Jean Salata is a climate optimist, enough to often elicit a gentle eyeroll from his wife, Melanie.
“I am very optimistic — and as I was joking last night — my wife would say that I’m delusional,” Salata said Wednesday.
Despite that optimism, Salata, CEO of one of Asia’s largest private equity firms, Baring Private Equity Asia, isn’t kidding himself about the complexities of the climate crisis. He knows it is a multifaceted, global issue that will affect the world his children and grandchildren inherit. But he decided that his best shot for making a real difference was to find a place with robust resources, deep talent, and the right leaders, and then just step back. And, he said, that is what he did.
“I’m optimistic that we can make a difference,” Salata said at the kickoff event of the new institute that bears his and Melanie’s name. “It’s not going to be easy. We’re not going to do it alone. We can galvanize all the resources that the University has to be a beacon to the rest of the world, almost like a call to action of why this is important and how we together are going to solve this problem.
Several speakers at Wednesday’s event, “The Future is Now: Harvard Takes on the Climate Challenge,” cited Harvard’s broad interdisciplinary breadth and leadership in higher education as reasons why it is imperative the University engage fully on the problem. They said the new Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability will fill an important role in the array of research, teaching, and other activities related to climate change taking place on Harvard’s campuses. Indeed, a recent report commissioned by James Stock, Vice Provost for Climate and Sustainability, concluded that despite the abundance of climate change-related courses, events, research opportunities, internships, and other types of engagement already offered at the University there remains a huge desire for more.
The Salata Institute, which Stock will head, seeks to play a unifying, catalyzing role that ultimately brings a University-wide focus to a massive, complex, and existential dilemma that has at times driven researchers, scholars, and students nearly to the point of throwing up their hands in resignation.