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Jonathan Gilligan - Vanderbilt University. Nashville, TN, US

Jonathan Gilligan

Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences | Vanderbilt University


Expert on the impact of human behavior and public policy on climate, with a focus on how small changes add up to make big differences.






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Beyond Politics: Private industry needs to step up on climate change



Jonathan M Gilligan is Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Vanderbilt University.

He is Associate Director for Research at the Vanderbilt Climate Change Research Network, a member of the Vanderbilt Institute for Energy and Environment, the Vanderbilt Initiative for Smart-city Operations Research and a founding member of the Erdős Institute for Collaboration, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship.

In 2017, Gilligan and Michael Vandenbergh received the Morrison Prize, awarded by the program in Law and Sustainability at Arizona State University to the highest-impact paper on sustainability law and policy published in the previous year.

He is the author of one book and over 86 scholarly articles. He is also co-author, with Carol Gilligan, of the play “The Scarlet Letter” and the libretto for the opera “Pearl.”

Areas of Expertise (5)

Atmospheric Science

Environmental Policy

Climate Change

Water Conservation

Risk Management

Education (2)

Yale University: Ph.D. 1991

Swarthmore College: B.S. 1982

Selected Media Appearances (6)

Tips to make laundry day more gentle on the environment

Washington Post  online


But it’s getting easier to clean your clothes while staying green. “You do have to wash your clothes, but you can do a very good job of minimizing the impact,” says Jonathan Gilligan, an associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at Vanderbilt University who has studied the effects of individual actions on greenhouse gas emissions. Although one consumer’s decision to switch to a more efficient washer isn’t going to counter the cumulative effects of major industries on its own, he says “it can have an effect.” Individual actions add up.

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This past winter in Nashville was unusually warm and rainy. And it looks like spring will be, too.

Tennessean  online


"Winters have gotten so warm in the last 20 or so years that people forget. Weather that wouldn't have been remarkably cold 30 or 40 years ago seems extraordinarily cold today," said Jonathan Gilligan, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at Vanderbilt University.

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Sewage, storms and public health: How aging infrastructure hurts small Tennessee towns

Tennessean  online


Studies show there is “high confidence that extreme rainfall has become more common over North America and the United States," said Jonathan Gilligan, professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Vanderbilt. Scientists have "medium confidence that the change is because of human influence on climate,” he added.

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This is why Nashville's transit plan, as proposed, is the only option

Tennessean  online


Some have suggested that the “Let’s Move Nashville” plan, on the Metro ballot May 1, is deficient because it relies too heavily on mass transit and won’t reduce traffic congestion. We are confident that the plan can reduce congestion and, what’s more, provide multiple convenient, affordable transportation options for everyone who needs them. Expanding the system’s total capacity with light rail corridors will improve the quality of life for current and future residents who desire development that’s also pedestrian-oriented, not auto-centric.

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Faced with government inaction, private firms emerge as major players in climate change mitigation

Science Magazine  online


In a thoughtful and far-ranging new book, Michael P. Vandenbergh and Jonathan M. Gilligan turn that view upside down. Both from Vanderbilt University—Vandenbergh a lawyer and Gilligan a professor of civil and environmental engineering—the authors help explain why firms from Coca-Cola to UPS are motivated to be leaders in cutting emissions. That leadership helped pave the road to the Paris Agreement and has been a growing source of political support for the accord even as the Trump Administration has announced that the United States will pull out.

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Government action isn’t enough for climate change. The private sector can cut billions of tons of carbon

The Conversation  online


With President Trump’s announcement to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement, many other countries around the world – and cities and states within the U.S. – are stepping up their commitments to address climate change. But one thing is clear: Even if all the remaining participating nations do their part, governments alone can’t substantially reduce the risk of catastrophic climate change.

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Selected Articles (5)

A Study of the Geographic Variances in Water Salience using Local Newspapers

American Geophysical Union

Witte, A.; Hornberger, G. M.; Gunda, T.; Gilligan, J. M.

2018 Water use patterns in the U.S. have been shown to be highly variable geographically. This observation led us to consider whether there were similar geographic distinctions in the relationship between public awareness and understanding of water issues and water related behaviors.

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Session details: Environment and sustainability applications: Urban ecology

Proceedings of the 2018 Winter Simulation Conference

Sigríður Sigurðardóttir, Jonathan M. Gilligan

2018 WSC '18 Proceedings of the 2018 Winter Simulation Conference

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Agent-based Modeling of Human Adaptation in the Sinking Landscapes of the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta

American Geophysical Union

Tasich, C. M.; Gilligan, J. M.; Goodbred, S. L., Jr.

2018 The inhabitants of the low-lying tidal reaches of the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta rely on polders (earthen-embanked islands) to protect against tidal inundation and storm surge. These embankments have reclaimed land supporting a population of 20 million people but have disconnected the land from the tidal network.

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Sediment Accretion and Erosion in Poldered and Non-Poldered Regions within the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Delta, Bangladesh: Implications for River Channel Migration and Flood Risk

American Geophysical Union

Valentine, L. A.; Wilson, C.; Rogers, K. G.; Carrico, A.; Donato, K.; Gilligan, J. M.

2018 The Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Delta (GBMD) is one of the world's largest deltaic systems, with a surface area 100,000 km2 draining a catchment of over 1.6 million km2. It has the highest sediment discharge and third highest water discharge in the world, making it one of the most dynamic deltas. Additionally, the GBMD is densely populated with 400-1,200 people per km2.

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A Machine Learning Analysis of Multiple Social Surveys to Understand Environmental Migration in Coastal Bangladesh

American Geophysical Union

Best, K.; Gilligan, J. M.; Baroud, H.; Carrico, A.; Donato, K.; Ackerly, B.; Mallick, B.

2018 The decision to migrate is complex, and is often influenced by a combination of economic, social, political, and environmental pressures. Seasonal, internal migration is a common strategy for livelihood diversification utilized by rural communities in Bangladesh. It is, however, unclear how these existing patterns of mobility will be impacted by future climate change and environmental variability that are expected to increase pressure on vulnerable coastal communities.

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