June 26, 2017
Catching up on recent stories of Cornell climate change efforts:
Republicans doubt ‘global warming’ more than ‘climate change’ [Cornell Chronicle 2017-06-20] - On the heels of President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, a new Cornell study finds that climate-science labels do matter. The U.S. public doubts the existence of “global warming” more than it doubts “climate change” – and Republicans are driving the effect, the research found. In a nationally representative survey, 74.4 percent of respondents who identified as Republicans said they believed that climate change is really happening. But only 65.5 percent said they believed in global warming. In contrast, 94 percent of Democrats replied “yes” to both questions. The research appeared May 14 in the journal Climatic Change.
Rising seas could result in 2 billion refugees by 2100 [Cornell Chronicle 2017-06-19] - In the year 2100, 2 billion people – about one-fifth of the world’s population – could become climate change refugees due to rising ocean levels. Those who once lived on coastlines will face displacement and resettlement bottlenecks as they seek habitable places inland, according to Cornell research the journal Land Use Policy, July 2017. “We’re going to have more people on less land and sooner that we think,” said lead author Charles Geisler, professor emeritus of development sociology. “The future rise in global mean sea level probably won’t be gradual. Yet few policy makers are taking stock of the significant barriers to entry that coastal climate refugees, like other refugees, will encounter when they migrate to higher ground.”
Atkinson Center names 2017-18 SSHA faculty fellows [Cornell Chronicle 2017-06-13] - Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future has named eight social sciences, humanities and arts (SSHA) fellows for the 2017-18 academic year. The fellows, who come from across the university, will add distinctive perspectives to the arena of sustainability by reshaping behaviors, imaginations and minds through their research, said David Lodge, the Atkinson Center’s Francis J. DiSalvo Director. “This work complements, extends and applies the Atkinson Center’s sustainability advances in the life, physical, environmental and agricultural sciences,” said Lodge. “These scholars are working on a diversity of issues – from the use of emotion in climate change communications to communities’ experiences with energy transitions. Their work will play a critical role in imagining and building a sustainable future in which people and the planet thrive.”
Bill Nye ’77 assures Cornellians that they can save the world [Cornell Chronicle 2017-06-12] - With his trademark humor, much of it at his own expense, Bill Nye ’77 – known to a generation as “The Science Guy” – captivated and delighted alumni and others with his Reunion Weekend talk, “Everything All At Once – How Cornellians Will Save the World.” He spent much of his talk defending the scientifically proven fact that the Earth’s climate is warming, a process that has been accelerated over the past 250 years by industrialization and a population boom. He also mentioned a few notable climate change “deniers,” most notably Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and President Donald Trump.
Atkinson’s Academic Venture Fund awards $1.8M to 15 projects [Cornell Chronicle 2017-06-09] - The Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future’s Academic Venture Fund awarded $1.8 million in 2017, with a record 15 grants to seed novel approaches to some of the world’s greatest sustainability challenges. Several Atkinson teams are exploring new ways to promote planetary health for the well-being of humans, animals and ecosystems. Cornell’s new Master of Public Health (MPH) – an interdisciplinary degree program begun in fall 2017 – is co-sponsoring three projects, thanks to a gift from David Atkinson.
Climate Change Garden offers a lens into the future [Cornell Chronicle 2017-06-08] - In the shadow of Barbara McClintock’s historic campus shed, plots of foliage thicken in the university’s Climate Change Demonstration Garden. Located at the Cornell Botanic Gardens, these raised beds provide a living illustration of how future temperature conditions may affect plants. “Climate change is one of the biggest challenges we’re facing,” said Sonja Skelly, director of education at Cornell Botanic Gardens. “For the general public, climate change is something they hear about, but it can be out of sight, out of mind. It is some sort of future phenomenon. It is not going to happen in our lifetime. It’s going to happen to somebody else in another part of the world, other than ourselves.”
Governor, labor unions announce climate jobs program [Cornell Chronicle 2017-06-02] – The June 2 launch of the Climate Jobs New York campaign and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement that he will dramatically increase the state’s efforts to combat climate change represents a historic breakthrough by positioning unions to tackle the climate crisis and lead the nation in transitioning to a clean-energy economy. “The national debates on climate change are often defined as ‘jobs versus the environment’ or ‘workers against environmentalists,’” said Lara Skinner, associate director of The Worker Institute at Cornell. “This campaign changes the debate.”
Kaiser named fellow of agriculture and economics group [Cornell Chronicle 2017-05-30] – The chance to solve real-world problems has always motivated Harry Kaiser. While studying economics as a graduate student, he turned to the agricultural sector to make the greatest impact. Since then, his work has tackled such questions as how climate change affects food production and how taxes on unhealthy food drive nutritional choices.
Cornell’s Climate-Conscious Urban Campus Arises [The New York Times 2017-05-29] - When Cornell University competed in 2011 to develop an applied science and engineering campus in New York City, part of its pitch was that it would construct an academic building that would at least approach making as much energy as it used in a year, a concept known as net zero. It won. Then came the hard work of making that vision happen at the campus, known as Cornell Tech.
Cornell’s Hudson River conservation work nets DEC award [Cornell Chronicle 2017-05-25] - Cornell is working with communities along the Hudson to address issues of sea-level rise and flooding, which are projected to increase with climate change. The Climate-Adaptive Design studio, a program led by assistant professor Josh Cerra in the Department of Landscape Architecture, links Cornell students with flood-risk Hudson Riverfront communities to explore design alternatives for more climate resilient and connected waterfront areas as they respond to climate change.
Cornell climate center at front line of drought response [Cornell Chronicle 2017-05-23] – For 35 years, the NRCC, housed in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has been helping farmers and policymakers adapt to the weather. Led by director Art DeGaetano, professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, the NRCC monitors climatic conditions and shares the information with the public, part of its mission to inform and apply climate research for economic efficiency and the public interest. Because scientists anticipate climate change will cause an increase in extreme weather, including more frequent flooding and droughts, the work of the NRCC is proving even more indispensable, according to DeGaetano.
David Lodge’s contributions part of Arctic species plan [Cornell Chronicle 2017-05-17] - U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed a comprehensive environmental agreement May 11 among eight nations that adopted the first Arctic Invasive Alien Species (ARIAS) strategy and action plan, developed by representatives of those nations including the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future’s David Lodge. The declaration recognized that human activity outside the Arctic region greatly contributes to climate change and pollution there; members noted “with concern” that the Arctic is warming at more than twice the global average, resulting in widespread negative environmental and economic impacts.
Climate Change Will Cut Cereal Yields, Model Predicts [UC Davis News 2017-05-15] – Climate change will likely cause wheat and barley yields to decline by 17 to 33 percent by the end of the century, predicts a new statistical model developed by researchers at the University of California, Davis, and Cornell University.
Einaudi speaker touts value of international education, languages [Cornell Chronicle 2017-05-15] - Multilingualism and the ability to understand cultures helps in solving global crises such as climate change and military conflicts, said Obama administration official Mohamed Abdel-Kader May 10 as part of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies’ Distinguished Speakers Series.
May 5, 2017 Asia conference highlights Cornell’s sustainability efforts [Cornell Chronicle 2017-05-04] - In an increasingly interconnected world, sustainability challenges require collaborative, holistic approaches, Cornell University experts said at a conference in Hong Kong April 6-7. The university, they said, is prepared to play a central role in that process. Ronnie Coffman, the Andrew H. and James S. Tisch Distinguished University Professor and director of International Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, focused on the challenges of food security in light of global climate change. “To be successful in addressing food deficits and climate change, we need to forge global collaborations and build human capacity,” Coffman said.
Migration, Forced by Climate Change [Cornell Research feature] - “More and more people will be displaced because of climate change,” says Maria Cristina Garcia, History. “The question is this: Can we come up with some kind of legal mechanism in the United States and internationally that addresses what promises to be a significant problem?” Garcia is exploring that question in her latest book project, Climate Refugees: The Environmental Origins of Refugee Migrations, which looks at environmentally driven migrants. “People have been displaced by climate for millennia,” Garcia says, “but we are now at a particular historical moment, facing a new type of environmentally driven migration that will be more fast and furious. It will require incredible adaptability and political will to keep up with the changes that are forecasted to happen.”
New partnership connects retirees to conservation [Cornell Chronicle 2017-04-27] - “Retirees are an underutilized resource who have the time, talent and skills to help address issues like climate change, air and water pollution, waste management and the protection of natural areas.”
Climate change is not a hoax — ask any millennial seeing it firsthand [The Hill 2017-04-14] - In January, a group of Cornell University undergraduates travelled to the Mekong River Delta of Vietnam. The students gathered stories to tell and share with the world – because what is happening in Vietnam will be repeated globally.
April 16, 2017
By Mike Hoffmann, Executive Director of the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions, Faculty Fellow at Cornell University’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, and a professor in the Department of Entomology. Originally posted on Cornell’s medium.com site.
As I mucked my way at sunrise to the mess hall I saw the horizon rise up miles away — the result of tons of bombs dropping from B 52’s. At the time, I was a young Marine witnessing the formidable firepower of the U.S. military in action during the war in Vietnam — a tiny country about the size of New Mexico. In total, the U.S. dropped more than 7 million tons of bombs on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia along with defoliants sprayed on millions of acres of forests and agricultural land.
During a visit last year I stood on what was left of the An Hoa U.S. Marine base airstrip near where I trudged to breakfast 47 years ago. I had returned to Vietnam for two reasons; one was personal, just to see what it looked like today. The second was professional: As the executive director of the Cornell University Institute for Climate Smart Solutions, I wanted to see first-hand how climate change was affecting Vietnam. This is an important mission, because our combined carbon footprints not only impact our home nations, but all nations, including Vietnam. Looking at this issue from another perspective: While bombs are no longer dropping from B-52s in Vietnam, the U.S. has contributed more than a quarter of the accumulated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So even though the war ended decades ago, we are still altering the landscape of Vietnam and affecting its people — seas are rising and it is getting hotter.
With 2,000 miles of coastline, Vietnam faces extraordinary challenges due to our warming climate — and it could serve as a bellwether of future climate-change impacts on agriculture and infrastructure everywhere. Continuing on our current path of worldwide greenhouse-gas emissions will take us into dangerous territory: We are looking at a future world of more violent storms, mass displacement of people, and increasing social and economic turmoil. Record-breaking heat, forests devastated from fires and insects, and ominous changes to our oceans and glaciers — all very obvious to those who are willing to see. Vietnam has a new battle to fight, but it is part of a battle we all must fight if we are to sustain the environment that sustains us.
In Vietnam, the impacts of climate change are particularly intense for the Mekong River Delta, a region about six feet above sea level where Vietnam grows 50 percent of its rice — and home to more than 17 million people. Salt water intrusion caused in part by sea-level rise, along with higher temperatures, is making the region less suitable for production of rice and other crops. Even the farming of shrimp, a salt-tolerant creature, can be challenged by excessively salty conditions.
Vietnam grows much of its own food but is also an important agricultural exporter; it is the second largest producer of coffee and one of the top exporters of rice in the world, and a major exporter of fish and shrimp valued at more than $6 billion per year. Vietnam is also one the fastest growing markets for importing U.S. food and agricultural products such as cotton, soybeans, nuts and dairy, and is an important link in our interconnected and interdependent global food system.
The Vietnamese are a resilient people, having survived centuries of war and conflict — but what about climate change with its wide-ranging impacts? How do you keep back the seas? How do you cool down the atmosphere? Where will all the people move to as the seas begin to swamp the vast Mekong Delta, the coastal cities, and other low-lying areas? Take this a step further and think about how Manhattan would react to rising sea waters lapping at its streets.
The Mekong Delta, just six feet above sea level, seems a world away, but much of New York City is less than 16 feet above sea level, and parts of lower Manhattan are just five feet above sea level.
To make things worse, some climatologists predict that seas around New York would rise twice as much as the rest of the U.S. coast. New Orleans, Miami, Philadelphia, Sacramento, Boston, Honolulu and hundreds more US cities are at risk as the seas rise.
Some of the challenges facing agriculture in the Mekong are being addressed by development of more salt and heat-tolerant rice varieties and by using a three-pond shrimp and fish farming strategy, in which one pond holds fresh water that is used to dilute water in the other two ponds when they become too salty. A number of Vietnamese and global organizations are supporting these efforts and others intended to help sustain food production in the Mekong. These efforts are showing positive results, but unless the world comes to grip with the production of CO2 and methane that drive climate change, the plight of agriculture will worsen, whether it is in Vietnam, Kansas or the Ukraine. And neighborhoods around the world, from Saigon to SoHo, ultimately could face encroaching sea levels.
We have much to learn from Vietnam. For other veterans of the war, I encourage you to return. It is moving on. It is so different today. For all others — visit. Enjoy the amazing food, the rich culture and take in the remnants of the war — but also see and learn from this new environmental battle that ultimately will affect us all, no matter where we live on this planet: A rapidly warming climate that is approaching a ‘point of no return.’
April 11, 2017
Michael Pollan, environmentalist and best-selling author, will present “Out of the Garden” at the 2017 Iscol Distinguished Environmental Lecture April 27 at 5 p.m. in Kennedy Hall’s Call Alumni Auditorium. The lecture is free and open to the public, and will be livestreamed on CornellCast.
For a quarter-century, Pollan has written about the spaces where nature and culture intersect: on our plates, in our farms and gardens, and in the built environment. He is the author of five New York Times best-sellers: “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation,” “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual,” “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” and “The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World.”
In his recent Netflix documentary based on his book “Cooked,” Pollan explores the primal need to cook – through the lenses of fire, water, air and earth – as he surveys the history of food preparation and its universal ability to connect us.
He has written about the environment, food safety, health and obesity, meat, plants, seeds and sustainable agricultural practices. Pollan connected climate change to modern farming in “A Secret Weapon to Fight Climate Change: Dirt.”
Pollan grew up on Long Island and earned a bachelor’s degree from Bennington College and a master’s degree from Columbia University. In 2003, he was appointed the John S. and James L. Knight Professor of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, as well as director of the Knight Program in Science and Environmental Journalism.
The Jill and Ken Iscol Distinguished Environmental Lecture – hosted by the David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future – brings eminent scholars, scientists, newsmakers and opinion leaders to Cornell to address environmental issues. The lecture series was established in 1999 and it recognizes interdisciplinary scholarship on the frontier of scientific inquiry.
Last year, the series brought Pulitzer Prize winner and best-selling author Sheryl WuDunn; in 2015, the series featured actor and environmental activist Ted Danson. Other noted lecturers include environmentalist Bill McKibben and Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former prime minister of Norway and former director-general of the World Health Organization.
April 7, 2017
Students share tales of global climate change on Capitol Hill [Cornell Chronicle 2017-04-04] - After traveling through Vietnam’s Mekong Delta in January, examining climate change through the lens of another country, four Cornell students toured the halls of Congress in late March to tell legislators all about it. “Society is facing huge problems with a changing climate, and it’s important to remind representatives that their actions not only affect Americans and the world today, but these actions can have long-lasting implications for future generations,” said Kerry Mullins ’18, one of the students on the trip.
Survey details impact of 2016 drought on New York farming [Cornell Chronicle 2017-04-06] - A survey of more than 200 New York farmers late last summer – during the worst drought in two generations – found that more than 70 percent of unirrigated, rain-fed field crops and pasture acreage had losses between 30 and 90 percent, according to a new report published by the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions. “New York’s farmers have asked if they should expect more dry summers like the one we had in 2016. The answer is: We don’t know,” said Shannan Sweet, a postdoctoral associate in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science, working with David Wolfe, professor of horticulture. “Climate scientists forecast that the number of frost-free days will continue to increase and summers will be getting warmer, increasing water demand for crops.”
Engineer Max Zhang awarded Engaged Scholar Prize [Cornell Chronicle 2017-04-06] - Max Zhang, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, who has devoted his career to the development of sustainable communities, is the recipient of Cornell’s second annual Engaged Scholar Prize, Vice Provost Judith Appleton announced April 6. Zhang directs the Energy and the Environment Research Laboratory (EERL) and is a fellow at the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. His current research is supported by agencies such as the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and the National Science Foundation.
March 31, 2017
Tapping Traditional Wisdom to Cope with Climate Change [Inside Science 2017-03-28] - From the mountains of Tajikistan to Standing Rock in the Dakotas, scientists are collaborating with indigenous people to study climate change and predict the future. ”The irony of climate change is that the people that are at the vanguard of climate change are the people who did not contribute to it,” says Karim-Aly Kassam, a human ecologist at Cornell University. Kassam is part of a Cornell team helping communities in Asia’s Pamir Mountains recalibrate their seasonal-indicator ecological calendars to reckon the future effects of climate change. Read more.
In other recent news:Microalgae could play key role in relieving climate warming [Cornell Chronicle 2017-03-28] - Think better living through marine microalgae, as it may become crucial to mitigate atmospheric greenhouse gases, reduce carbon dioxide emissions from commercial agriculture and steady the global climate, Although more solar farms, wind turbines and hydro systems are creating fossil-free electricity, Charles H. Greene, professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, reminds us that aircraft and ships still require liquid fuels. In a green way, biofuels made from marine microalgae could wean industrialized society from carbon-based fossil fuels, according to this new report, “Geoengineering, Marine Microalgae and Climate Stabilization in the 21st Century.” Read more.
Cornell leaders discuss Earth Source Heat at Ithaca forum [Cornell Chronicle 2017-03-30] - Members of Cornell’s Senior Leaders Climate Action Group (SLCAG) presented highlights of their report, “Options for Achieving a Carbon Neutral Campus by 2035,” at a public meeting March 28 in downtown Ithaca. Cornell’s large campus and northeastern location present challenges to achieving carbon neutrality. In its report, the group considered sustainable energy technologies and a multipronged approach to reducing demand and increasing supply. SCLAG ultimately recommended moving ahead with enhanced geothermal, wind, water, solar and biomass. Read more.
March 28, 2017
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump is expected to release an executive order that rolls back Obama-era environmental protections. This plan should worry anyone who cares about the environment or America’s economic future, as it takes the country backward in global climate change leadership. Instead of galvanizing public and private forces to meet today’s energy and environmental challenges, Trump will essentially surrender that responsibility to other nations.
The order will reportedly expand energy extraction on public lands and gut the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which aimed to reduce emissions from outmoded and heavily polluting power plants and provide businesses with financial incentives for expanding new technologies such as wind and solar farms. Trump’s latest actions come on the heels of a proposed 31% cut in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget and a directive for the EPA to review motor vehicle energy-efficiency standards that were also put in place under Obama.
Trump’s climate and energy policy is based on the false premise that a world with safeguards for clean air and water and a stable climate is incompatible with economic growth. It reflects a fear of change, rather than a worldview that seeks to turn our environmental challenges into economic opportunities.
March 23, 2017
Natalie Mahowald, professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, has been selected by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as a lead author on the “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
The report is intended to spur efforts to keep Earth within 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial era levels, with an eye toward stimulating the world’s response to climate change while balancing sustainable development and eradicating poverty. Mahowald will work on writing the report’s first chapter – framing the report’s other four parts.
The IPCC expects the final report in September 2018, in time for the Conference of the Parties (COP 24) meetings to be held later that fall.
Meeting in Brazil earlier this month, Mahowald explained the forthcoming report will be innovative in several ways. “It is the only special report that was explicitly requested by the governments. This is unusual,” she said, as there will be two other special reports: one on land, sustainable agriculture, deforestation and land degradation, and the other focusing on the oceans and the cryosphere.
March 21, 2017
Cornell’s Senior Leaders Climate Action Group (SLCAG) will host a public forum Tuesday, March 28, to discuss its report, “Options for Achieving a Carbon Neutral Campus by 2035,” from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at the Hotel Ithaca, 222 S. Cayuga St.
Released in the fall, the report builds off Cornell’s existing Climate Action Plan, further outlining solutions to reduce energy demands and increase clean energy supply. Following the presentation, there will be a question-and-answer session for community members.
Cornell has made positive strides in energy reduction. While campus has grown by more than 2 million square feet over the past decade, its energy consumption has decreased through conservation initiatives and increased efficiency. But achieving carbon neutrality in a cold-weather climate means eliminating fossil fuel-dependent heating. Due to the scale of Cornell’s heating needs, the Earth Source Heat project – combined with solar, wind, hydro and improving energy efficiency – provides favorable options for realizing carbon neutrality.
The forum panelists will be:
• SLCAG Co-chair Lance Collins, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering;
• SLCAG Co-Chair Bill Sitzabee, interim vice president for infrastructure, properties and planning;
• Todd Cowen, professor of civil and environmental engineering and the Kathy Dwyer Marble and Curt Marble Faculty Director for Energy, Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future;
• Robert Howarth, the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology;
• Katie Keranen, assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences;
• Joel Malina, vice president for university relations;
• Paul Streeter, vice president for budget and planning;
• Jefferson W. Tester, the Croll Professor of Sustainable Energy Systems and director of the Cornell Energy Institute; and
• Sarah Zemanick, director of the Campus Sustainability Office.
March 20, 2017
Professor of history Aaron Sachs offers an alternative to the rhetoric characterizing climate change as dire and catastrophic: humor. He makes his case in “The Oxymoronic Possibilities of Climate Change Comedy,” March 20 at 2:55 p.m. in B25 Warren Hall. His Cornell Climate Change Seminar presentation is free and open to the campus and Ithaca communities and available via Zoom Webinar.
“Virtually all writing and advocacy on climate change is, so far, undertaken in a serious, or tragic, or even catastrophic mode,” Sachs says. “Scientists’ warnings are almost always characterized as ‘dire’; and book titles often invoke ‘the end of civilization.’”
The universitywide 2017 Cornell University Climate Change Seminar, Monday afternoons through May 8, draws from many perspectives and disciplines. It is sponsored by the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering, the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions and the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.