Education News

M.A. in Climate and Society Student Focus

2007-02-28

posted 2/28/2007

Eric Holthaus came to Columbia University's M.A. in Climate and Society with a strong atmospheric science background and a preexisting fascination with the natural world that was fostered in his early childhood, growing up along the Great Plains in Kansas.

Eric Holthaus

Eric Holthaus, Climate and Society graduate, class 2006

His dedication to furthering an understanding of climate change and "the social justice of weather" was solidified on an affecting college trip to the Texas/Mexico border where he met a Honduran refugee who was the sole survivor among his family of the devastating Hurricane Mitch. Upon graduating from Saint Louis University with a B.S. in Meteorology, Eric proceeded to the University of Oklahoma where he spent a year studying for an M.S. in Meteorology. While working on his M.S., he assisted Howie Bluestein's tornado-chasing team by navigating and operating mobile Doppler radars.

Dissatisfied with the narrow focus of the M.S. in Meteorology, Eric applied to the Climate and Society Master's Program at Columbia University in the hopes of finding a "more broadly based [curriculum that he] could apply to solving real world problems around the general theme of serving society." Coming from a strong science background in the atmospheric sciences, Eric wanted to learn more about how he could apply his skills to work towards solutions to some of the world's most pressing problems, like poverty, hunger, and social justice. Eric says, “The multidisciplinary program and the resources of the Earth Institute at Columbia was the perfect location for a scientist like me to easily acquire skills in policy analysis, economics, risk management, urban planning, public health, and countless other disciplines.”

Eric took advantage of the engaging, multidisciplinary Climate and Society program and the vast resources available through the school's relationship to The Earth Institute to investigate mortality impact discrepancies among countries with similar levels of hurricane exposure. Using a vulnerability index developed through extensive research in Cuba and Honduras, Eric published a thesis titled, "The social justice of weather: hurricane risk management for development in Latin America and the Caribbean," in which he argued that social factors were much more important than exposure levels when attempting to explain existing patterns of hurricane mortality.

Following the completion of the Climate and Society Master's Program, Eric began work with the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), to develop an index-based drought insurance program for the Earth Institute's Millennium Villages Project. His recent appointment to the Sierra Club's Global Warming and Energy committee, which sets national Sierra Club policy and develops initiatives to advocate for clean energy and solutions to climate change from a grassroots level, will allow him to advocate for clean energy and emissions reductions across the nation. In the future, Eric hopes to work either for a regional program related to hurricanes and development in Latin America and the Caribbean, or work toward greenhouse gas reductions in a mid-sized U.S. city.

Climate and Society Students

Climate and Society class of 2006

About The Climate and Society Program

Columbia University’s 12-month MA Program in Climate and Society is in its third year of training professionals who are able to understand the links between climate change and its impacts on society. Sponsored jointly by The Earth Institute at Columbia University and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, this unique program offers a set of tailor-made core courses which provide a scientific basis for inquiry and stress interdisciplinary problem solving.

Drawing on the superb educational and research facilities of Columbia University, the M.A. Program in Climate and Society combines elements of established programs in earth sciences, earth engineering, international relations, political science, sociology, and economics with unique classes in interdisciplinary applications specially designed for the program’s students. To date, the program has graduated 34 students from all over the world including Australia, Bolivia, Cameroon, Canada, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guyana, India, Lesotho, Palestine, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Zimbabwe, and the US.

For more information, please visit our website at www.columbia.edu/cu/climatesociety
or email