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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Environment
2:23 pm
Thu December 8, 2011

At Climate Talks, Frustration And Interruptions

The U.S. climate change envoy Todd Stern delivers a speech on Dec. 8 in Durban, South Africa, during the U.N. Climate Change Conference. The climate talks entered their second week entangled in a thick mesh of issues with no guarantee that negotiators and their ministers will be able to sort them out.
Stephane De Sakutin AFP/Getty Images

United Nations climate talks, like many negotiations, are a blend of dead seriousness and theater. Today at the talks in Durban, South Africa, an American college student provided a moment of theater by shouting out a short, unauthorized speech during the main session of the talks. Her interruption encapsulated frustration with the pace of the talks in general, and the United States' role in particular.

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Environment
3:00 am
Wed December 7, 2011

At Climate Talks, Resistance From India, China, U.S.

Fundamental disagreements among the nations attending the U.N. climate conference in Durban, South Africa, may stall a possible deal.

Environment
1:51 pm
Tue November 29, 2011

What Will Become Of The Kyoto Climate Treaty?

Key provisions of the Kyoto Protocol expire in December of 2012, and experts say there's no real global framework in place to replace the treaty that was supposed to be the first step toward ambitious actions on climate change. Above, a coal-fired power plant in eastern China. China is now the leading carbon dioxide emitter in the world.
AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Sat December 3, 2011 1:45 pm

As diplomats from around the world gather in Durban, South Africa, for talks about climate change, a big question looms: What will become of the Kyoto climate treaty, which was negotiated with much fanfare in 1997. The treaty was supposed to be a first step toward much more ambitious actions on climate change, but it is now on the brink of fading into irrelevance. That could have major implications for the future of United Nations climate talks.

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Environment
11:01 pm
Sun November 27, 2011

Ahead Of Climate Talks, U.S. Leadership In Question

The U.S. is second only to China in emitting gases that cause global warming. Above, the smoke stacks at American Electric Power's Mountaineer power plant in West Virginia.
Saul Loeb AFP/Getty Images

A new round of United Nations climate talks is getting under way in Durban, South Africa, Monday. And domestic struggles here in the United States are hampering the global talks.

The United States is second only to China in emitting gases that cause global warming. Despite a presidential pledge to reduce emissions two years ago, we're spewing more carbon dioxide than ever into the atmosphere.

That's putting a crimp on the 20-year-long struggle to develop a meaningful climate treaty.

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Environment
1:49 pm
Fri November 18, 2011

Climate Panel: More Extreme Weather On The Way

A U.N. climate panel says that we can expect more extreme weather conditions as a result of climate change. Above, people run from a high wave on Nov. 8 in Nice, France, where heavy rain and flooding forced hundreds to evacuate.
Vallery Hache AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri November 18, 2011 3:55 pm

Brace yourself for more extreme weather. A group of more than 200 scientists convened by the United Nations says in a new report that climate change will bring more heat waves, more intense rainfall and more expensive natural disasters.

These conclusions are from the latest effort of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — a consensus statement from researchers around the world.

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Environment
1:44 pm
Thu November 10, 2011

Air Pollution: Bad For Health, But Good For Planet?

Power plants that burn fossil fuels release carbon dioxide as well as a complex soup of chemicals, including nitrogen and sulfur. These chemicals in the air actually help keep global warming in check by reflecting sunlight back into space. Above, the Bruce Mansfield Power Plant in Shippingport, Pa.
Robert Nickelsberg Getty Images

Originally published on Wed March 26, 2014 11:44 am

Cleaning up the air, while good for our lungs, could make global warming worse. That conclusion is underscored by a new study, which looks at the pollutants that go up smokestacks along with carbon dioxide.

These pollutants are called aerosols and they include soot as well as compounds of nitrogen and sulfur and other stuff into the air. Natalie Mahowald, a climate researcher at Cornell University, says so far, scientists have mostly tried to understand what those aerosols do while they're actually in the air.

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Energy
2:10 pm
Wed November 9, 2011

'Power For The Planet': Company Bets Big On Fusion

A section of the fusion machine being tested at General Fusion's facility outside of Vancouver, British Columbia. General Fusion is hoping to implement a long-shot strategy that could produce fusion energy in the next few years.
Brett Beadle for NPR

Originally published on Wed November 9, 2011 7:17 pm

The world would be a very different place if we could bottle up a bit of the sun here on Earth and tap that abundant and clean energy supply. Governments have spent many billions of dollars to develop that energy source, fusion energy, but it's still a distant dream. Now a few upstart companies are trying to do it on the cheap. And the ideas are credible enough to attract serious private investment.

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Energy
3:15 am
Thu October 27, 2011

The Global Coal Trade's Complex Calculation

To feed China's insatiable demand for coal, U.S. companies are trying to sell and ship the lucrative commodity to the Asian market from new West Coast ports. Above, the cooling towers of a coal-fired power plant are seen on the outskirts of Beijing.

Frederic J. Brown AFP/Getty Images

This is the second of two reports on plans to export U.S. coal to China.

Coal producers in Wyoming and Montana are hoping new export terminals will be built in Washington state so they can ramp up their sales to China. Activists are trying to stop those ports, in part because they're concerned about global warming. But a thriving export market could also drive up the price of coal here in the United States, and that has climate implications as well.

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Energy
2:52 am
Wed October 26, 2011

In Northwest Town, A Local Fight Against Global Coal

Bellingham, Wash., a progressive college town of 81,000, could soon be home to a new coal terminal. Developers want to ship the lucrative commodity to China, but some locals are worried about the potential environmental impacts.

Brett Beadle for NPR

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 10:18 am

This is the first of two reports on plans to export U.S. coal to China.

Plans are afoot to build giant new coal terminals on the West Coast to ship this lucrative commodity to China. But activists want to stop this, in part because coal produces huge amounts of carbon dioxide when it's burned. Federal climate policy is silent on this potentially large source of emissions, so the debate is happening at the local level.

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Research News
11:01 pm
Thu October 20, 2011

'Living Fossils' Just A Branch On Cycad Family Tree

A giant dioon, seen at the United States Botanic Garden, is part of the cycad family and can be found growing in Mexico and Central America.

Maggie Starbard NPR

Originally published on Fri October 21, 2011 7:46 am

Although dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago, there are still thought to be a few species left over from those days. Plants called cycads are among these rare "living fossils" — they have remained pretty much unchanged for more than 300 million years, but a study in Science magazine suggests that glamorous title may not be deserved.

There's no time machine in Washington, D.C., but Harvard botanist Sarah Mathews leads me to what's arguably the next best thing — a room made of glass in the U.S. Botanic Garden, just downhill from the U.S. Capitol.

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Research News
2:13 pm
Wed October 5, 2011

Nobel-Winning Chemist Fought Hard For Acceptance

Daniel Schectman, left, discusses the quasicrystal's structure with collaborators in 1985, just months after shaking the foundations of materials science. Schectman was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize for chemistry.

H. Mark Helfer NIST

If you or your mate shaved this morning with one of those thin-foil electric shavers, that face probably brushed up against a strange form of matter called a quasicrystal. Norelco is unlikely to get a Nobel Prize for that invention, but the man who discovered quasicrystals, Daniel Shechtman, will get this year's Nobel Prize in chemistry. And it didn't come easy.

Crystals, like diamonds and quartz, hold their sparkly allure because of the way the atoms inside those rocks line up so neatly.

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Research News
12:39 pm
Fri September 23, 2011

New Data Put Cosmic Speed Limit To The Test

A neutrino detector like this one, seen at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1995, was used to collect data claiming that neutrinos can travel faster than the speed of light.
Fred Rick Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

A fundamental rule of nature is that nothing travels faster than the speed of light. Now, physicists working in Europe say they may have discovered a sub-atomic particle that breaks that speed limit. But that extraordinary claim is being greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism.

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Science
2:47 pm
Thu September 15, 2011

This Machine Can Suck Carbon Out Of The Air

Carbon Engineering's machine, currently under construction, will draw carbon dioxide out of the air and turn it into a usable product.
Carbon Engineering

David Keith is a bit fidgety. Maybe that's because venture capitalists have asked to come see his carbon dioxide machine. Maybe it's because the project is running months behind schedule, as experiments so often do. Maybe it's because his critics say it'll never work.

Or maybe it's a taste of excitement, because it seems entirely possible that the trailer-truck-size machine that he's leaning up against is actually going to work.

"It's amazing to see all this talk and paper get turned into hardware," he says. "I really love it."

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