Former Connecticut Commissioner of Environmental Protection and Administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency Gina McCarthy has made the shift from government to academia, with the launch of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (C-CHANGE) at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. C-CHANGE is a new collaboration between Harvard University and Google that will seek to reduce the use of harmful chemicals in building products and materials. C-CHANGE is committed to transforming science into meaningful actions that will deliver a healthier, more just, and sustainable world, according to the university.
The Center aims to ensure that government officials, business leaders, and the public have access to the best science so they can understand the health and environmental challenges they face, why it matters to them, and how they can get engaged.
McCarthy headed the Connecticut DEP from 2004 to early 2009, and left to become head of EPA's air and radiation office before advancing to the nation’s top environmental protection job in 2013.
Appearing on Conversations on Health Care, a podcast produced by Middletown-based Community Health Center Inc., McCarthy discussed past, present and future. On the program, hosted by President and Co-founder Mark Masselli and Senior Vice President and Clinical Director Margaret Flinter, McCarthy said C-CHANGE was working to make climate change “very personal, and actionable to individuals, and families and businesses.” She added, “information is power… I want people to have that information.”
McCarthy said she understands the concerns of some in the environmental community regarding Trump Administration efforts to roll back many of the Obama-era policies, but she said it will be tougher to accomplish than most believe.
“What we did was follow the science, we followed the law, we did great public process around it and I think we did a really good job,” McCarthy said, noting that many of the rule-change proposals of the past year or so are not yet final, and may not become final. “They’re going to have a very hard time.”
Her work at C-CHANGE is designed to accelerate and strengthen public education on climate change and pollution issues, bringing the science down to the individual level, highlighting the impacts on people, rather than the planet.
Reflecting on her time leading EPA, McCarthy said “We showed you can make progress environmentally, to preserve and protect public health, and our natural resources, but you can also, at the same time, do them in very cost effective, reasonable ways that in fact enhanced our economy and jobs.”
Last spring, Gov. Malloy appointed McCarthy to serve as a member of the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Green Bank.
At the C-CHANGE kick-off this spring, Harvard Chan School Dean Michelle Williams said “The Center will pave the way for new research and student engagement on energy systems, food and nutrition, healthier buildings, and products to benefit our school, our country, and the world.” McCarthy spoke about the importance of broadening support for environmental and climate action by calling attention to the impact of climate change on people’s health and the solutions to address it.
“Climate change isn’t about saving the planet and it’s not about politics, it’s about our kids and making sure they have the opportunity for a healthy, sustainable world,” said McCarthy. “C-CHANGE will ensure that cutting-edge science produced by Harvard Chan School is actionable—that the public understands it, and that it gets into the hands of decision-makers so that science drives decisions.”
C-CHANGE, the Harvard Office for Sustainability, and Google will work together to develop a set of public tools and resources that use the latest scientific research to inform decision-making by large institutions, purchasers, and manufacturers to help transform the marketplace to healthier alternatives. The collaboration, to the university, aims to improve public health and the well-being of communities, reduce the use of harmful chemicals and leverage lessons learned to create a model that can be replicated by other organizations.
Moving forward, the two groups intend to continue partnering with Harvard’s schools to use the campus as a living lab to test new ideas and verify performance.