April 6, 2016
Here’s the scientific dirt: Soil can help reduce global warming.
While farm soil grows the world’s food and fiber, scientists are examining ways to use it to sequester carbon and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
“We can substantially reduce atmospheric carbon by using soil. We have the technology now to begin employing good soil practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Johannes Lehmann, Cornell professor of soil and crop sciences, co-author of the Perspectives piece, “Climate-smart Soils,” published in Nature, April 6.
Decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, sequestering carbon and using prudent agricultural management practices that tighten the soil-nitrogen cycle can yield enhanced soil fertility, bolster crop productivity, improve soil biodiversity, and reduce erosion, runoff and water pollution. These practices also buffer crop and pasture systems against the impacts of climate change.
April 4, 2016
Now that 195 nations, including the U.S., have agreed to ambitious greenhouse gas emission reductions to slow the pace of climate change, the question everyone is asking is: How will we actually meet our targets set for 2035?
Given past performance, many don’t think we will get there without so-called “geoengineering” solutions, such as blasting sulfur dioxide or other particles into the atmosphere to shade the planet and compensate for the warming effect of greenhouse gases. Clever, eh? Maybe not. Some recent modeling studies show these seemingly easy fixes could backfire in catastrophic ways, such as disrupting the Indian monsoon season and completely drying out the Sahel of Africa. Another risk is atmospheric chemical reactions that deplete the ozone layer. Do we really want to run global-scale experiments for 20 or 30 years and see what happens?
There is another way, one that is zero-risk and builds on something farmers around the world are already motivated to do: manage soils so that a maximum amount of the carbon dioxide plants pull out of the air via photosynthesis remains on the farm as carbon-rich soil organic matter. “Carbon farming,” as it is sometimes called, is Mother Nature’s own geoengineering, relying on fundamental biological processes to capture carbon and sequester it in the soil, carbon that would otherwise be in the air as the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide.
March 25, 2016
An international team of scientists – led by a Cornell professor of natural resources – will help communities in Asia’s Pamir Mountains recalibrate their seasonal-indicator ecological calendars to reckon the future effects of climate change. The Belmont Forum, which funds global environmental research, will provide a $1.35 million for a three-year study.
“Indigenous societies in mountain communities around the world have used ‘ecological calendars’ as seasonal indicators for hundreds of years to sow seeds, grow crops, tend to animals, fish, hunt and harvest. Ecological calendars are systems that track time by observing seasonal changes in our habitat, such as the nascence of a flower, the appearance of an insect, the arrival of a migratory bird, the breakup of ice, last day of snow-cover,” said Karim-Aly Kassam, associate professor of environmental and indigenous studies in the Department of Natural Resources, who will lead the project.
Ecological calendars offer a way to anticipate climatic variation, as “Indigenous societies are at the vanguard of climate-change impacts – yet none of these societies contributed to its causes,” he said.
See also National Geographic article: Climate Change Is Making Calendars Run Amok
March 19, 2016
Climate-change-induced heat stress and disease pathogens migrating across borders threaten the world’s wheat supply and food security in conflict zones of Africa and the Middle East. To expand the scope of a global partnership to combat these threats, Cornell University has been awarded a $24 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The grant, Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW), will mitigate serious threats to wheat brought about by climate change and develop and deploy new strains of heat tolerant wheat that resist wheat rusts and other diseases.
“Over the last eight years, we have built a global consortium of wheat scientists and farmers whose efforts have so far prevented the global epidemics of Ug99 stem rust predicted back in 2005,” said Ronnie Coffman, international plant breeder and director of Cornell’s International Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, who leads the consortium. “We have improved wheat resistance to stem and yellow rust globally and increased global yields.
“In the new DGGW grant we will use modern tools of comparative genomics and big data to develop and deploy varieties of wheat that incorporate climate resiliency as well as improved disease resistance for smallholder farmers in these politically vulnerable regions.”
March 8, 2016
No matter what mental picture you conjure, it’s probably got one thing in common with others: whiteness.
Non-white minorities statistically are as concerned with climate change as are whites but are less likely to self-identify as environmentalists. This suggests that racial and ethnic representation, in areas of outreach and climate science advocacy, can shape core climate change beliefs in previously overlooked ways. That’s of major importance for a nation that, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, is on track to become a majority-minority nation by the year 2050.
Race and ethnicity as a function of climate-change attitudes is the subject of a recent study by Jonathan Schuldt ’04, assistant professor of communication in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and collaborator Adam Pearson ’03, assistant professor of psychology at Pomona (Calif.) College.
March 2, 2016
At the intersection of activism and academia, a climate change and clean energy panel gave details of environmental urgency and impending social refinements. The Feb. 26 panel included Cornell researchers, alumnae, New York Assembly representatives and sustainability advocates, and was hosted by student-led KyotoNow! Cornell.
“We can … actually make our society more socially equitable and socially just,” said Lara Skinner, associate director for Cornell’s Worker Institute. “It’s the cultural, political and social struggles that we face … the greatest social crisis of our time,” she said, noting how environmental changes resulting from a warming climate will modify the social science landscape.
February 22, 2016
Friday, February 26, 2016 at 5:30pm to 7:30pm
G01 Uris Hall, C
- 5:00: Refreshments (attendees are encouraged to bring their own water bottles/mugs/plates/utensils)
- 5:30: Welcome
- 5:35: Opening Speech–Lara Skinner, Ph.D., Associate Director of The Worker Institute at Cornell’s ILR School
- 5:50: Paris Climate Talks & 80%-Renewable NY by 2030–Robert Howarth, Ph.D., Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
- 6:05-6:15: Break
- 6:15: Panel
1. Barbara Lifton, Tompkins County Assemblywoman–D
2. Nick Goldsmith, Town of Ithaca Sustainability Coordinator
3. Lara Skinner, Ph.D., Associate Director of The Worker Institute at Cornell’s ILR School
4. Bob Howarth, Ph.D., David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
5. Heather Leibowitz, Director of Environment America New York
6. Bronte Payne, Clean Energy Fellow of Environment America Boston
7. Lauren Chambliss, Communications Director of the Atkinson Center for a Future
8. Steve Englebright, NY State Assembly Member
- 6:40: Closing Speech–Professor Bruce Monger, Oceanography Senior Lecturer
- 6:55: Q&A
February 17, 2016
A new study describes how diverse marine organisms are susceptible to diseases made worse by warming oceans. The research warns that warm sea temperatures in 2015 may increase the levels of epizootic shell disease in American lobster in the northern Gulf of Maine in 2016.
A second study provides the first evidence of a link between warmer ocean temperatures and impact of a West Coast epidemic of sea star wasting disease that has infected more than 20 species and devastated populations since 2013.
These two papers, published Feb. 15, are part of a marine disease-themed special issue of the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. The issue – which contains a total of 13 studies – is edited by Kevin Lafferty, a marine ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Eileen Hoffman, an oceanographer at Old Dominion University.
February 5, 2016
Six panelists, including Cornell faculty members, who attended the 21st United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris last fall recalled the historic proceedings for a spirited audience that spilled into the hallway of the Tompkins County Public Library’s BorgWarner Room Feb. 3.
The panel, “COP21: Reflections on the Historic Climate Agreement,” was co-sponsored by Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, local government agencies and community groups.
Topics discussed ranged from methane emissions to agriculture to civil disobedience, but panelists agreed that the COP21 made history by producing a 195-nation commitment to combat climate change that, while not nearly strong enough, they said, was a remarkable achievement nonetheless.
February 3, 2016
From David Wolfe, professor of plant and soil ecology in the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell University and chair of the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future’s Climate Change Consortium. Via The Hill [2016-02-02].
I was on a research trip to Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation in North and South Dakota this December to learn from Lakota and Dakota community members how climate change was affecting their environment, and to begin a dialogue about building resilience to this challenge. While there, my group was also keeping track of events at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, where the Indigenous Environmental Network was organizing events to raise awareness of indigenous peoples’ vulnerability to climate change and longstanding concerns about human impacts on the Earth.
As an ecologist, I was struck by how the complex and cascading effects of a changing climate were real-life issues for members of the Lakota and Dakota community, giving them an understanding far beyond those who do not interact with the environment in the same way. They could see how seasonal cycles of the living world — like spring bloom, bird migrations or the thickening of the winter coat of the buffalo — were becoming out of sync with the sun and moon cycles on which our Gregorian calendar is based. They were concerned with declining fish and game, negative impacts on farm and ranching, and the shifting timing and abundance of traditional foods gathered from the grasslands and forests: prairie turnips in June, chokecherries in July, buffalo berries and wild mushrooms in September.