James J. McCarthy, 1944-2019

Former board chair

James McCarthy

James J. McCarthy led our organization’s board from 2009 to 2015, and served as a member from 2003 to 2019. We greatly appreciated and benefited from his leadership, his passion for advancing scientific understanding of the Earth’s climate and oceans, and his tireless commitment to advancing science-based solutions for climate change.

Dr. McCarthy was the Alexander Agassiz professor of biological oceanography at Harvard University, where he also served as director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology from 1989 to 2002. Committed to interdisciplinary research long before the concept became popular, he understood the importance of reaching across fields of study to draw holistic conclusions. Dr. McCarthy’s primary research focused on the regulation of plankton productivity in the ocean, particularly in regions that are affected by seasonal and year-to-year variations in climate. Through his work, he could plainly see the far-ranging and interconnected consequences of a warming planet, and he devoted much of his public service to education and advocacy on climate change.

Dr. McCarthy served on and led national and international organizations dedicated to addressing climate and global change. He was an author of regional, national, and international climate change assessments, and vice chair of the UCS-led Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment. He also headed the 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II assessment of impacts and vulnerabilities relating to climate change. In 2012, President Barack Obama appointed him to the US Arctic Research Commission.

In addition to his leadership on the UCS board of directors for 16 years, McCarthy also previously served as chair of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) board of directors as well as that organization’s president. In 2018, McCarthy was named as a co-recipient of the prestigious Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement.

Photo by NAB member Christopher Michel.