EC.719 | Spring 2019 | Undergraduate

D-Lab: Water, Climate Change, and Health


Course Meeting Times

Seminars: 1 session / week; 3 hrs / session



Course Description

We began this class four years ago focused on water and climate change. There was only one class on this topic at that time in the world! In 2018, we expanded our focus to include health, both human health and planetary health. Realizing that all people are vulnerable to climate change and all regions are impacted, we added health to emphasize the life-affirming aspects and hope inherent in a cooperative and solutions-based approach to climate change.

Climate science is comprised of a huge diversity of disciplines: physics, chemistry, biology, paleoclimatology, astronomy, geology, meteorology, oceanography, glaciology, and more! We will take an Earth Systems approach in order to establish a solid climate science foundation. The first two months will be devoted to covering fundamental concepts, so that we are all on common ground.

MIT exposes us to multiple disciplines. Water, Climate Change, and Health requires not only multi-disciplinary (within academia) but also transdisciplinary (beyond academia) perspectives that include equity and justice, which is to say concern for vulnerable people and other life on Earth. For example, we focus on people and specific locales where waterborne and vector-borne diseases, hunger, malnutrition, and poverty are exacerbated by climate change—challenges that will worsen with increased temperatures, precipitation, flooding, drought, overcrowding, and displacement. These factors are top causes of morbidity and mortality due to climate change. At the same time, we recognize that we are all on this planet together, so all life on Earth is vulnerable to climate change impacts.

These challenges are also opportunities for creativity and innovation. The intersection of water, climate change, and health is a call for action. Responses and actions today, as in no other time in Earth’s recorded history, affect our human and planetary future.

With this awareness and seriousness of purpose, our class will include a Term Project of your choice, as well as numerous lectures, tutorials, class discussions, demos, games, and field trips. We will explore solutions though real-world engagements. Presentations by water, climate, and health experts, innovators, and climate activists will offer stimuli for teams to co-create solutions. Co-creation is a MIT D-Lab signature approach to engagement and international development.

Field trips get us out of the classroom and into the world. We will visit the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory and learn about its history, its MIT alumnus founder,  continuous temperature records extending back to the 19th century, and its historic instrumentation still in use together with modern instrumentation. Next, we will visit some of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority’s storm-water management sites, including the Charles River dam and some combined sewer overflows. Our third field trip will be to the town of Hull, which produces 10% of the town electricity needs, the equivalent of 1,100 homes and all of the traffic lights. It does so through Hull Wind 1—a 150-foot tall structure with a 0.66-megawatt generating capacity—which is the first of two wind turbines, and Hull Wind 2 installed in 2006 in a different part of town. Our final field trip will be to Susan’s home to see, in action, a home-based solar electric, solar thermal, and geothermal system. All of these field trips will enrich our appreciation of water’s role in ecosystem function and climate science, adaptation, mitigation, and transformation opportunities.

We welcome students of all ages, nationalities, religions, and gender orientations, both undergraduate and graduate, from MIT and beyond MIT. We are excited to engage with you in co-creating a meaningful and memorable class this spring 2019!

Course Highlights

  • Project-based, experiential learning and close mentoring
  • Transdisciplinary approaches
  • Human and planetary health foci
  • Co-creation principles applied in designing Term Project solutions
  • Seminars, discussions & guest lectures
  • Selected water/climate/health film series offered on selected nights (optional attendance, bring your dinner!)
  • Field trips to local water/climate change/health sites: e.g. Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory, MWRA storm water management infrastructure, Hull Wind energy system, City Nature Challenge, and a low-carbon home visit


Hawken, Paul. ed. Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. Penguin Books, New York, 2017. ISBN: 9780143130444.

Maslin, Mark. Climate Change: A Very Short Introduction. 3rd Edition. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 2014. ISBN: 9780198719045.


Assignment percentage
Participation 30%
Tutorial 10%
Term Project 40%
D-Lab Showcase Final Event 15%
Extra Credit 5%

Active Participation

Active class participation is highly valued and reflected in your grade. Participation includes regular attendance and engagement in the assignments, active involvement in class discussions, group exercises, and teamwork. Class participation also includes completing assignments on-time and being ontime to class. Students missing a class are asked to inform the instructors. Attendance at field trips during class time is required. Attendance at field trips during non-class time is optional, but strongly encouraged.


The tutorial is an opportunity to pick a topic of your choice from the universe of topics pertaining to the subjects of water, climate change, and health and share that with the class. The tutorial will be undertaken either with one teammate, or individually. It can be done in any format of your choice, with creative, non-traditional pedagogies (eg. demos, games, workshops, or other activities) most welcome.

Term Project

In teams or individually, students will develop small- or global-scale term projects on water, climate change, and health solutions. You and your team decide on the format—a model, a video, a website, an app, a proposal, an artistic expression, a research paper, a competition entry. This can take any form. Each person or team will receive close mentoring as projects evolve. Every class project will have three deliverables, one per month of the term. There will be opportunities to present your term projects and get feedback from the class and/or mentors in varying stages of project evolution.

D-Lab Showcase

The D-Lab Showcase will feature all the spring term D-Lab class projects. Mark your calendars! This is a required event! It will be an opportunity to present the “final” version of your Term Project. Course instructors and peers will provide feedback on your work. 

Extra Credit

Students will receive a feedback on their second and third deliverables (see Calendar). After receiving their third deliverable feedback, students will have an opportunity for students to further develop their work for extra credit and hand it in one final time. There is no final exam in this course.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2019
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments
Projects with Examples
Lecture Notes
Instructor Insights