News & Events

The latest climate change news from Cornell and beyond.


National Climate Assessment released

David Wolfe

David Wolfe

From Climate Change Is Already Here, Says Massive Government Report, Huff Post Politics, May 6, 2014

“Climate change is no longer a distant threat, but a real and present danger in the United States, according to a government report issued Tuesday.

“The report is the latest update from the U.S. Global Change Research Program, and details ways that climate change — caused predominantly by the emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases — is already being felt across the country.

“‘Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,’ the report says in its introduction. …

“The report notes that American society and its infrastructure were built for the past climate — not the future. It highlights examples of the kinds of changes that state and local governments can make to become more resilient. One of the main takeaways, said David Wolfe, a professor of plant and soil ecology at Cornell University and a coauthor of the chapter on the Northeast, is that ‘you don’t want to look at the weather records of yesteryear to determine how to set up your infrastructure.’

“This report, said Wolfe, signals that the country is ‘beginning to move beyond the debate about whether climate change is real or not, and really getting down to rolling up our sleeves’ and addressing it.”

Read the whole article.

See also: Cornell Media Relations Office tip sheet.

Study to focus on rice genes, yield and climate

Susan McCouch

Susan McCouch

Cornell researchers received a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to study relationships among rice genetics, crop yields and climate.

The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture awarded 10 universities, including Cornell, a total of $6 million April 22 to research the effects of changing climate on agriculture production and to develop strategies and solutions for farmers and ranchers to supply the nation’s food.

At Cornell, researchers in the lab of principal investigator Susan McCouch, professor of plant breeding and genetics and of plant biology, and colleagues from climate science, agricultural economics and crop physiology, will use an interdisciplinary approach to address fundamental questions to improve rice production and breeding under climate variability.

The researchers will incorporate data into a new computer model developed by Joshua Woodard, assistant professor of applied economics and management at Cornell and project co-principal investigator, to determine associations between rice genome regions related to yield, real market data and different weather parameters.

Read the whole article. [Cornell Chronicle 2014-04-30]

Expert cautions: ‘Nature never forgets nor forgives’

Land-restoration expert Luc Gnacadja warned that the worldwide problem of soil erosion contributes to poverty and hunger and threatens security and freedom. (Robert Barker/University Photography)

Land-restoration expert Luc Gnacadja warned that the worldwide problem of soil erosion contributes to poverty and hunger and threatens security and freedom. (Robert Barker/University Photography)

In the 1930s the Dust Bowl ravaged the Great Plains, sending clouds of black dust into the sky and displacing tens of thousands of families. This disaster was due in part from the failure to use farming methods that would have prevented catastrophic erosion, said a renowned international voice for sustainable land development.

“One of my favorite quotes about soil is that of President F.D. Roosevelt, that ‘a nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself,” said Luc Gnacadja, delivering “Grounding Human Security: Land and Soil in the Global Sustainability Agenda,” the Jill and Ken Iscol Distinguished Environmental Lecture, at Cornell April 22.

Gnacadja, former executive secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, said he hopes we won’t forget the lessons learned from the ’30s. Yet careless plowing of soil and other unsustainable practices currently cause severe land degradation. An estimated 30 percent of global forest cover has been entirely cleared and a further 20 percent degraded, he said. Increasingly, inferior land combined with population growth means the world will need additional cropland the size of Brazil, the largest country in the Southern Hemisphere, by 2050, Gnacadja estimated.

This event was hosted by the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.

Read the whole article. [Cornell Chronicle 2014-04-23]

Earth Day Thoughts from President Skorton

By David J. Skorton, Cornell University President 

President David Skorton using the water bottle-filling station on the third floor of Day Hall. (

President David Skorton using the water bottle-filling station on the third floor of Day Hall. (

April 22 is Earth Day, the 44th anniversary of what many consider to be the birth of the environmental movement and an opportunity for all of us to consider the health and prospects of our shared planet and what we can do as individuals and as a university community to live more sustainably and effect positive change.

As someone who on the first Earth Day was driving a bright red “muscle car” with a V8 engine and a hefty appetite for leaded gasoline, I am encouraged by the collective progress we have made since 1970, but also increasingly aware that there is much more to do — and that all of us must help find solutions to safeguard our environment and live in a sustainable way.

Cornell is home to the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, one of the world’s premier centers for research on sustainability and, among many other initiatives, the organizer of the annual Jill and Ken Iscol Distinguished Environmental Lecture. I hope you’ll join me for tomorrow’s Iscol Lecture, featuring Luc Gnacadja, former executive secretary of the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification, and our first Iscol Lecturer from the global south. Mr. Gnacadja will also be participating in several classes and other events during his visit to Cornell.

Read the whole message [Cornell Daily Sun 2014-04-21]

Atkinson Center launches postdoc fellowships

atkinson logoTo help solve the world’s significant environmental problems, Cornell’s David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future announces new Atkinson Postdoctoral Fellowships.

Transcending traditional disciplines, challenges related to energy and environment and economic development have become interdependent and interconnected. “This program is designed to attract the most creative and passionate young minds into solving critical challenges facing the planet and humanity,” says Frank DiSalvo, director of the center and the John A. Newman Professor of Physical Science.

For the two-year commitment, each fellow will have two advisers, a lead faculty member from Cornell and one from an external organization. The focus subject areas include sustainable agriculture and food systems, energy, health, sustainable communities, new materials and computational sustainability.

Says DiSalvo: “We are particularly excited by this program because it will link Cornell postdocs to an external, nonacademic partner, which will help translate research to make a real and lasting difference.”

Read the whole article [Cornell Chronicle 2014-04-16]

Celebrate Earth Day by Reconnecting with Planet Earth

Laura Faye Tenenbaum

Laura Faye Tenenbaum

From Ingrid H. H. Zabel, Ph.D., Climate Change Education Manager, Paleontological Research Institution | Museum of the Earth | Cayuga Nature Center:

Please join us this Friday evening for the final talk in our Glacier Lecture Series. These talks are aimed at a general audience, so feel free to bring your family and friends!

Celebrate Earth Day by Reconnecting with Planet Earth
Laura Faye Tenenbaum
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Friday , April 18, 6:30 pm
Museum of the Earth

Celebrate Earth Day by learning about NASA’s role in understanding Earth, ocean, and climate science, and about constructive suggestions for dealing with the complex challenges of climate change for both scientists and non-scientists.

Laura Faye Tenenbaum is an Innovator in Science Communication and a member of the Earth Science Communications Team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where she is responsible for creating content for the climate website “Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet” and the “Earth Right Now” blog ( Her team won two Webby Awards, the Internet industry’s highest honor, for Best Science Website. Her goal is to bring science, multimedia, and education together to attract a highly motivated and enthusiastic new generation that will be ready to take on the environmental challenges we face.
$10 fee; light refreshments will be served.

More information.

Name Cornell’s New Solar Farm

solar farm by the numbers

Click image for larger view.

From the sustainablecampus-l email list:

Submit your idea for the name of Cornell’s new solar farm by April 28, 2014 to:

The winner will receive a a Cornell Store gift card.

More info about the solar farm.

Upcoming events

See also the Atkinson Center Sustainability Events Calendar.

Iscol Lecture April 22 features Luc Gnacadja on land, soil and security

Luc Gnacadja

Luc Gnacadja

Jill and Ken Iscol Distinguished Environmental Lecture:

Grounding Human Security: Land and Soil in the Global Sustainability Agenda
Luc Gnacadja, Past Executive Secretary UN Convention to Combat Desertification
Tuesday, April 22 – 5:00pm – Schwartz Auditorium, Rockefeller Hall

Land is the crucial natural capital resource at the nexus of our food and water security. We need fertile soil—the skin of the land—as much as the air we breathe, yet we routinely take soil for granted. Land degradation is accelerating, especially in the developing world, threatening both environmental health and human security. Soil security is a prerequisite for human security and must be a vital part of the sustainable development goals we set. The global community can work together to balance land degradation and restoration for a more resilient future.

Mr. Gnacadja served as Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and UN Assistant Secretary-General from 2007 to 2013. He was a guiding voice for sustainable land development in the negotiations leading up to Rio+20, the June 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development. Gnacadja argued, “A land degradation–neutral world is the final piece of the puzzle that unites the challenge of land degradation with the tools at our disposal and the level of ambition needed to achieve the future we want.” The international community affirmed this goal in The Future We Want, the outcome document adopted in Rio.

Gnacadja will also speak in several classes as well as serve on a panel addressing Waterless Lands and Languishing Livelihoods on April 23.

Find the full schedule and more information at the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future website.

‘Sustainable shale development’ chair to speak April 15

Jared Cohon

Jared Cohon

Jared Cohon, board chair for the Center for Sustainable Shale Development and president emeritus of Carnegie Mellon University, will share insight into incorporating diverse, impassioned opinions to frame effective policy in his talk, “Working Together on Shale Gas Policy and Practice,” Tuesday, April 15, at 4:30 p.m., in 155 Olin Hall.

In Pennsylvania’s booming shale gas industry, recent efforts have brought industrial and environmental interests together. Last summer, the Shale Gas Roundtable, co-chaired by Cohon, released a report with suggestions for improving oil and gas development in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus and Utica shale formations.

Following the report’s release, Cohon said: “Early in our deliberations, the roundtable members were able to agree on a common-sense framework for ‘getting it right’ that includes a strong regulatory system that adequately protects the environment and our local communities; the development and widespread industry use of best management practices and performance standards; substantial investments in technological and operational innovation to minimize impacts; and balanced research to support the continual improvement of regulations, standards and technology.”

Read the whole article. [Cornell Chronicle 2014-04-09]