Human Health in a Changing Climate

FXB director Dr, Jennifer Leaning has long been concerned about climate change from a humanitarian and human rights perspective, particularly as it affects forced migration. She addresses this topic in two recent videos. First, for the  Harvard University Center for the Environment (HUCE), she talks about the evolution of her understanding of climate change, including the impact of her work with refugees from Darfur.

Go to the HUCE profile of Dr. Leaning, which features papers and other videos, as well as the video mentioned above. Second, at “Human Health in a Changing Climate,” an April 2017 conference organized by HUCE and the Harvard Global Health Institute, Dr. Leaning spoke on the panel, Climate Change, Migration, and Health. Her contribution, “Climate Change, Distress Migration, and Armed Conflict: The Case of Syria,” discussed climate change as a factor in the beginning of the Syrian conflict and its effects on displaced people now.

Go to the video of the panel.

Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard Chan Dean Michele Williams and the former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, also spoke.  The Harvard Global Health Institute and the Harvard University Center for the Environment (HUCE) sponsored the event as part of Climate Week at Harvard which aims to give the Harvard community and the interested public increased access to some of the best scholarship related to climate change. The calendar for the week can be found here. Go here for individual videos of all the sessions of the day, which former US Vice-President Al Gore recommended in a Tweet.

As Dr. Leaning discusses in the HUCE video on this linked page, she first considered climate change in terms of the increasing numbers of wind and water storms and the rising of sea levels. Her experience from 2004 through 2007 working with refugees from the Darfur conflict deepened her understanding of the role of climate change in inciting or enabling conflict. The underlying problem came from a collapse of livelihoods because of lack of water from drought. The settled farmers could no longer depend on drawing water for crop irrigation; they needed to diversify into raising some livestock. Meanwhile, the nomadic tribes who depended on land for grazing their herds needed to go farther and farther afield.  The nomads, one set of tribes and ethnicities supported by the government, were forced into proximity with the farmers from another set of tribes and ethnicities, and conflict burst out.  Desertification was the spark that lit that explosion of politics, ethnicities, and old histories.  Dr. Leaning sees the four-year drought in Syria as an important part of the build-up to conflict there.  As the climate changes, Dr. Leaning expects that unfortunately there will be more and more such examples.

Go to the HUCE webpage for Dr. Leaning, which features papers and other videos, as well as the video mentioned above.

Read more about “Human Health in a Changing Climate.”

Explore the Harvard Climate Week schedule.