News & Events

The latest climate change news from Cornell and beyond.


Upcoming seminars

Seminars of interest on the Cornell campus:

See also the Atkinson Center Sustainability Events Calendar.

ABM Installing 2 MW Solar Plant at Cornell University

Solar Array Expected to Save Over 730 metric tons of CO2 Annually

An artistic rendering on how the solar panel array might look. (Graphic: Distributed Sun)

An artistic rendering on how the solar panel array might look. (Graphic: Distributed Sun)

From news release in Wall Street Journal published online 2014-03-19:

ABM (NYSE:ABM), a leading provider of facility solutions, announced today that ABM’s energy business started construction on a 2 MW solar array to be implemented on Cornell University’s campus in Ithaca, NY, representing the Ivy League university’s first large solar endeavor. ABM will provide Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) and Operations & Maintenance (O&M) services. ABM joint venture partner Building Energy will finance and own the solar power plant in partnership with Distributed Sun, LLC, who developed the project for Cornell.

The 6,500+ panel ‘Lansing’ solar array will provide Cornell University with fixed, low-cost energy rates over the life of the 30-year agreement, allowing Cornell to save money as utility costs are expected to rise in the coming years.

“We are pleased to partner with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Distributed Sun, LLC, and ABM to launch Cornell’s first large solar project,” said Cornell Vice President for Facilities Services Kyujung Whang. “This facility represents a significant step to advance Cornell’s clean energy portfolio. The Lansing solar facility aligns with carbon reduction goals of Cornell, Tompkins County and New York State.”

The system is expected to generate just over 2.2 million kilowatt hours (kWh) per year on average. Additionally, a section of the plant will be designated for academic use, which allows students physical access to manipulate 10 solar panels and access to the Web-based dashboard of the solar array state-of-the-art monitoring software. It is planned that energy and real-time energy use data will be publicly available on the Web.

Read the whole news release.

See also: Proposed solar array offers a bright energy future [Cornell Chronicle 2013-07-13]

White House website could undermine climate change motivation

Jonathon Schuldt

Jonathon Schuldt

From Cornell Media Relations Office tip sheet [2014-03-19]:

Jonathon Schuldt, professor of communication in Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and an expert on effectively communicating environmental issues, says while the new White House website provides accurate data, it could give people a false sense of security and undermine motivation to stop climate change.

Schuldt says:

“A real barrier to effective climate change communication is that the public tends to think about climate consequences as a very distant thing — something that threatens faraway countries or the North Pole.

“The new government website may be an attempt to shrink this distance, to psychologically put climate change in Americans’ backyards, so that we are more motivated to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and take other climate-mitigating actions.

“Although there’s good reason to expect this could be an effective strategy for promoting more progressive climate policy, it might not be a magic bullet. For example, the website might make some citizens and businesses realize that while their neighbors will be negatively affected, they will fare relatively well, which could give them a false sense of security and undermine their motivation to stop climate change.”

For interviews contact:
Melissa Osgood
office: 607-255-2059
cell: 716-860-0587

Upcoming seminars

Seminars of interest on the Cornell campus:

Dry future climate could reduce orchid bee habitat

Margarita López-Uribe

Margarita López-Uribe

During Pleistocene era climate changes, neotropical orchid bees that relied on year-round warm, wet weather found their habitats reduced by 30 to 50 percent, according to a Cornell study that used computer models and genetic data to understand bee distributions during past climate changes.

In previous studies, researchers have tracked male and female orchid bees and found that while females stay near their nests, male orchid bees travel, with one study concluding they roam as far as 7 kilometers per day. These past findings, corroborated by genetic data in the current study, reveal that males are more mobile than females.

The study, published March 14 online in the journal Molecular Ecology, has important implications for future climate changes.

“The dataset tells us that if the tendency [in the future] is to have lower precipitation, in combination with deforestation, the suitable habitat for the bees is going to be reduced,” said Margarita López-Uribe, the paper’s first author and a graduate student in the lab of Bryan Danforth, Cornell professor of entomology and co-author of the study.

Read the whole article. [Cornell Chronicle 2014-03-14]

Cornell earns third consecutive sustainability ‘gold star’

One of many components to make up the university's recent STARS score, composting discarded food scraps at the Cornell Composting Facility. (Robert Barker/University Photography)

One of many components to make up the university’s recent STARS score, composting discarded food scraps at the Cornell Composting Facility. (Robert Barker/University Photography)

In the continuing effort to save energy, enhance environmental operations and increase sustainability research and education, Cornell earned its third consecutive gold STARS rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

STARS – the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System – is a self-reporting tool that colleges and universities can use to measure progress and compare their rankings. Cornell moved up a notch – at 73.34 – to become one of 58 schools earning gold status out of 308 rated schools for 2013.

One of the key changes in STARS scoring came through the campus dining subcategory, as the score moved from a 5.0 last year to 7.4. About 45 percent of Cornell’s food expenditures meet one or more of the STARS criteria: Cornell earned points for obtaining dining hall food grown and processed from within a 250-mile radius; using USDA certified organic food; using Marine Stewardship Council certified seafood; and for using fair trade foods.

For the Cornell dining halls, the university grows its own fresh potatoes, winter squash and corn in season; purchases about 27 percent of its fresh produce locally and regionally; and makes its own dairy products.

The university received innovation credits for participating in the national Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth project; “Sustainability in Skills for Success,” a human resources program that encourages staff to reduce their environmental impact; the Statler Hotel’s EarthView Sustainable Hospitality program; and the new Cornell Institute for Climate Change and Agriculture program, which helps to identify new crops to grow in a climate-changing world.

Read the whole article [Cornell Chronicle 2014-03-13]

How We Drilled the Deepest Ice Core in West Antarctica, and Why

Up next in the Paleontological Research Institution’s Glacier Lecture Series

Two Miles of Climate History:  How We Drilled the Deepest Ice Core in West Antarctica, and Why 

John Fegyveresi
Pennsylvania State University
Sunday, March 16, 2:00 – 3:00 pm
Cayuga Nature Center

Learn about ice-coring science and the effort involved in drilling operations and science logging in a field campaign in West Antarctica. John will discuss the climate science we’re learning from the ice core, and what we know about the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

John Fegyveresi is a Ph.D. candidate in Geoscience at Penn State University, working with Dr. Richard Alley. He has been to Antarctica five times.

Seminar April 11: Water Sustainability and Climate Change

Jerry Schnoor

Jerry Schnoor

Ezra’s Round Table/Systems Seminar presents a member of the National Academy of Engineering Jerald L. Schnoor on the topic of Water Sustainability and Climate Change, Friday, April 11, 2014 at 12:00 noon in 253 Frank H. T. Rhodes Hall.

Water is a vital renewable resource for society which is increasingly stressed by multiple demands for people and industry, and by water quality impairments. Changes in water supply and demands for water are driven by population growth and climate change. In this talk, we discuss the effect of climate change on water supplies including: groundwater depletion, water quality impairment, and water reuse while proposing a more holistic management approach to the entire water cycle. Mitigation and adaptation to climate change are grand challenges of the 21st century which must be addressed to make real progress on water sustainability.

Jerry Schnoor is a member of the National Academy of Engineering (elected in 1999) for his pioneering work using mathematical models in science policy decisions. He testified many times before Congress on environmental protection including the importance of passing the 1990 Clean Air Act. Since 2003, he has served as the Editor-in-Chief ofEnvironmental Science and Technology, a leading journal in environmental science and engineering. He chaired the Board of Scientific Counselors for the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development from 2000-2004; and recently served on the EPA Science Advisory Board and the National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council for NIEHS (2007-2011). In 2010, Schnoor received the Simon W. Freese Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Athalie Richardson Irvine Clarke Prize for his research and international leadership on water sustainability. In 2013, he was honored as an Einstein Professor by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and lectured throughout China. Jerry’s research interests include water quality modeling, sustainability, phytoremediation, and climate change.

More information.

Warming temperatures push chickadees northward

The zone of overlap between two popular, closely related backyard birds is moving northward at a rate that matches warming winter temperatures, according to a study by researchers from Cornell and Villanova universities. The research will be published online in Current Biology March 6.

In a narrow strip – called a hybrid zone – that runs across the eastern U.S., Carolina chickadees from the south meet and interbreed with black-capped chickadees from the north. The new study finds that this hybrid zone, a convenient reference point for scientists tracking environmental changes, has moved northward at a rate of 0.7 mile per year over the last decade. That’s fast enough that the researchers added an extra study site partway through their project.

“A lot of the time climate change doesn’t really seem tangible,” said lead author Scott Taylor, a postdoctoral researcher at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “But here are these common little backyard birds we all grew up with, and we’re seeing them moving northward on relatively short time scales.”

Read the whole article [Cornell Chronicle 2012-03-06]

Skorton responds on divestment

David Skorton

David Skorton

The following is a response to the Faculty Senate resolution on Cornell investment and divestment strategies for a sustainable future from President David Skorton on Feb. 11:

The Faculty Senate Resolution on Cornell Investment and Divestment Strategies for a Sustainable Future, passed in December 2013, as well as the Student Assembly Resolution 32, “Toward a Responsible Endowment” to which I responded last spring, have generated considerable discussion on our campus and a broad spectrum of opinion on the issues raised. In this response to the Faculty Senate’s resolution, I offer some general comments on the role of the university in environmental sustainability, address the specifics of the Faculty Senate’s resolution, and offer a way forward.

As I said at the President’s Sustainable Campus Committee Summit last November, I believe the two biggest challenges facing our world are inequality and environmental sustainability. Therefore, I welcome the faculty’s passion on this issue and agree with the Faculty Senate resolution on the need to accelerate the pace of our efforts to achieve carbon neutrality. I accept and endorse the Faculty Senate’s recommendation that we seek a more aggressive reduction in the use of fossil fuels that could bring us to carbon neutrality by 2035. I say “could” because it will require a set of decisions and changes in behavior and priorities throughout the campus to achieve this more aggressive goal.

Read the whole statement [Cornell Chronicle 2014-02-26]