Public Education at the Earth Institute


A primary aim of the Earth Institute is its public education mission, intended to bring the expertise of Earth Institute students, researchers, scientists, and fellows to the broader public through a variety of formats.

Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs greatly expanded the reach of sustainable development knowledge this year by teaching The Age of Sustainable Development, a 14-week massive open online course (MOOC) hosted by Coursera, which presented an introduction to the key challenges of and potential solutions to achieving sustainable development in the 21st century. The course not only provided students with a foundation in environmental science by discussing ecological processes and their constraints, but also examined their complex relationship with the global economy. By discussing human interactions with the environment, such as energy use and urbanization, students attained a broad understanding of complex systems, as well as their role in those systems. More than 52,000 students took the course on Coursera in the spring. In the fall, the course was offered on both Coursera and EdCast. With more than 30,000 students taking the fall course on Coursera and over 11,000 on EdCast, the endeavor was deemed a resounding success, and Dr. Sachs is slated to teach a number of these courses in the future.

For those unable to commit to a class, the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog is a rich source of information about current and planned activities across all of the 30 research centers and units. With a readership surpassing 60,000 a month, State of the Planet serves to publicize the extensive work of our institutions, students, and colleagues from all over the Columbia University community working toward a sustainable future.

Earth Institute events also showcase the knowledge developed in the field, lab, and classroom, as well as some of the partnerships and relationships that help to advance thought leadership in sustainability. In the 2014 fiscal year, the Earth Institute held more than 200 public events, hosting world leaders, distinguished scholars, and preeminent scientists from around the globe. This year at the annual World Leaders Forum, a year-round event series aimed to advance lively, uninhibited dialogue on the large economic, political, and social questions of our time, the Earth Institute co-hosted talks featuring dignitaries such as Horacio Cartes, president of the Republic of Paraguay; John Mahama, president of Ghana; Jorebon Loeak, president of the Republic of the Marshall Islands; and Macky Sall, president of Senegal.

In March, the Earth Institute co-hosted, with the Center on Global Energy Policy, a panel event with regional energy experts from both the private and public sectors to provide attendees a framework for improving energy efficiency through industry participation. Moderated by Earth Institute Executive Director Steve Cohen, the panel concluded that to achieve long-term energy efficiency in the face of counterproductive behavior, both the public and private sectors must work together to design, communicate, and implement effective programs toward a more sustainable future.