Richard Harris

Award-winning journalist Richard Harris has reported on a wide range of topics in science, medicine and the environment since he joined NPR in 1986. In early 2014, his focus shifted from an emphasis on climate change and the environment to biomedical research.

Harris has traveled to all seven continents for NPR. His reports have originated from Timbuktu, the South Pole, the Galapagos Islands, Beijing during the SARS epidemic, the center of Greenland, the Amazon rain forest, the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro (for a story about tuberculosis), and Japan to cover the nuclear aftermath of the 2011 tsunami.
In 2010, Harris' reporting revealed that the blown-out BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico was spewing out far more oil than asserted in the official estimates. That revelation led the federal government to make a more realistic assessment of the extent of the spill.

Harris covered climate change for decades. He reported from the United Nations climate negotiations, starting with the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and including Kyoto in 1997 and Copenhagen in 2009. Harris was a major contributor to NPR's award-winning 2007-2008 "Climate Connections" series.

Over the course of his career, Harris has been the recipient of many prestigious awards. Those include the American Geophysical Union's 2013 Presidential Citation for Science and Society. He shared the 2009 National Academy of Sciences Communication Award and was a finalist again in 2011. In 2002, Harris was elected an honorary member of Sigma Xi, the scientific research society. Harris shared a 1995 Peabody Award for investigative reporting on NPR about the tobacco industry. Since 1988, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has honored Harris three times with its science journalism award.

Before joining NPR, Harris was a science writer for the San Francisco Examiner. From 1981 to 1983, Harris was a staff writer at The Tri-Valley Herald in Livermore, California, covering science, technology, and health issues related to the nuclear weapons lab in Livermore. He started his career as an AAAS Mass Media Science Fellow at the now-defunct Washington (DC) Star.

Harris is co-founder of the Washington, D.C., Area Science Writers Association, and is past president of the National Association of Science Writers. He serves on the board of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

A California native, Harris returned to the University of California-Santa Cruz in 2012, to give a commencement address at Crown College, where he had given a valedictory address at his own graduation. He earned a bachelor's degree at the school in biology, with highest honors.

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5:52pm

Tue September 11, 2012
Science

'Astonishing' Arctic Ice Melt Sets New Record

Originally published on Tue September 11, 2012 9:57 pm

Norman Kuring NASA/GSFC/Suomi

Arctic sea ice has melted dramatically this summer, smashing the previous record. The Arctic has warmed dramatically compared with the rest of the planet, and scientists say that's what's driving this loss of ice.

To be sure, ice on the Arctic Ocean always melts in the summer. Historically, about half of it is gone by mid-September. But this year, three-fourths of the ice has melted away, setting a dramatic new benchmark.

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3:09pm

Mon September 10, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

When Heat Kills: Global Warming As Public Health Threat

Originally published on Thu September 13, 2012 11:26 am

A man stands in a fountain in Washington Square Park on July 18, in New York City. Temperatures were expected in the upper 90's during another heat wave in the city.
Mario Tama Getty Images

The current poster child for global warming is a polar bear, sitting on a melting iceberg. Some health officials argue the symbol should, instead, be a child.

That's because emerging science shows that people respond more favorably to warnings about climate change when it's portrayed as a health issue rather than as an environmental problem.

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3:19am

Tue September 4, 2012
Environment

As Temps Rise, Cities Combat 'Heat Island' Effect

Originally published on Tue September 4, 2012 5:10 pm

An art installation of a melting fan sits on display in a subway station Thursday, June 9, 2011, in Atlanta.
David Goldman AP

More than 20,000 high-temperature records have been broken so far this year in the United States. And the heat is especially bad in cities, which are heating up about twice as fast as the rest of the planet.

High temperatures increase the risk of everything from asthma to allergies, and can even be deadly. But a researcher in Atlanta also sees this urban heat wave as an opportunity to do something about our warming planet.

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5:14pm

Thu August 23, 2012
Energy

Romney Energy Plan Touts Oil, Gas, Coal Production

Originally published on Thu August 23, 2012 7:07 pm

In unveiling his energy policy during a campaign event on Thursday, Mitt Romney says he wants to set a goal of North American energy independence by 2020.
Evan Vucci AP

Mitt Romney outlined an energy plan Thursday that would guide his Republican presidency. It focuses heavily on expanding the supply of fossil fuels. The presumptive nominee said the U.S., Mexico and Canada together could reach energy independence by 2020.

But the plan makes no mention of climate change and would end subsidies for cleaner sources of energy, such as wind and solar.

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4:30pm

Wed August 22, 2012
Environment

Humans' Role In Antarctic Ice Melt Is Unclear

Originally published on Wed August 22, 2012 7:59 pm

The Larsen B ice shelf, a large floating ice mass on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula, shattered and separated from the continent 10 years ago. A NASA satellite captured the event in this image from Feb. 23, 2002. The 650 foot-thick, 1,250-square-mile ice shelf had existed since the last ice age.
AP

Ten years ago, a piece of ice the size of Rhode Island disintegrated and melted in the waters off Antarctica. Two other massive ice shelves along the Antarctic Peninsula had suffered similar fates a few years before. The events became poster children for the effects of global warming. But a new study finds that the story isn't quite so simple.

There's no question that unusually warm air triggered the final demise of these huge chunks of ice. But a lingering question is whether these events can be attributed to human-induced global warming.

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5:23am

Wed August 22, 2012
Environment

Ruling Is A Set-Back To Obama's Clean Air Plan

Originally published on Wed August 22, 2012 6:48 am

A federal court has rejected a rule that would have regulated air pollution that blows from one state to the next. The ruling puts a damper on the Obama administration's efforts to reduce asthma, heart disease and other ailments related to air pollution. States and utilities asserted that the rules overstepped the EPA's authority under the Clean Air Act.

3:27am

Tue August 7, 2012
World

Growing Pains: Nations Balance Growth, Power Needs

Originally published on Wed August 8, 2012 2:39 pm

Muslim girls study by candlelight inside a religious school in Noida, near New Delhi, on July 31. The collapse of three regional power grids last week caused a massive power outage that blacked out more than half of India.
Parivatran Sharma Reuters /Landov

It may take some time to pinpoint the exact cause of India's massive blackouts last week, but the underlying issue for India and many other parts of the developing world is that supply is struggling to keep up with the growing demand for power — an imbalance that can affect the reliability of electric grids.

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6:08pm

Wed July 18, 2012
Environment

Can Adding Iron To Oceans Slow Global Warming?

Originally published on Wed July 18, 2012 7:30 pm

This algae, called Chaetoceros atlanticus, can bloom in the ocean when iron is added to the water. It captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and carries the carbon down underwater when it sinks.
Marina Montresor, SZN Alfred Wegener Institute

A noted oceanographer once quipped that if you gave him a tanker half-filled with iron, he could give you an ice age. He was only half-joking.

Adding iron to the ocean can cause blooms of algae, which have the potential to take huge amounts of carbon dioxide out of the air and by so doing, cool the planet. And a report in Nature magazine now offers some support for that idea.

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4:48am

Tue July 17, 2012
Research News

For Seeds, Rodents Are Like Taxis

Originally published on Tue July 17, 2012 12:17 pm

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This next story takes on some new scientific research involving wily rodents, rodents that run around through the rainforest stealing mercilessly from one another. That doesn't sound very nice, but they're actually providing a service for the forest that may once have been provided by wooly mammoths.

NPR's Richard Harris could not resist telling a story with such an intriguing cast of characters.

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5:40am

Thu July 12, 2012
Research News

U.S. Feel Less Guilt About Environmental Choices

Originally published on Fri July 13, 2012 8:56 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

You might think that Americans, renowned for consuming a disproportionate share of the Earth's resources, would feel the most guilty about using up those resources. Not so, according to a new study. NPR's Richard Harris reports on the latest findings from a National Geographic project called Greendex.

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