News & Events

The latest climate change news from Cornell and beyond.


Mahowald tapped to help frame UN report on global warming

Natalie Mahowald

Natalie Mahowald

Cornell Chronicle [2017-03-22]

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.

Read the whole article.

Cornell to host carbon neutrality forum March 28

Cornell Chronicle [2017-03-20]:

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.

The Oxymoronic Possibilities of Climate Change Comedy

Aaron Sachs

Aaron Sachs

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.

5 technologies that make farms smarter


Salon [2017-03-18]:

Allison Morrill Chatrchyan

Allison Morrill Chatrchyan

What Allison Morrill Chatrchyan has been hearing from farmers in recent years makes it difficult to buy President Donald Trump’s claim that global warming is a Chinese hoax. Perhaps more than climate researchers themselves, farmers have their pulse on the weather and know it’s getting weird out there.

“They’re seeing changes now,” the director of Cornell University’s Institute for Climate Smart Solutions told Salon. “Farmers are talking about an increase in uncertainty.” This uncertainty includes a gradual increase in weather extremes. In the northeastern United States, global warming is causing progressively longer growing seasons and heavy rainfall interspersed with periods of drought.

These changing environmental conditions are part of why Cornell offers online tools for farmers in the region to obtain real-time data that helps them predict things like the important stages of crop development, the chances of pest and disease outbreaks and whether there will be a deficit or surplus of water. The data allows farmers to plug in their zip codes to obtain recent and 15- or 30-year local conditions, helping them forecast how climate change will affect their current season as the needles of temperature and humidity gradually shift every year. February’s spring-like weather that caused Washington, D.C.’s cherry trees to blossom prematurely might disappoint tourists to the nation’s capital this spring, but for a small farm, screwy seasonal transitions like that can be economically crippling.

Read the whole article.

New environment and sustainability major approved

Cornell Chronicle [2017-03-09]:

A new environment and sustainability major in the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) was approved March 8 by the Cornell Faculty Senate and, pending approval by the New York State Education Department, will launch in fall 2018.

The cross-college major is a modified and broader version of the existing Environmental and Sustainability Sciences (ESS) major in CALS and has been expanded to include a humanities concentration, while retaining the existing social science and science concentrations. It will offer students additional ways to combine the study of physical and biological sciences with social science and humanities fields and explore the social, ethical and public policy dimensions of environmental issues.

“We’re very excited to partner with CALS in this new major, which will prepare students to be the next generation of leaders in environment and sustainability and equip them with the interdisciplinary skills to address complex environmental issues like climate change,” said Gretchen Ritter ’83, the Harold Tanner Dean of Arts and Sciences.

“CALS and Arts and Sciences are partnering to do what’s in the best interest of students in both colleges. Not only are students interested in environment and sustainability, but also there is a strong, growing need for students who can understand environmental issues from different disciplinary vantage points,” said Kathryn J. Boor, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of CALS.

Read the whole article.

Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture Features CSF Program

newsletterReposted from CSF news:

The Cornell Climate Smart Farming (CSF) Program was featured in the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture’s (GACSA) February Newsletter.

CICSS Director, and spearheader of the Cornell CSF Program, Allison Chatrchyan, is very involved with GACSA, participating in their annual meetings each year, and developing case studies of climate smart agriculture from the Northeast to contribute to their worldwide assessments.

In the news: New apple freeze risk tool and more


Apple blossoms killed by a spring frost in 2012, after a long stretch of warm days. (Photo: Gregory M. Peck)

Apple blossoms killed by a spring frost in 2012, after a long stretch of warm days. (Photo: Gregory M. Peck)

New tool gives apple farms hope in fight against spring freezes [Cornell Chronicle 2017-02-24] - This February’s warm weather is nice in the Northeast, but apple farmers may pay a price if winter roars back. To help growers assess precarious temperatures in turbulent springs, the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions has developed a new Apple Freeze Risk decision tool. “I think the warm weather we’re seeing this week may push the apple trees into vulnerable stages,” said Art DeGaetano, professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and director of Cornell’s Northeast Regional Climate Center.  Read more.

Climate change in Vietnam spurs students to speak up  [Cornell Chronicle 2017-02-22] - Ten Cornell students spent two weeks of their winter break on a journey through Vietnam, listening to farmers and community members, and seeing the effects of climate change firsthand. The trip was part of an interdisciplinary course, “Climate Change Awareness and Service Learning in the Mekong Delta,” led by Michael Hoffmann and Thúy Tranviet. In the fall, the students took classes that introduced them to global climate change and Vietnamese language, culture and history. Read more.

Cornell helps Fijians use eyes in the sky for climate studies [Cornell Chronicle 2017-02-21] - To help Fijian scientists track oceanic climate change for their islands in the sun, Cornell’s Bruce Monger unveils eyes in the sky: satellite remote sensing. “Increased storms and rising sea levels loom darkly over South Pacific nations and I want to help them improve their satellite observational capabilities,” said Monger, lecturer in earth and atmospheric science. “Scientists in this region must understand climate change threats, in order to better plan for adaptation and mitigation efforts.” Read more.


Next steps toward campus carbon neutrality


 Provost Michael Kotlikoff plugs in his electirc car outside of Day Hall. (Photo: Robert Barker/University Photography)

Provost Michael Kotlikoff plugs in his electirc car outside of Day Hall. (Photo: Robert Barker/University Photography)

Cornell Chronicle [2-17-02-16]:

At the request of Provost Michael Kotlikoff, the Cornell Senior Leaders Climate Action Group last fall submitted its report exploring the feasibility and costs of energy and heating options for the Ithaca campus to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035. Here, Kotlikoff discusses the report and the university’s next steps.

What are your reactions to the report?

As I expressed to the Senior Leader Climate Action Group members in a recent letter, I am grateful for their leadership in developing the options report. Creating this detailed financial analysis of climate-neutrality options for our campus was no small task. The report provides an essential menu of options that enable us to make decisions for achieving climate neutrality based on actual costs in relation to our academic mission.

As a large research institution with energy-intensive facilities in a cold climate, we face significant challenges to the elimination of our carbon footprint. However, Cornell has a history of addressing great challenges, and this report provides us with the best thinking of our faculty and staff on how to achieve this goal. I am particularly pleased to see, in addition to the innovative technical approach to heating our campus, more local recommendations that engage all of us. As a community, we must take local as well as institutional action to decrease fossil fuel consumption and increase clean energy production. The report highlights that “business as usual” is not an option for achieving carbon neutrality, and it highlights specific actions that the university should pursue. But I would also stress the importance of each of us endeavoring to lower our carbon footprint.

Read the whole interview.


In the news

maize usda photo

All the diversity of maize across the planet emanates from Mexico, where the crop was first domesticated thousands of years ago. Since then, farmers have bred and adapted maize to local environments, leading to tens of thousands of varieties. (USDA photo)

Maize study finds genes that help crops adapt to change -  [Cornell Chronicle 2017-02-14] - A new study, published Feb. 6 in Nature Genetics, analyzed close to 4,500 maize varieties – called landraces – bred and grown by farmers from 35 countries in the Americas to identify more than 1,000 genes driving large-scale adaptation to the environment. “With global climate change over the next century, we can directly use this information to figure out what genes are important” to greatly speed up breeding efforts of maize,  said senior author Edward Buckler, a research geneticist at the USDA-Agricultural Research Service and adjunct professor of plant breeding and genetics at the Institute for Genomic Diversity at Cornell. “We’re tapping the wisdom of farmers over the last 10,000 years to make the next century’s corn.”

Renewable fuels alone can’t stop climate change  [Cornell Chronicle 2017-02-07] - In discussions about climate change, many people seem to think the only real problem is replacing fossil fuels, and once that’s done nothing much really needs to change. “That’s not only false, it’s a really dangerous way of thinking,” said Karen Pinkus, professor of Romance studies and comparative literature in the College of Arts and Sciences. Her new book, “Fuel: A Speculative Dictionary,” works to undo the assumption that all we have to do is scale up renewable fuels on the free market “and then everything will be rainbows and unicorns,” she said.

Pope’s picture spurs Republicans to shift climate views  [Cornell Chronicle 2017-01-24] - After Pope Francis framed climate change as a moral issue in his second encyclical, conservative Republicans shifted and began to see that environmental dilemma in the same way, according to a new study led by Cornell communication researchers.

Microbiome experts to speak at World Economic Forum [Cornell Chronicle 2017-01-17] - Daniel Buckley and Angela Douglas of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Ilana Brito of the College of Engineering will share their research at an IdeasLab session on Jan. 18 focused on microbiome science, joining their three areas of expertise to form a fuller picture of the way microbes affect human lives. Learning how microbes interact with plants, or affect water and air, will be key to dealing with a changing climate, Buckley said.

Weather trends spur new ways to farm [Glens Falls Post Star 2017-01-12] - Call it climate change or not, the fact is the local weather has changed, said Laura McDermott, regional agriculture specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension. “If they can predict the changes, whatever the cause, there’s lots of things they can do,” she said in lead up to SUNY Adirondack program where Michael Hoffman, executive director of the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions, will speak. The free event is 7 p.m. Jan. 26 at SUNY Adirondack.

Climate change seminar series starts Feb. 6

Cornell University Climate Change Seminar: Perspectives on the Climate Change Challenge

Spring 2017: February 6 to May 8
Mondays: 2:55-4:10 P.M., B25 Warren Hall
Free and Open to the Public

To view online, Register for Webinar in advance

This university-wide seminar provides important views on the critical issue of climate change, drawing from many perspectives and disciplines. Experts from both Cornell University and other universities will present an overview of the science of climate change and climate change models, the implications for agriculture, ecosystems, and food systems, and provide important economic, ethical, and policy insights on the issue. The seminar is being organized and sponsored by the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering, the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions, and the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. The seminar is free and open to the Cornell and Ithaca Community at large, and will be recorded.

View the full Spring 2017 line-up.