organizations with the ultimate goal of guiding policy development.

If you are interested in joining, please contact Ama Francis at [email protected], Alex de Sherbinin at [email protected], or Carlos Romero, the network’s intern, at [email protected].

The Environmental Justice and Climate Just Cities Network

The Environmental Justice and Climate Just Cities Network is led by Christian Braneon (NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies) and Jacqueline Klopp (Center for Sustainable Urban Development), Kate Orff, Thaddeus Pawlowski, Johanna Lovecchio (Center For Resilient Cities And Landscapes – Columbia GSAPP) and Natalie Greaves-Peters (Teacher’s College). The network is rooted in the concept that no community should take on an unfair share of environmental burden, and that environmental benefits are shared in an equitable way regardless of race, class, gender or other axes of exclusion. The Climate Just Cities Network brings these principles to life in regards to how climate change mitigation and adaptation policies, plans and actions are conceptualized, implemented, managed, and governed.

Like other networks, they have a comprehensive work plan for the next three years which is outlined here:

grid shows network's goals over three years
The Environmental Justice and Climate Just Cities Network’s three-year work plan.

To get involved, they invite you to attend future meetings and events, let them know about your environmental justice work, add contacts to their environmental justice directory and help with curriculum development. They especially welcome students who are interested in environmental justice. Please contact Natalie Greaves-Peters at [email protected] for details.

Habitable Planet Network

The Habitable Planet Network was formed in response to our planetary challenges in an age of discovery. It is co-led by Caleb Scharf, senior lecturer at the Department of Astronomy and director at the Columbia Astrobiology Center, and Linda Sohl, planet-systems scientist at the Center for Climate Systems Research and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Presently a 14-person group with members from Lamont, GISS, Astronomy, Biological Sciences, Applied Physics and Earth and Environmental Sciences, the network seeks to draw together Columbia’s strengths in planetary science and geoscience, exoplanetary science, astrobiology, and solar system science, together with biological systems and ecological science, to develop a set of interdisciplinary research themes centered around the concept of planetary habitability.

A slide from the Habitable Planets Network presentation.
A slide from the Habitable Planets Network presentation.

By doing this, they hope to ‘bring it all home’ by understanding and contextualizing Earth’s evolution and present condition as a complex integration of living systems, planetary systems, and human agency. For the future pedagogy and contribution to the Climate School, they would like to develop a strategic roadmap for guiding a national habitable planet program. They want to build a student-led community to facilitate access to habitable planet research opportunities and teaching resources across departments to create pathways for interdisciplinary work and training.

To get involved please contact [email protected].

These Earth Networks are building on knowledge and experience from across the university, and developing activity purposefully aligned with improving education, research, community and outreach, and social goals. If you would like to get involved, please do not hesitate to reach out to these networks.

Sydney Williams is an undergraduate student in the sustainable development program, and an intern with the Director’s Office at the Earth Institute.