Ozone depletion. That was the issue 21 years ago, as William Moomaw recalls it. The ozone layer in the atmosphere was thinning dangerously, and researchers had fingered chlorofluorocarbons in refrigerants and aerosol sprays, among other things. It was an issue that had galvanized environmentalists and scientists alike.
The other issue was the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, which had also captured popular attention, resulting in acclaimed international agreements on desertification, biodiversity and climate change.
“Ozone was the first issue to deal with, and now this climate thing was coming up,” said Moomaw, Professor of International Environmental Policy at The Fletcher School. “It was a whole new world…. There was a lot of optimism that something could be done about climate change.”
At the time, Professor Moomaw, an MIT-educated chemist and former program director of the World Resources Institute who was in his third year at Tufts University leading an environmental studies center, was asked to join the faculty at The Fletcher School. He went on to found the Center for International Environment & Resource Policy (CIERP), a pace-setting institute that, thanks to Moomaw, has put Fletcher researchers and dozens of master’s and PhD students at the cutting edge of theory and practice on environmental policy.
“The center has become much more than just a few courses. The education component is central, supplemented with a major research program—faculty and students working on academic research”
Last year, Moomaw stepped down as head of CIERP. This year will be his last teaching at Fletcher as he moves into retirement and onto other projects, including traveling with his wife Margot and putting the final touches on making their house in the Berkshire town of Williamstown “zero-net energy.” On October 18, he will be honored for the undeniable imprint he’s left on Fletcher.
Associate Professor of Energy and Environmental Policy Kelly Sims Gallagher, who has taken over directorship of CIERP in Moomaw’s place, credits the success of CIERP to her predecessor’s creation of a sound foundation that enables the faculty and students that follow him to flourish. “Bill Moomaw established one of the first interdisciplinary research and education centers on international environment and resource policy topics at a major university,” she explains. “CIERP has incredible potential for future growth given the soundness of its base. I have no doubt that Bill’s legacy will be lasting.”
For many students, past and future, Moomaw’s departure is a turning of the page, albeit one tinged with sadness.
“He always, despite having a busy schedule, makes time for his students,” says Ioli Christopoulou (MALD ’03, PhD ’11), whose doctoral dissertation was overseen by Moomaw.
Now an Athens-based nature policy officer with WWF Greece, Christopolou recalls a time when Moomaw was traveling to Athens to teach in one of Fletcher’s Global Masters of Arts Program sessions. She asked if he would look at a paper she had written ahead of time and he made sure to read it on the plane ride over and offered insightful comments.
“It’s really most characteristic of him and his very humble way of giving help,” she says. “Even though he’s an expert in his field, he’s very much at ease, in a very humbling and motivating way. His generosity and his openness; that really has made the difference for me and so many other students.”
CIERP was itself an evolutionary process, Moomaw says. After initially teaching a handful of courses in international environment policy and negotiations, Moomaw, and the center, began putting out policy papers that were attracting interested donors. One was alumnus Edward Hoyt (MALD ’62, PhD ’64), and in the years that followed the center received grants, including from the Luce Foundation among others. Soon, CIERP students and faculty were crafting policy documents for UN agencies, environmental organizations and others.
“The center has become much more than just a few courses. The education component is central, supplemented with a major research program—faculty and students working on academic research,” Moomaw explained. “The center combines the best aspects of a graduate education, to engage the students with the world while they’re here… so they can make transition from student to practitioner after they graduate.”
Moomaw cites one example of a recent CIERP paper, commissioned by the UN Environment Programme, for the Rio+20 conference held last year in June. The paper concluded that, among other things, by reducing waste, spoilage and overall consumption patters, be it by African farmers, American consumers or British food processors, millions more people could be fed without requiring major agricultural expansion.
His tenure at the helm of the Fletcher center has overlapped with his work on a project that has garnered accolades and praise worldwide: the UN-established Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Moomaw has worked on eight different reports produced by the panel, both as a lead author and as a coordinating lead author. The panel’s reports have unquestionably thrust the issue of human-induced climate change into the popular consciousness worldwide, an achievement that garnered a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 (the prize was shared with former US President Al Gore).
After the prize was announced, Moomaw says he joked with a friend from MIT: “well, it wasn’t for physics, it was only for peace.”
Moomaw said the peace prize brought notoriety to the IPCC, but ended up being a mixed blessing by politicizing the issue of climate change. He also points out how controversial the Nobel prize often is, and how many winners ended up getting targeted by critics or opponents for one reason or another.
“Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Obama; whoever gets it gets attacked. You figure you end up in good company,” he says, laughing. “We’re in with a good group of rogues.”
The politicization of climate change and of many environmental policy debates in some ways gives new direction and focus for practitioners and academics like Moomaw. He says the opposition coming from “climate change deniers” is analogous to what tobacco lobbyists did for years regarding the science behind cigarette smoking and harmful health effects.
“It means that we’ve got to frame this in a away that’s going to work. The reality is that this is something that challenges our economy,” he says. For many people, “we don’t want to change. I don’t want to have to change my light bulbs. I don’t want to worry about whether a tropical storm in October might curve inland into New York and New Jersey instead of veering out to sea.”
“We [as human beings] are wonderful at adapting incrementally to incremental changes. Here we have half the Arctic Sea ice disappearing in a single season. We’re in a different world. The climate has changed,” he says.
He emphasizes the need to change the way people think about climate change.
“People ask: did climate change cause [Hurricane] Sandy? Did it cause the western wildfires or the Arctic Sea ice melting? That’s the wrong question and wrong answer. Climate change is not an agent, it is the result of altered planetary conditions,” he adds. “The last decade was the warmest we’ve had in 1,400 years, according to latest (IPCC) report, I think that’s significant.”
The IPCC, he says, is like “Fletcher on steroids; it’s interdisciplinary, international, holistic, comprehensive. It’s sort of what we purport to be at The Fletcher School.”
That type of interdisciplinary thinking is what inspired Mihaela Papa (MALD ’03, PhD ’10) to come to Fletcher from her work in the Croatian Foreign Ministry. Now a Globalization, Lawyers and Emerging Economies fellow at Harvard Law School’s Program on the Legal Profession, Papa says she stumbled onto Moomaw’s courses and was inspired to pursue an environmental career, a career thinking about sustainable development. The fact that Moomaw was both a physical scientist—a chemist—and public policy specialist was inspiring as well, and she went on to write her dissertation under Moomaw’s tutelage.
“He’s very optimistic. He’s very positive and energetic and you can see with him that he loves his field tremendously and that he’s extremely knowledgeable,” she says. “That comes across especially when you look at issues like climate change where you really need to know the science very well to talk about the policy…. He basically conveys the importance of knowing the environmental science while conveying the top-notch social science analysis and public policy analysis.”
She says Moomaw’s optimism infected his teaching and he pushed his students to seek out solutions, rather than merely describing problems.
Moomaw’s teaching “isn’t from a doom-and-gloom style perspective. It’s from the perspective ‘we have the power and the skills to address it and we can address it in a way that’s much better’,” she says. “He really encourages students to think about policy recommendations, not just learn and replicate the knowledge that already exists, but be very problem-solving focused. He always has the sense of the bigger picture.”
Not surprisingly, Moomaw thinks the CIERP—its students, its faculty, its researchers— is well equipped to rise to the challenge of critical environmental policy questions, thanks in part to Fletcher’s relatively small size and the school’s effort to avoid rigid, “stay-in-your-lane,” disciplines and departments.
“If we’re going to address these problems, we have to break out of academic boxes.” he says. “Most other (schools, institutes, research centers) are too departmentally structured to do that. Fletcher gives students the freedom to roam,” he adds. “They’re an undisciplined lot, the students, in the very best sense of that term.”
-- Mike Eckel, MALD ’13