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Jonathan Gilligan

Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences

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.


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.”

Media Appearances

  • Tips to make laundry day more gentle on the environment

    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.

    May 18th, 2021

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

    "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.

    March 19th, 2019

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

    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.

    October 10th, 2018

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

    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.

    March 24th, 2018

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

    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.

    December 18th, 2017

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

    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.

    June 21st, 2017