Why Climate and Society?

Child looking at a rain gauge in rural Africa

Rain gauge, Ethiopia (Photo by Brian Kahn)

Climate is intrinsically linked to core issues for all societies- health, food production, energy use. A subsistence farmer in Niger must decide when is the best time to plant crops to take advantage of a short rainy season that may be delayed by drought. A water manager in Tampa needs to plan how to effectively utilize different water sources and account for future growth. An urban planner in Bangkok must take into account rising sea levels when creating a waterfront development plan. The livelihood of a fisherman in Peru is intimately tied to periodic warming and cooling of the waters off the coast. Climate, and the variability of the conditions that comprise the climate in any given place, impacts all societies.

Knowing those impacts is one thing. Knowing what to do with that information is another. Climate science provides us with tools to predict climate variations on a variety of time scales. Practitioners who are trained to understand as well as to communicate the science can help to get this information into the hands of people making decisions that affect socioeconomic conditions such as food security or water management. This can help societies both take advantage of beneficial impacts as well as reduce the risks posed by climate variability.

The M.A. program in Climate and Society at Columbia University is designed to help young professionals and academics understand advances in climate science and forecasting and connect them with meaningful decisions. Graduates from the Climate and Society Program work at the nexus of social science, climate science and public policy.