News & Events

The latest climate change news from Cornell and beyond.


Carbon-trapping ‘sponges’ can cut greenhouse gases

A scanning electron microscopy image of the amine sorbent.(Genggeng Qi)

A scanning electron microscopy image of the amine sorbent.(Genggeng Qi)

Cornell Chronicle [2014-12-15]:

In the fight against global warming, carbon capture – chemically trapping carbon dioxide before it releases into the atmosphere – is gaining momentum, but standard methods are plagued by toxicity, corrosiveness and inefficiency. Using a bag of chemistry tricks, Cornell materials scientists have invented low-toxicity, highly effective carbon-trapping “sponges” that could lead to increased use of the technology.

A research team led by Emmanuel Giannelis, the Walter R. Read Professor of Engineering in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, has invented a powder that performs as well or better than industry benchmarks for carbon capture. A paper with their results, co-authored by postdoctoral associates Genggeng Qi and Liling Fu, appeared Dec. 12 in Nature Communications.

Used in natural gas and coal-burning plants, the most common carbon capture method today is called amine scrubbing, in which post-combustion, carbon dioxide-containing flue gas passes through liquid vats of amino compounds, or amines, which absorb most of the carbon dioxide. The carbon-rich gas is then pumped away – sequestered – or reused. The amine solution is extremely corrosive and requires capital-intensive containment.

Read the whole article.

Researcher calls for new ‘science of climate diversity’

Jonathon Schuldt

Jonathon Schuldt

Cornell Chronicle [2014-12-09]:

There is cloud hanging over climate science, but one Cornell expert on communication and environmental issues says he knows how to help clear the air.

In the December issue of Nature Climate Change, Jonathon Schuldt ’04, assistant professor of communication, joins co-author Adam Pearson ’03, assistant professor of psychology at Pomona College, to argue that only by creating a “science of climate diversity” that helps guide researchers and public leaders can climate science and the larger climate-change movement overcome a crippling lack of ethnic and racial diversity.

“There is an invisible but very real barrier to climate engagement,” Schuldt said. “We need to engage with all kinds of diverse folks if we’re going to face this challenge. It will be a problem if the perception, and the reality, is that it’s a bunch of white male scientists at the table.”

Read the whole article.

Mitigating climate change with soil conservation practices

Cornell soil scientist Johannes Lehmann speaks about climate change mitigation strategies for the UN COP 20 Climate Change Conference held Dec. 2014 in Lima, Peru. Lehmann addresses the potential of biochar as an important and immediate option for sequestering carbon and improving soil health.

News roundup

Recent articles from the Cornell Chronicle:

Expert offers feasible, statewide green energy plan [2014-11-20] - With humanity facing the inevitable rise in the average global surface temperature, Tony Ingraffea said green energy solutions – where New York state plays a leading role – could kindle a larger effort. “We’re in for some tough times with climate change,” said Ingraffea, the Dwight C. Baum Professor Emeritus in Engineering, in his keynote address at the fourth Cornell President’s Sustainable Campus Committee annual summit Nov. 18. Read more.

Land use looms as large factor in global warming [2014-12-03] - For the world’s deteriorating environment, don’t blame burning fossil fuels exclusively. Land use and land cover changes contribute about 40 percent to “radiative forcing,” a key underlying factor in global warming, according to Cornell environmental scientists writing in the latest Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (Dec. 3).

Cornell to buy all of proposed Black Oak Wind Farm’s energy [2014-12-08] - Making a stride toward reducing carbon emission, Cornell University has agreed to purchase all electricity generated by the proposed Black Oak Wind Farm in Enfield, New York, which is pending municipal approvals. This purchase represents 20 percent of the university’s total annual electricity use – enough energy to power approximately 5,000 homes.

White Thanksgiving dreams die with warming reality

Cornell Chronicle 2014-11-12:

White Thanksgiving table from NRCCIf you’re dreaming of a white Thanksgiving, dream on.

For winter-hardened places like Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit and Beckley, West Virginia, the chance of measureable snow on the ground for Nov. 27 – this year’s date for Thanksgiving – is practically nil.

In Anchorage, Alaska, the chance of measureable snow on Nov. 27 fell dramatically between 1950-79 and 1980-2013, according to data examined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell. On the date of Nov. 27, from 1950 to 1979, there was snow on the ground in all but two of the years in which climate data were recorded. For the latter three decades, the probability of at least an inch of snow dropped to 79 percent.

Des Moines, Iowa, which once held an ample chance for the white stuff on Nov. 27 at 23 percent, holds a 9 percent probability in this most-recent three-decade period. Snowy Burlington, Vermont, dropped from 37 to 24 percent; Madison, Wisconsin, went from 33 to 21 percent; and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, fell from 37 to 26 percent.

Chances are in this new period that precipitation that once fell as snow, falls as rain. While Thanksgiving occurs late in autumn, these statistics support the idea of a warming globe, says Arthur T. DeGaetano, Cornell professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and director of the Northeast Regional Climate Center.

For Ithaca, New York, home to the climate center, the chances of a white Thanksgiving have dropped from 27 to 18 percent.

Read the whole article.

Iceland president: Green energy forges good business


Grímsson enjoys a visit to Cornell’s Icelandic horse herd, a unique herd of full-sibling horses used by the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine to study their immune systems. (Jason Koski/University Photography)

Grímsson enjoys a visit to Cornell’s Icelandic horse herd, a unique herd of full-sibling horses used by the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine to study their immune systems. (Jason Koski/University Photography)

Cornell Chronicle [2014-11-24]:

Explaining how Iceland tapped into the Earth for geothermal energy and captured water resources to develop renewable electricity, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, president of Iceland, told a Cornell audience how his country remade itself from one of Europe’s poorest into a nation that is financially and environmentally secure.

“It’s not really about energy, it’s about the economy,” said Grímsson. “It’s about the economic transformation of the country to realize that the move from fossil fuel over to clean energy is fundamentally good business – it’s fundamentally the road to prosperity and economic achievement.” …

Market forces drove out fossil fuel and coal, and geothermal and hydro energy replaced it. “This was done not on the basis of a grand plan; not on the basis of a visionary government policy from 30 or 40 years ago,” Grímsson said. “It has been done through localized, profit-driven initiatives and actions taken by small towns, communities, different sectors, companies and so on. The end result is an extraordinary transformation.”

Read the whole article.

Nov. 8: Mike Hoffmann TEDx talks climate change

Update [2014-12-18]: View Mike Hoffmann’s talk.

Mike Hoffmann

Mike Hoffmann

Via Cornell Chronicle Essentials blog [2014-11-04]:

In this warming world of rising oceans, increased drought, melting ice caps, stronger storms, stranger weather and impending food problems, Mike Hoffmann, associate dean in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, offers a TEDx talk, “Climate change: It’s Time to Raise Our Voices,” at the annual TEDx ChemungRiver 2014, held at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, Saturday, Nov. 8.

While the program is officially sold out, Cornellians and others can catch the live stream here. Hoffmann will be the fourth speaker in the 11 a.m. time slot.

In personal terms, Hoffmann, a faculty fellow at Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, will explain why we must pay attention to climate change and what actions we must take.

Belief in climate change doesn’t always lead to action


beach erosion

Cornell researchers have set out to identify factors that may motivate Americans to mobilize for grassroots action on climate change. Local climate change consequences, such as beach erosion, motivate people more than distant one.

Cornell Chronicle [2014-11-04]:

Americans are undergoing a significant shift in thinking about climate change, but rising public awareness of a warming climate has not translated into action, according to new survey research.

In the recent 2014 Empire State Poll, 82 percent of New Yorkers say they believe climate change is happening. Downstate New Yorkers are even more convinced – 86 percent say climate change is real. However, less than 1 percent of the 800 New York state residents polled think climate change is the most important issue facing the state, and less than 20 percent would be willing to take political action.

With support from the Atkinson Center’s Rapid Response Fund, a multidisciplinary team of Cornell researchers set out to identify factors that may motivate Americans to mobilize for grassroots action on climate change. Mobilizing could include voting, serving on boards, contributing money, attending marches or demonstrations, and other forms of political participation and activism.

The researchers led by Shorna Allred, associate professor of natural resources, supplied the Empire State Poll with 19 survey questions. The questions explored relationships among belief in climate change, the respondent’s location and personal experience of climate change effects and willingness to take action against future climate change threats. The annual poll is administered by the Survey Research Institute at Cornell.

“We conducted this research because we think it is vital to understand thresholds for taking action on climate change – essentially, what it would take for people to act politically for climate change,” said Allred. “Climate change is a defining issue of this century, and sustained civil society mobilization is needed to create meaningful political change that results in large-scale climate mitigation and adaptation.”

Read the whole article.

Proposed Geneva solar array conjures electrifying future

Cornell Chronicle [2014-11-04]:

Continuing an effort to reduce its carbon footprint, Cornell is proposing a 10-acre solar farm on university property in the town of Seneca, New York, where the university conducts agricultural research.

The proposed 2-megawatt solar farm will offset nearly 40 percent of the annual demand of Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York.

“The proposed solar farm will provide a long-term, stable and clean energy source for the agricultural experiment station here,” said Thomas Burr, associate dean for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and director of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva. “We are very pleased to be able to play this major role in advancing Cornell’s overall commitment to sustainability.”

In September, the university opened the Cornell Snyder Road Solar Farm with 6,778 photovoltaic panels on an 11-acre plot that adjoins the Tompkins County Regional Airport in Lansing, New York. That 2-megawatt array will produce about 2.5 million kilowatts annually.

The solar photovoltaic panel array, pending approval from the town of Seneca and finalizing the developer agreement, will be Cornell’s second large-scale solar project. The proposed array will take advantage of NYSEG’s (New York State Electric and Gas) remote net metering program, meaning that Cornell will receive credit for the electricity the project adds to the grid to offset consumption at other Cornell locations.

In September, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced NY-Sun awards for large solar electric projects that will increase the solar capacity in New York state by more than 214 megawatts, a 68 percent increase over the amount of solar installed. The NY-Sun Initiative strives to expand the renewable energy market in New York state while working to bring down the costs of the technology.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority administers the NY-Sun awards, and they will contribute about one-third of the project’s capital cost, while private developer Distributed Sun LLC, which will own and operate the array, will secure the remaining capital to build it. Cornell will buy the electricity produced through a power purchase agreement.

Adapting is key to survive climate change, says Revkin

A.D. White Professor-at-Large Andrew Revkin visits with students at William Keeton House Oct. 30. (Robert Barker/University Photography)

A.D. White Professor-at-Large Andrew Revkin visits with students at William Keeton House Oct. 30. (Robert Barker/University Photography)

Despite being an environmental advocate and journalist for more than 30 years, former New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin has yet to find a way to eliminate his carbon footprint. Neither will most Americans anytime soon, said the Andrew D. White Professor-at Large during his talk with students at William Keeton House Oct. 30.

“We’re kind of stuck with our energy-intense lives. You can’t de-carbonize a 21st-century North American lifestyle – it’s just not possible right now,” he said.

Humanity’s best bet for climate change will be to focus on adaptability and preparedness, Revkin said. Though significant challenges lay ahead, a focus on adjustable agricultural practices and developing sustainable energy sources will prevent major catastrophe in the near future, he said.

Read the whole article. [Cornell Chronicle 2014-11-03]