Magazine Article - Harvard Kennedy School Magazine

For more than four decades, Professor Bill Clark has championed sustainability

| Winter 2021

Clark's pursuit of sustainable development is a case study of putting science into practice.

Growing up in Connecticut and New Jersey, Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science Bill Clark was the classic outdoorsy kid, wading in streams, looking under rocks, and catching critters, preferably snakes. As a Yale college student in the late 1960s—pulled between ecology and political science—he worked on environmental policy in New York City under Mayor John Lindsay and in Washington, D.C., for the federal government of Richard Nixon. In grad school in the 1970s, Clark studied resource management, shinnying up balsam fir trees and using computer modeling to understand how rare but catastrophic insect outbreaks periodically destroyed boreal forests and forest-based jobs in eastern Canada and the United States.

Those early experiences led to Clark’s lifelong interest in applying scientific knowledge to public problems, particularly the need to promote responsible stewardship of planet Earth through sustainable development. As a young scientist, he ran one of the first government reviews of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, won a 1983 MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, and directed an ambitious new program, “Sustainable Development of the Biosphere,” at an international think tank in Austria.

Clark was ahead of his time, a pioneer in a field in which he has had a profound impact throughout his 45-year career, which includes more than three decades at the Kennedy School. Today “sustainability” is a ubiquitous idea, with ambitious sustainable-development goals being set by businesses, universities, nonprofits, and governments around the world.

“There’s been a transformative revolution at all levels, from individuals to global organizations,” says Clark, as people “take notice of how our present actions can damage our neighbors today and our children in the future.” Increasingly, people “accept responsibility to act on that knowledge,” he adds. “A new norm is emerging for sustainable development.” 

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Russell, Cristine. “For more than four decades, Professor Bill Clark has championed sustainability.” Harvard Kennedy School Magazine, Winter 2021.