Background, History, and Evolution of
The Climate Talks Project
2001-2016

The Challenge
        Under the administration of President George W. Bush official negotiations to reach a worldwide climate agreement came to a standstill as far as the United States was concerned. As the American national elections were taking place in November of 2000, international climate negotiations in the Hague, Netherlands adjourned without binding governmental commitments, and the subsequent Bush administration in Washington, D.C., announced that the United States would not support the Kyoto Protocol to limit greenhouse gas emissions.  Since then, European governments reached a measure of accord with other countries around the world, most notably with Russia. The Kyoto Protocol has entered into effect, but throughout the eight years of two successive Bush administrations the country providing the largest single contribution to global atmospheric carbon emissions declined to join with other countries to commit to reducing those emissions.

        Despite stalemate on this issue within the United States government there is a growing sense of urgency that something must be done.  It is now clear that global climate change will affect the entire human community, engendering large scale and profound adjustments in human social, economic and political organization in the years and decades ahead.  For this reason responsible scientists and informed citizens in the United States are recognizing the urgency of fashioning new mechanisms to foster open discussion and inform public understanding of global climate issues.

        Voices from Europe, India and the Third World have made it clear as well that there is a need for a stable, reliable, and internationally respected forum to continue a wide range of  climate talks. Governments may be reluctant to take the lead on these issues, but other important social institutions are responding to the global challenge that climate change represents. Universities, civic organizations, business and environmental groups each bring a range of legitimate concerns and unique insights to the climate debate.

        The challenge we face as a human community is two-fold. First, we need to establish reliable and credible mechanisms to foster the wide scale dissemination of the growing scientific knowledge about our global climate condition and its social and public health implications. Second, in the absence of governmental leadership within the United States, institutions of civil society need to forge new platforms to foster and sustain responsible climate talks.

The Response
        In response to this challenge scholars from several research uniersities have come together as partners to convene The Climate Talks Project. This project was organized initially as an extension of the Harvard Seminar on Environmental Values for the 2001-2002 academic year. It was subsequently designed as a multi-year collaboration between scholars from several universities to foster and sustain public discussion of global climate issues, problems and concrete solutions.  Participants from non-governmental organizations, business groups and citizen's organizations were invited to join in the activities of The Climate Talks Project as their participation was judged appropriate.

        The Climate Talks Project convened monthly seminar sessions during the academic year, starting in October 2001.  The objective was to to update participants through the Seminar sessions and a supporting web-site on the latest scientific evidence concerning climate change and its likely social and public health impact.  Further, the Seminar served as a means to share the growing information about the practical initiatives that are being launched around the world to cope with climate challenges.  At a point when it seems official negotiations are not materializing or achieving significant progress in limiting the human use of carbon fuels, it is all the more important that institutions of civil society sustain and extend public discussion of the challenges before humanity.  The Climate Talks Project provided an important platform and vehicle to maintain informed and serious exchange between all parties on these serious issues facing humankind.

        A particular effort was made to provide a forum through the Climate Talks seminars for voices from European and Third World scientists, citizen groups, and non-governmental organizations to help expand public understanding of global climate problems and proposed solutions.

        Summaries of the proceedings and support material for each of the monthly Climate Talks seminars were made available through the links listed whenever possible on its web pages.  The network of linked websites is intended to serve as a vehicle for continuing exchange between participating institutions and a research platform for both scholars and citizens.  In the right hand column links are provided to the official United Nations organizations and the Conference of Parties (COP) meetings and documents relating to the Framework Convention on Climate Change

Online Education:
      
Beginning the Spring Semester of 2004, The Climate Talks Project launched an online university course available to the world through the Harvard Extension Shool. The course was entitled: Global Climate Change: The Science, Social Impact and Diplomacy of a World Environmental Crisis. The website for this course became a de facto public research platform for those wanting to pursue further research and investigation of the complex problems facing the global community. The course has continued to be offered annually during the Spring semester and in the Harvard Summer School (see the syllabi for the 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 Spring semester courses and those in the 2008s, 2009s, 2011s, 2012s, 2013s, 2014s, 2015s and 2016s Harvard Summer School). The courses on climate change have been linked as well with other course offerings on environmental ethics, and environmental justice. Over the years the hundreds of students have taken these courses both at Harvard in Cambridge Massachusetts and around the world through the available "distance learning" option made possible by the Harvard Extension School.

       Each year the course has incorporated the latest scientific information as well as regular updates on the evolving global diplomatic material involving climate negotiations. In addition, the course has provided access to the growing volume of information about the social impact of climate change around the world.

Ongoing Outreach:
       On one important level, then, the initial goal of The Climate Talks Project has already been achieved. Created in 2001 in response to the Bush administration's rejection of U.S. participation in the UNFCCC's Kyoto Protocol, the immediate focus of The Climate Talks Project was to create a platform upon which climate scientists, policy specialists, researchers and concerned citizens could present the latest information and share their ideas about how to re-engage America in the global dialogue on climate policy. With the election of President Barack Obama, and his public declaration to commit the United States to re-engage in global policy discussions to limit carbon emissions that goal has now been accomplished.

       Nevertheless, much more needs now to be achieved in the realm of public education, especially because -- during the eight years of the Bush administration -- the public was systematically and persistantly misinformed by high-ranking public officials about the gravity of our global circumstance. Novel forms of public education need now to be developed to mobilize the newly emerging technologies of the Internet, YouTube and new forms of multi-media online communication.

     Made aware of the urgent need for massive public education on these issues, a number of the graduates of the Global Climate Change course founded the Cambridge Climate Research Associates (CCRA) to promote informed public discussion of the climate crisis and focus the need for global citizen action. The organizing principle of the CCRA is to provide "Climate Science for Human Survival." Through its frequently updated website, at Climate-Research.Com the CCRA provides concerned global citizens with access to news, commentary and further tools for self-directed inquiry on global climate issues.

     Beginning in 2009, in coordination with the BeLive! program series of Cambridge Community Television (CCTV), the CCRA initiated a program entitled "Eco News & Views" which further expanded and extended the coverage of climate issues by linking global trends and movements with the kinds of local activities that citizens can become engaged with in their dainly lives. The CCRA makes its materials available through an Internet website dedicated specifically to this outreach effort: Climate-Research.TV.

     In addition to more frequent and more severe extreme weather events, on a global as well as a local scale, climate change is becoming most apparent through the ways in which it affects agriculture. For this reason, the CCRA has launched an initiative called Food-Matters.TV to serve as an online platform for the presentation and discussion of ideas concerning the local and global transition to solar sustainable agriculture in our changing global climate. In a broader outreach initiative, the Climate Talks Project has created the internet-based clearing house of environmental course material (at: EcoJustice.TV and Transition-Studies.TV) to provide current news and information to students and fellow faculty working in the realm of environmental science, environmental ethics and the conditions required for free and objective inquiry into the environmental future facing the human community.

     On another level, in June 2009, the CCRA created the "Cambridge Climate Workshop" as a citizen information and planning online network on the potential impact of climate change on Cambridge and eastern Massachusetts. Access to this online facilitiy is free. Members are encouraged to volunteer information and discussion material for other participants in the Workshop.