News & Events

The latest climate change news from Cornell and beyond.


Atkinson Center awards $1.4 million to new projects

atkinson logoCornell’s David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future (ACSF) has given $1.4 million from their Academic Venture Fund to 12 new university projects designed to protect and sustain the world’s environment, foster renewable energy, and promote human health and economic well-being. The awards were culled from a record-setting 49 proposals – about 50 percent more proposals than ever before, since awards started in 2008.

“We continue to pull together teams of people who have never worked together to tackle tough and timely sustainability issues using everything in today’s research arsenal, from social media to new technologies, to better understandings of what motivates people,” says Frank DiSalvo, director of the center and the John A. Newman Professor of Physical Science.

The awards involve 48 faculty members from the Colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Architecture, Art and Planning; Arts and Sciences; Engineering; Human Ecology; and Veterinary Medicine, and the School of Computing and Information Science. All of the projects involve two or more department collaborations. More than 90 percent involve three or more departments.

Read the whole article. [Cornell Chronicle 2014-06-10]

High tunnels at Cornell Plantations to simulate climate change

Plantations gardener Tyler Hale works inside the new high tunnel structure in the plantations vegetable garden. (Robert Barker/University Photography)

Plantations gardener Tyler Hale works inside the new high tunnel structure in the plantations vegetable garden. (Robert Barker/University Photography)

Okra, peanuts, cotton and bananas are not exactly staple crops on Ithaca farms and home gardens. But as the world gets warmer, will there be a place for tropical varieties in New York state? And what will happen to current crops such as lettuce, radish and spinach?

Cornell researchers aim to find out by simulating potential climate change conditions under plastic.

A high tunnel – an unheated greenhouse covered by a single layer of clear polyethylene – is being erected at Cornell Plantations to house a climate change demonstration garden.

The high-temperature, controlled precipitation environment will be used by student and faculty researchers in the Departments of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture to research the effects of changing growing conditions on growth and survival of select plants, and potential adaptive solutions.

It will also be an educational tool for the 50,000 people who visit Plantations’ botanical gardens, arboretum and natural areas each year, said Sonja Skelly, Cornell Plantations director of education.

“It is an ideal location to mount such a demonstration, and we are excited to provide an additional opportunity for students and visitors to explore environmental issues through the lens of the garden,” Skelly said.

Read the whole article. [Cornell Chronicle 2014-05-29]

Film explores climate change through eyes of high schoolers

A new feature-length documentary explores how communities are adapting to climate change in the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York as seen through the eyes of high school students.

The Resilient Ones: A Generation Takes On Climate Change from Bright Blue EcoMedia had its broadcast premiere on Mountain Lake PBS May 15. Producer Vic Guadagno is encouraging other PBS stations in New York to air the film, and hopes to arrange a screening in Ithaca. It’s not yet available online, but DVDs are available for purchase through PBS.

The film website also features climate change lesson plansvideo excerpts and trailers.

Three experts from the Department of Horticulture appear in the film. Research support specialist Jonathan Comstock discusses the effects of climate change on farming. Associate professor Ken Mudge and program aid Steve Gabriel about the promise of forest farming (excerpt above).

Climate change caused empire’s fall, tree rings reveal

A view of the coffin when originally sampled in 1938.

A view of the coffin when originally sampled in 1938.

A handful of tree ring samples stored in an old cigar box have shed unexpected light on the ancient world, thanks to research by Cornell archaeologist Sturt Manning and collaborators at Cornell, Arizona, Chicago, Oxford and Vienna, forthcoming in the June issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The samples were taken from an Egyptian coffin; Manning also examined wood from funeral boats buried near the pyramid of Sesostris III. He used a technique called “dendro radiocarbon wiggle matching,” which calibrates radiocarbon isotopes found in the sample tree rings with patterns known from other places in the world that have already identified chronologies, such as the long European oak chronology or the bristle cone pine trees of North America. …

The samples showed a small, unusual anomaly following the year 2200 B.C. Paleoclimate research has suggested a major short-term arid event about this time. …

“This radiocarbon anomaly would be explained by a change in growing season, i.e., climate, dating to exactly this arid period of time,” says Manning. “We’re showing that radiocarbon and these archaeological objects can confirm and in some ways better date a key climate episode.”

That climate episode, says Manning, had major political implications. There was just enough change in the climate to upset food resources and other infrastructure, which is likely what led to the collapse of the Akkadian Empire and affected the Old Kingdom of Egypt and a number of other civilizations, he says.

“The tree rings show the kind of rapid climate change that we and policymakers fear,” says Manning.

Read the whole article. [Cornell Chronicle 2014-05-14]

Control methane now, greenhouse gas expert warns

Robert Howarth (Robert Barker/University Photography)

Robert Howarth (Robert Barker/University Photography)

As the shale gas boom continues, the atmosphere receives more methane, adding to Earth’s greenhouse gas problem. A Cornell ecology professor fears that we may not be many years away from an environmental tipping point – and disaster.

“We have to control methane immediately, and natural gas is the largest methane pollution source in the United States,” said Robert Howarth, the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology, who explains in an upcoming journal article that Earth may reach the point of no return if average global temperatures rise by 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius in future decades. “If we hit a climate-system tipping point because of methane, our carbon dioxide problem is immaterial. We have to get a handle on methane, or increasingly risk global catastrophe.”

Howarth’s study, “A Bridge to Nowhere: Methane Emissions and the Greenhouse Gas Footprint of Natural Gas,” will be published May 20 in the journal Energy Science and Engineering.

Read the whole article. [Cornell Chronicle 2014-05-13]

Johnson’s green fund to help combat climate change

The Cornell Energy Corps recently launched a campaign on the Indiegogo online fundraising platform to support energy auditing training, purchase auditing equipment and send team members to an energy efficiency conference.

The Cornell Energy Corps recently launched a campaign on the Indiegogo online fundraising platform to support energy auditing training, purchase auditing equipment and send team members to an energy efficiency conference.

The Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management’s Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at Cornell announced the launch of a green revolving fund (GRF) to enhance energy conservation efforts in campus buildings. The GRF becomes part of a program that will help students gain experience leveraging technology and investment to combat climate change.

The launch of GRF stems from work by Energy Corps, a campuswide student organization established in 2012 dedicated to improving energy efficiency at Cornell. The fund will provide low-interest loans to colleges and departments across campus for investments in energy efficiency technology upgrades that yield significant financial returns.

“Energy Corps has done an amazing job catalyzing support for a GRF here at Cornell,” said Mark Milstein, director of the center and Johnson clinical professor of management. “By launching this program, we have the opportunity to provide students a unique educational opportunity that will have tremendous impact on campus and around the world.”

To date, Energy Corps has completed numerous projects across campus with estimated savings of more than $200,000 over the next seven years.

Read the whole article.[Cornell Chronicle 2014-05-13]

Thinkers tackle atomic war, climate change in diacritics

diacritics-coverFrom the Cornell Chronicle [2014-05-08]:

The struggle to understand how to read literature and write under nuclear threat inspired a special issue of diacritics, the review of contemporary criticism published since 1971 by Cornell’s Department of Romance Studies. Richard Klein, professor emeritus of French, edited that issue and – 30 years later – has contributed an essay to the new issue on the subject of climate change.

Contributors to the new issue examine how we think about literature differently today from when we more directly experienced the fear of the mushroom cloud, says Karen Pinkus ’84, professor of Italian and comparative literature in the College of Arts and Sciences, who edited the special issue. “The nuclear threat hasn’t gone away, but it’s been pushed to the margins. Most people don’t have moments of panic anticipating a nuclear bomb.”

Klein’s new essay is titled “Climate Change Through the Lens of Nuclear Criticism.” He writes: “It was in 1945, at the start of the nuclear era, that humans for the first time created the capacity to destroy civilization. Since then, we have arrived at new means to accomplish the same end.”

“Confronting climate change requires us to muster all the resources to deal with it, and that includes philosophical thinking about the nature of what we’re confronting,” adds Pinkus. “That broader perspective is essential, as it offers another way of thinking – perhaps an impractical way, but one that it is more attuned to the enormity of the challenges – that the more local technical and scientific solutions can’t.”

Read the whole article.

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]