Cornell University Climate Change Seminar
Perspectives on the Climate Change Challenge
Spring 2017: February 6 to May 8
Mondays: 2:55-4:10 P.M., B25 Warren Hall
Free and Open to the Public
To view online, Register for Webinar in advance
This university-wide seminar provides important views on the critical issue of climate change, drawing from many perspectives and disciplines. Experts from both Cornell University and other universities will present an overview of the science of climate change and climate change models, the implications for agriculture, ecosystems, and food systems, and provide important economic, ethical, and policy insights on the issue. The seminar is being organized and sponsored by the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering, the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions, and the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. The seminar is free and open to the Cornell and Ithaca Community at large, and will be recorded.
February 6: Sources of Uncertainty about Future Climate
Natalie Mahowald (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences)
While the science behind anthropogenic climate change is resolved, a remaining uncertainty is how large the impacts of future climate change will be. Scientists make projections of climate using a variety of tools, one of which is climate models. Here we discuss briefly the advantages and disadvantages of climate models. We discuss conceptually where the uncertainties come from, and the extent to which these uncertainties can be reduced in the future. A focus will be on the state of the science and open questions.
February 13: The Intersection of Social Justice and Climate Justice: Where Social Movements and the Law Collide
Gerald Torres (Cornell Law School)
Torres has worked on environmental protection issues, especially related to the public trust and our interest in common resources, for over 30 years. He has studied the impact of climate change on indigenous people and how a failure to act exacerbates problems of environmental injustice. Torres has written about the impact of agricultural policies on environmental quality and the need to take agriculture into account in the protection of our environment. His latest work focused on issues of water scarcity, especially in the face of climate disruption. He served as deputy assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., and served on the boards of the Environmental Law Institute, the National Petroleum Council, EPA's National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Texas League of Conservation Voters. He is chair of Earth Day Network.
Feb. 20: No Class - Break
Bruce Monger (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences)
Kaushik Basu (Economics)
Both to combat climate change and adapt to what may be inevitable, we will need to rethink the concept of what constitutes economic growth and development. It is arguable that climate change will have the largest and most deleterious impact on the poor. This requires us to re-examine the concepts of poverty, inequality and economic growth, which form the basis of so many policy initiatives. The lecture will begin by taking stock of global poverty and inequality, and then speculate the way in which climate change is likely to impact different segments of the population. This will then lead to an analysis of the concept of economic growth and how we may need to rethink this and also re-orient policies to take account of this big challenge of our times.
Sturt Manning (Classics)
How does climate history shape human history, and how does this vary when considering longer versus shorter timescales? In particular, what is the relationship beyond a few crisis cases, such a mega-droughts and similar apocalyptic episodes? What about the flip-side: opportunities versus disasters? One of the key issues for a more nuanced integration between climate and humans history is chronology.A lack of good chronological resolution hampers attempts to identify robust linkages between human history and archaeology and climate change for many periods before the recent past. Many claims for climate relevance are based on poorly dated or resolved records, and lack any secure association with human history and its material correlates. Speculation and hypothesis replace tightly constrained evidence associations.
Aaron Sachs (History)
Virtually all writing and advocacy on climate change has so far been undertaken in a serious, or tragic, or even catastrophic mode. Scientists present warnings that are almost always characterized as “dire.” Book titles suggest that it’s time to write a requiem for our species and often invoke “the end of civilization.” So what would happen if we approached climate change with a sense of humor? Yeah, you’re right. Probably nothing.
Stacy VanDeveer (UMass Boston)
The heady, jubilant days that followed the successful negotiations of 2015 Paris Climate Agreement yielded first to the slower, more difficult realities of domestic and international politics and the seemingly unyielding accumulation of scientific data about the changing climate and the need for much deeper cuts in global emissions. But the realities of really-existing politics and science were jolted anew of seeming unreality of election and inauguration of Donald Trump. So why is the Paris Agreement hailed as a success, in the world of global cooperation? And what are the prospects for its implementation – and for the additional actions needed to “ratchet up” climate action under Trump?
April 3: No Class - Break
April 10: CO2, Climate Change and Food Security
Lewis Ziska (USDA)
Documented and projected changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide are likely to alter agricultural productivity in two ways: directly, by supplying additional carbon for photosynthesis and growth, and indirectly by altering climate, specifically surface temperatures and precipitation. In this overview on the impact of carbon dioxide and climate change in agriculture, I will present data from a number of sources that document the likely changes in temperature, temperature and carbon dioxide and water on crop quality and production, and identify other biological interactions with pests, weeds and diseases. In addition, I will discuss adaptation strategies, focusing on exploiting genetic and intra-specific variability within plant germplasm as a possible means to maintain agricultural production in the future.
April 17: Second Coast: A Reflection on Coastal Leisure Landscapes, Climate Adaptation Strategies, and Design Tools
Maria Goula (Landscape Architecture)
The lecture will briefly provide a genealogy on the coast as a cultural construct, reflecting on the relatively recent desire of humanity to inhabit it for pleasure. Society’s climate change acknowledgment only intensifies earlier concerns of landscape architects and environmentalists on the deterioration and fragmentation of the coast impacted by massive tourism development and privately owned resorts world wide since the 1960’s. Yet, our responses to coastal adaptation are slow and affected by a persistent denial of the coast as a dynamic interphase. In design terms, there is hardly any representation of the coast as a landscape, nor a disciplinary discourse about appropriate scales and tools, to interpret the coastal phenomena in order to provide general diagnosis of the variable tensions that ours coasts are experiencing. The presentation will comment on the some most relevant adaptation experiences strategies in the US and Europe, reflect on their tools and finally share a few design research experiences which under the theme of the second coast aim to reframe our instrumental approach to the coast, as a basis for long term resiliency.
Kerry Emanuel (MIT)
May 1: Communicating Climate Change
Andrew Revkin (Dot Earth Blog, NYTimes)
May 8: Religion and Climate Change
David Lodge (Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future)
There were eleven seminar sessions in 2016
February 8: Climate Change at the Frontiers of Ethics
Dale Jamieson (New York University)
Climate Change encompasses a range of ethical issues such as: abatement, adaptation, geoengineering, compensation, non-human nature, and participatory justice. However, what makes climate change different, and why does it not immediately invoke harsher moral objections from humans?
Dr. Jamieson explores this topic with examples and insights into how human thinking and way of life prevents us from having an extremely adverse reaction to essentially being responsible for the lives and livelihoods of future generations, and how we might circumvent this thinking to overcome the ethical boundary that is climate change.
February 22: The Science and Impacts of Climate Change
Art DeGaetano (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences)
So how can adding a bit more of a gas that makes up much less than 1% of the Earth’s atmosphere be responsible for causing the greatest environmental dilemma of our and our future generations’ time? In this talk, I will develop a very simple model of the Earth system. Then using some basic math and physics, show how altering the atmosphere’s greenhouse gas concentration requires that the temperature of the Earth’s surface increase. We will discuss how other man-made influences also affect the climate system and demonstrate how many of these changes are exacerbated by feedbacks.
With this foundation, we will then take a trip back in time to examine how atmospheric carbon dioxide has influenced the Earth’s temperature in the ancient past, how temperatures over the last century, and how continued increases in greenhouse gas concentrations are projected to affect the climate of the next 100 years. We will look at some of these expected changes from both a global and a local prospective.
Toby Ault (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences)
Coping with climate change during this century will require us to build new tools for anticipating "emergent" climate risks--i.e., hazards whose likelihood cannot be easily inferred from the historical record because they are the consequence of both natural climatic variations and climate change. Obvious examples of these kinds of hazards are heat waves, rainfall events, and severe or prolonged droughts. Even when underlying climatic influences are relatively minor however, phenomena with strong ecological or economic consequences can occur. For example, small changes in spring and fall temperatures may have large implications on the growing season. This in turn influences the spread of certain pests and diseases, effecting both agricultural yields and human health. Thus far, Dr. Ault's research has coalesced around three areas of inquiry related to emergent climate risks: (1) estimating the risk of prolonged drought under climate change; (2) understanding the dynamics of seasonality, particularly spring; and (3) characterizing variations in the Tropical Pacific on timescales of decades to centuries, and their influence on global climate. His methods entail data synthesis from observational sources as well as numerical and statistical modeling. The nature of this work is therefore highly interdisciplinary, affording the opportunity to collaborate closely not only with climate scientists and modelers, but with colleagues in many other disciplines, including geography, paleoclimatology, and ecology.
March 7: Strategies for Mitigating Climate Change - Considering Air Quality and Short Versus Long-lived Greenhouse Gases
Peter Hess (Biological & Environmental Engineering)
Atmospheric aerosols and a number of greenhouse gases contribute to climate change and have other significant environmental costs including impacts on air quality, agricultural productivity and the ozone hole. The emissions of some of these aerosols and gases are fairly easily controlled while for others mitigation is more difficult. Moreover, some emission controls may decrease global warming but degrade air quality. Mitigation strategies are complicated by the fact that some greenhouse gases effectively reside in the atmosphere for thousands of years while other gases and atmospheric aerosols reside in the atmosphere for a matter of days. This talk seminar will consider different mitigation strategies that take into account the different characteristics of the various greenhouse gases and aerosols.
March 14: The Role of Land Use in Climate Change
Natalie Mahowald (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences)
Most of the effort to control climate change is, correctly, focused on energy policy, because of the huge amount of carbon dioxide potentially emitted by fossil fuels over the next few centuries. In this talk we discuss the additional and complicated role of land use on climate change. In the short and medium-term, fossil fuel and land use contribute to climate change through emissions of green house gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. In addition both energy production and land use and land cover change cause emissions of aerosols, which cool the planet. Changing land from forests to croplands or grasslands can cool the planet, because a change in the albedo. In the longer term, only emissions of carbon dioxide will matter. On longer time scales, land use and land cover change that occurs today reduces the future natural sinks of anthropogenic carbon in forests. Including these effects indicates that on short to longtime scales, per ton of carbon emitted, land use contributes 2x as much warming as energy production. Thus, although energy policy should remain the emphasis in negotiations, land use policies can play an important role in reducing climate change forcing.
Led by: Allison Chatrchyan (CICCA and Development Sociology), Johannes Lehmann (Soil & Crop Sciences), Louise Buck (Natural Resources), and Sandra Steingraber (Ithaca College Environmental Studies and Science)
The 21st United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) was held in Paris, France, from November 30 to December 12, 2015. The conference resulted in the Paris Agreement, the first legally binding and universal agreement on climate change, agreed to by representatives of the 196 parties attending. So is the Paris Agreement going to change the world by laying the foundation for global action? Or is it too little, too late, since there are now over 400 ppm CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, and 2015 was the hottest year ever recorded? What were the main issues discussed and agreed to at the conference? And what will it take to get all 196 counties around the world reduce emissions of GHGs? This talk will provide reflections from four Cornell and Ithaca College scientists who were in Paris, including their perspectives on agriculture and land use issues, methane reductions, policy outcomes, and civic engagement and activism.
Scott Steinschneider (Biological & Environmental Engineering)
How should you plan a water system for long-term climate changes when you don’t know what those changes are going to be? This is one of the grand challenges facing water resource planners charged with providing society with one of its most basic needs. Hydrologic systems are arguably one of the most sensitive natural systems to long-term climate change, but projections of driving climate variables (e.g., temperature and precipitation) at spatial scales relevant for these systems are highly uncertain. These uncertainties are further confounded by the diverse array of hydrologic settings that prevail across the globe, with their own histories of infrastructure development and governance, leading to adaptation strategies that are inherently local and thus difficult to generalize. This talk presents a history of emergent strategies to adapt water systems to climate change, with a focus on major theoretical developments and instances of their real-world application. I highlight the importance of other considerations for water systems planning besides climate to contextualize the issue of climate change within the complex web of other challenges faced by resource planners and managers. The talk concludes with some of my own thoughts on ways to move towards a sustainable water future in an ever-changing world.
Christine Goodale (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology)
The terrestrial biosphere currently soaks up a quarter of current fossil fuel emissions of carbon dioxide, thus slowing the rate of climate change. However, multiple processes drive this terrestrial carbon sink, and its future trajectory uncertain: the uptake of CO2 by plant growth may increase in the future as the planet warms and atmospheric CO2 rises, but the availability of water and nutrients can limit that process; meanwhile, warming is likely increase decomposition and the release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, possibly turning the terrestrial sink to a net sources of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Tropical, temperate, and boreal ecosystems will respond differently as the planet warms, with diverging feedbacks to future climate. This seminar will introduce these key processes governing the response of terrestrial ecosystems to climate change and will explore their likely feedbacks to future climate.
April 18: Climate Change and the Future of Food
David Wolfe (Horticulture)
The climate is always changing, but the pace of change projected for this century is 50 to 100 times faster than recent ice age transitions, and far beyond what prior generations of natural resource and farm managers have had to face. The impacts of climate change on agriculture and food security will not be equitable across regions or socio-economic groups. How do we facilitate farmer adaptation yet avoid unintended negative consequences for the environment? What technologies, information, and decision tools are needed to guide the responses of farmers, researchers, and policy-makers to help ensure food security and sustainable food systems? What incentives and information will be necessary for all participants in the food system—from farmers to consumers—to contribute to greenhouse gas mitigation? Research and outreach priorities to address these issues will be discussed.
April 25: Communicating Climate Change
Katherine McComas (Communication)
Much has been made about the politicization of climate change and the partisan divide in light of scientific evidence. This talk will review some of the seminal findings in communication research that examines public opinion about climate change and some of the explanations for the persistence of a partisan divide. In doing so, it will explore why, in the face of copious amounts of scientific evidence, people still choose to deny its existence and refute any policy action. It will also provide examples of some recent research that examines how even the subtle cues of labeling in climate change communication can influence people’s support for policy.
Linda Mearns (National Center for Atmospheric Research, NCAR)
Linda Mearns is the Director of the Weather and Climate Impacts Assessment Science Program (WCIASP) and Head of the Regional Integrated Sciences Collective (RISC) within the Institute for Mathematics Applied to Geosciences (IMAGe), and Senior Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado.
Ravi Kanbur (The Dyson School)
Climate justice requires sharing the burdens and benefits of climate change and its resolution equitably and fairly. It brings together justice between generations and justice within generations. In particular it requires that attempts to address justice between generations through various interventions designed to curb greenhouse emissions today, do not end up creating injustice in our time by hurting the currently poor and vulnerable. More generally, issues of distribution and justice are of paramount importance in any discourse on climate change. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) summit in September 2015, and the Conference of Parties (COP) in December 2015, brought together climate change and its economic development impact center stage in global discussions. This talk will bring together economic and philosophical perspectives on climate justice and economic development, previewing a major conference which Cornell will be hosting on May 24-25, 2016.