Yale News

Yale’s Planetary Solutions Project recently awarded nearly $1.5 million spread across 21 faculty proposals, looking particularly at those that carried a high risk, but that may offer a high reward in addressing the causes and effects of climate change.

Out of over 50 proposals from faculty spanning 33 different departments in the University, the project’s review committee — made up of 18 faculty members — selected 21 exemplary proposals for the initiative. Projects are supported primarily by the $15 million Climate Impact Innovation Fund. While the project grants are primarily focused on climate change efforts, interests of the project also include biodiversity protection, environmental health and environmental justice. 

“It was a large group of proposals — twice what I was expecting — and the quality is really high,” Planetary Solutions Projects Director Casey Pickett said. “It was really exciting to read all of those proposals. We were expecting, just given the amount of money that was available, to fund between 10 and 15 proposals, not being sure how much people would ask for. The quality of proposals and the number is just so high that the committee ended up recommending funding [for] 21.”

After the first project symposium in December 2020, University Provost Scott Strobel initiated a “call for big ideas” that aligned with the University’s science strategy. Pickett explained that the project was looking for multidisciplinary projects that were “early stage, high risk [and] potentially high reward.”

Strobel, who facilitated events and programming for the project, stressed the importance of the Planetary Solutions Project in an email to the News. 

“Human ingenuity utilizing fossil fuel resources over decades has led to the climate crisis,” Strobel wrote. “I am optimistic that human ingenuity can be applied to identify solutions. A key to success will be the full engagement and collaboration across the breadth of academic disciplines. This is what the PSP seeks to promote and what the recent distribution of funding will support.”

Robert Dubrow, faculty director of the Yale Center on Climate Change and Health and professor of epidemiology, is a member of one of the awarded faculty teams. Although the official list of grant awardees has not yet been released, Dubrow told the News that his team received a PSP Seed Grant to study heat-related mortality, air conditioning and inequality in the United States.

“The PSP has several major accomplishments, including: 1) holding events that have helped facilitate new collaborations among faculty; 2) securing funding for and establishing the Yale Center for Natural Carbon Capture and 3) securing funding for the PSP Seed Grant Program, conducting a fair competition, and awarding 21 awards,” Dubrow wrote in an email to the News. 

Vice Provost Michael Crair shared Dubrow’s sentiments about the significance of the project. An active participant in the review process for Seed Grant proposals and a co-chair of the review committee, Crair said he is confident in the project’s aims and trajectory.

Crair explained that, while all academics want their discoveries to be impactful, it can be difficult to predict the outcome and impact of their own research. He said that the Planetary Solutions Project, or PSP, seed grant selection committee paid particular attention to the proposals’ potential impact on the academics’ fields.

“Collectively, I am quite confident that the work being supported and performed by Yale’s students, faculty and staff under the broad ‘Planetary Solutions Project’ umbrella will have real world and dramatic impact,” Crair wrote in an email to the News. “That said, it’s impossible to predict exactly the form or nature of that impact, or which specific project will be most impactful.”

Crair added that the PSP will continue to highlight climate and biodiversity work being done at Yale, spanning topics such as carbon capture and utilization, climate policy, climate action, environmental justice and energy studies. 

According to Pickett, the PSP will release the list of projects awarded seed grants in the next few weeks. He said he has “lots of favorites” among the list.

“We’ve got 21 projects that are going to be working hard over the next year,” Pickett said. “We have a number of other really exciting proposals that I hope can find ways of making big progress [with] other sources of funding. And then we’ll run this same process again, next year, and every year for the foreseeable future. We have 29 more years of funding, so far, and it’s entirely possible that more people will be inspired by the gift of the Climate Impact Innovation fund to amplify this funding.”

The Planetary Solutions Project’s list of affiliations include 16 centers, six initiatives, 13 programs, four institutes and five laboratories. 

Correction, April 17: A previous version of this article misspelled Crair’s name multiple times. It also incorrectly stated the number of project proposals and suggested that Dubrow himself — not his team — received a grant. The article has been updated to reflect this.

Zach Morris covers the endowment, finances, & donations. He previously covered international affairs and is a sophomore in Branford College majoring in English.