Skip to main content

Climate Change Seminar Series

Perspectives on the Climate Change Challenge

Mondays, Spring Semester 2021
2:45-4:00 P.M.

Seminars available as a Zoom Webinar

This university-wide seminar provides important views on the critical issue of climate change, drawing from many perspectives and disciplines. Experts from Cornell University and beyond 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 and the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability.


2021 Seminars

February 15: Anthropogenic Climate Change Has Slowed Global Agricultural Productivity Growth
Ariel Ortiz-Bobea

Ariel Ortiz-Bobea (Dyson School, Cornell University)


Agricultural research has fostered productivity growth, but the historical influence of anthropogenic climate change on that growth has not been quantified. We develop a robust econometric model of weather effects on global agricultural total factor productivity (TFP) and combine this model with counterfactual climate scenarios to evaluate impacts of past climate trends on TFP. Our baseline model indicates that anthropogenic climate change has reduced global agricultural TFP by about 21% since 1961, a slowdown that is equivalent to losing the last 7 years of productivity growth. The effect is substantially more severe (a reduction of ~26-34%) in warmer regions such as Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean. We also find that global agriculture has grown more vulnerable to ongoing climate change.

February 22: Carbon Dioxide Removal: Enhanced Weathering As a Billion Ton Solution?
Ben Houlton

Benjamin Z. Houlton (The Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences)


Holding Earth's climate to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius of modern global warming is critical for food and national security, economic growth, infrastructure, and human health, welfare and justice on a worldwide scale. Although disagreement exists over the right mix of solutions, scenarios highlight that various combinations GHG emissions reductions (decarbonization of manufacturing, energy systems and transportation) and carbon dioxide removal technologies will be needed to meet the 1.5 degree C target in the 21st century. Here I discuss the role of enhanced weathering – the purposeful introduction of volcanic rock fines into agricultural soil – as a carbon dioxide removal strategy, with co-benefits for soil health, fertilizer use efficiency, and improved crop quality and yields. I focus on both the state of the science and issues and opportunities surrounding enhanced weathering as a billion-ton carbon dioxide removal strategy. I also present first year results from our large-scale demonstration project, known as the Working Lands Innovation Center, which is leveraging public-private-academic partnerships to examine the efficacy of enhanced weathering, biochar and manure-compost amendments across ~100 acres of cropland (corn, alfalfa, orchards) and managed rangeland soil in California.

March 1: Angry Weather – Identifying to What Extent Climate Change is Taking Its Toll
Friederike Otto

Friederike Otto (University of Oxford)
(photo credit)


Some consequences of a warming world, namely an increased likelihood of more heat and high precipitation extremes, have been known and predicted for a long time and are now seen across the globe. However, these consequences only hold on large scales and can be counteracted or amplified regionally (smaller scales) by changes in the atmospheric circulation - where and how weather systems develop - also due to human-induced climate change.

To understand how the risks of local extreme events are changing requires a holistic perspective combining these effects. Recent advances in the emerging science of event attribution provide the necessary basis on which to build the tools needed to assess such risks at the spatial scales people care most about. These attribution studies are starting to become the basis for legal claims, loss and damages assessments and social mobilisation.

March 8: Climate, People, and Forests in the Heart of India
Ruth DeFries

Ruth DeFries (Columbia University)


Abstract: Climate is a wicked problem that requires understanding of people and places. Three stories from the forested areas of central India illustrate that efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change might be most successful if approached from the lens of local livelihoods and well-being: restoration of degraded forests; climate resilient and low-GHG cereal production; and migration between rural and urban areas. The stories identify the potential for climate solutions from interventions aimed at improved nutrition and living standards.

Bio: Ruth DeFries is a professor of ecology and sustainable development at Columbia University in New York. She uses images from satellites and field surveys to examine how the world’s demands for food and other resources are changing land use throughout the tropics. Her research quantifies how these land use changes affect climate, biodiversity and other ecosystem services, as well as human development. She has also developed innovate education programs in sustainable development. DeFries was elected as a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, one of the country’s highest scientific honors, received a MacArthur "genius" award, and is the recipient of many other honors for her scientific research. In addition to over 100 scientific papers, she is committed to communicating the nuances and complexities of sustainable development to popular audiences through her books “The Big Ratchet: How Humanity Thrives in the Face of Natural Crisis " and "What Would Nature Do?: A Guide for Our Uncertain Times."

March 15: The Role of Social Capital in Community Resilience to Climate Change
Shorna Broussard Allred

Shorna Broussard Allred (Natural Resources and Environment, Cornell University)


Bio: Shorna Allred is an Associate Professor and Associate Director of the Center for Conservation Social Sciences at Cornell University with a joint faculty appointment in the Dept. of Natural Resources and the Environment and Dept. of Global Development. A conservation social scientist, her research examines conservation behavior, community resilience, and environmental justice. She also holds an appointment with the Southeast Asia Program and is a Visiting Professor at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.

March 22: Racial Justice and the Impacts of Climate Change Through the Lens of Media Literacy
Cyndy Scheibe

Cyndy Scheibe (Ithaca College)


How can we understand two of the most critical issues of our time - racial justice and climate change, and the connections between them - during an "infodemic" of misinformation, disinformation and news spin? Media literacy provides a powerful context for deep conversations about the messages we see, hear and read. Focusing on the impacts and protests related to Black Lives Matter and climate change, we'll use constructivist media decoding to collectively explore how we know what we know and how our own biases influence the ways in which we seek out, interpret and share information about the issues that matter most in our lives.

March 29: Transitioning to a Resilient Low-carbon Economy: How Addressing Climate Change is Being Integrated Into Core Business and Investing in the Private Sector
Maryam Golnaraghi

Maryam Golnaraghi (The Geneva Association)


Despite over two and a half decades of coordinated international negotiations on climate change, the dialogue, only recently, the focus of the climate change debate has moved from being mainly a scientific, environmental and social responsibility issue to one of the core drivers of socio-economic development and risk management. There is now widespread global recognition of climate change science and the associated socio-economic impacts as set out by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). To reach climate change goals as set by the Paris Agreement (United Nations 2015), and pivot away from fossil fuel dependence, policy advisors are outlining the need for dramatic changes in business models in different economic sectors and profound changes needed in everyday life impacting core and essential sectors of the world economy. However, while governments have submitted their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to mitigate the impacts of climate change, the development of public policies for an orderly transition to a resilient low carbon future has been stubbornly slow. An orderly transition requires coordinated efforts and scale. A disorderly (unplanned or not-well-planned) transition, could disrupt the global economy, and those who do not steer a course through it and who are left holding devalued investments and assets – whether carbon-intensive or carbon-reliant.

In the absence of clear national policies and strategies for transitioning, since 2016, major initiatives are underway through the financial sector, financial regulators and standard setting bodies to address major hurdles and pave the ways to mobilize mainstream finance to invest at scale in the transitioning (e.g., scaled investing in sustainable infrastructure, large-scale commercialization of green/clean/CCS technologies, green and resilient cities). Courtrooms are becoming the new battlefield for climate activism, with governments and corporations being targeted by a range of litigants in many jurisdictions, using myriad sources of legal duties to push for climate policy and related actions. In fact, since 2015, climate litigation has gained pace, increased in volume, expanded in scope and geographical coverage. This presentation will highlight a number of critical developments that are leading to reform in both private and public systems to enable action at scale:

  • Global movement in the private and public sectors to enable access to high-quality, reliable and comparable climate risk information (i.e. physical, transition and litigation risk) from publicly-traded companies, in all sectors, through their annual reporting to inform decision-making and investing - motivated by the Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosure’s (FSB-TCFD) recommendations.
  • Emergence of the field of sustainable finance (e.g. EU, Canada, Australia, Singapore, etc.) to reform the mainstream financial system to enable institutional investors to invest in sustainable new business models and stems with a long-term view
  • New emerging financial and insurance regulatory requirements for disclosure and reporting of how companies identify, assess and manage climate change risks and opportunities;
  • Actions by international rating agencies (e.g Moody’s, Standard & Poor’, Fitch) to incorporate climate change risk and related management practices in their company, municipal and sovereign credit ratings.
  • Growing coalition of institutional investors that are engaging with carbon-intensive sectors, demanding action through shareholder resolutions
  • Activities through courts using litigation as a tool to push for more ambitious climate policy and actions by governments and corporates.

April 5: Wildfires and Global Climate Change
James Randerson

James Randerson (University of California, Irvine)


Bio: James Randerson studies the global carbon cycle and the role of fires in the Earth System. In his work, he combines satellite observations with climate models to explore changes in the biosphere. Randerson was born in Fairfax, Virginia and grew up in San Diego, California, where he attended Point Loma High School. He received a BS in chemistry (1992) and a PhD in biological sciences (1998) from Stanford University. He conducted postdoctoral work at UC Berkeley and University of Alaska before joining the faculty at Caltech. In 2003, Randerson moved to UC Irvine where he now holds the position of Ralph J. and Carol M. Cicerone Professor of Earth System Science. Randerson was the recipient of the James B. Macelwane Medal in 2005 and the Piers J. Sellers Global Environmental Change Mid-Career Award in 2017 from the American Geophysical Union. Randerson served as co-chair of the biogeochemistry working group of the Community Earth System Model from 2003-2017 and is currently a member of the Biological and Environmental Research Federal Advisory Committee for the U.S. Dept. of Energy Office of Science. He is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and a member of the US National Academy of Sciences.

April 12: Reducing Agricultural Methane From Livestock While Farmers Thrive: Thoughts From Experience in New Zealand
Suzi Kerr

Suzi Kerr (Environmental Defense Fund)


Bio: Suzi Kerr is the Chief Economist at Environmental Defense Fund. She was, until May 2019, a Senior Fellow, and from 1998 - 2009 Founding Director, at Motu Research in New Zealand. She graduated from Harvard University in 1995 with a PhD in Economics. She has also worked at the University of Maryland at College Park, Resources for the Future (USA), and the Joint Center for the Science and Policy of Global Change at MIT. She was a Visiting Professor at Stanford University for the 2009/10 year, and at the University of the Andes in Bogotá, Colombia in the first half of 2014. In 2018, she was President of the Australasian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society. Her research work focuses on domestic and international climate-change mitigation policy with special emphasis on emissions pricing and land use. She is the leader of the international ‘Climate Teams’ initiative. She is a member of the Advisory Boards for the Climate Econometrics group at Oxford and the International Emissions Trading Association ‘Markets for Natural Climate Solutions’ initiative.

April 19: How Combination and Sequence of Weather Events Shape Mexico-U.S. Migration Flows
Filiz Garip

Filiz Garip (Princeton University)

Existing work presents mixed findings on the impact of weather events on international mobility. Relying on fine-grained data over a long time span (1980-2019) in the Mexico-U.S. setting, we turn to machine learning (ML) tools to first determine if weather events can predict migration choices of 150,000+ individuals. We use random-forest models which allow us to include a comprehensive list of weather indicators measured at various lags, and to consider complex interactions among the inputs. These models rely on data-driven model selection, optimize predictive performance, but often produce ‘black-box’ results. In our case, the results show that weather indicators offer at best a modest improvement in migration predictions. We then attempt to open the black box and model the linkages between select weather indicators and migration choices. We find the combination of precipitation and temperature extremes and their particular sequencing to be crucial to predicting weather-driven migration responses out of Mexico. We also show heterogeneity in these responses by household wealth status. Specifically, we find that wealthier households in rural communities migrate in the immediate aftermath of a negative weather shock (relative to the ‘normal’ weather in their community), while poorer households need to experience a positive weather event following a negative one in order to migrate to the United States. This pattern suggests that migration as an adaptation strategy might be available to select households in the developing world, and the most vulnerable might be excluded from resorting on an international trip unless they experience particular sequences of weather events that allow them to raise the necessary funds first.

May 3: Grounding Perspectives on Ice Loss in Antarctica
Britney Schmidt

Britney Schmidt (Georgia Tech)

Bio: Britney Schmidt’s primary interest is floating ice systems—Jupiter’s moon Europa and Earth’s ice shelves. She is interested in how these environments work and how they may become habitable. She has chosen to focus on Europa because of its potential to have what other places may not have: a stable source of energy from tides that can power geological cycles over the lifetime of the solar system. At its most basic form, life is like a battery, depending upon redox reactions to move electrons. A planetary proxy for this is activity, whereby a planet recycles through geologic processes, and maintains chemical gradients of which life can take advantage. Without recycling, it is possible that even once habitable environments can become inhospitable. This is where terrestrial process analogs come into the picture—by studying how ice and water interact in environments on Earth we can better understand the surface indications of such on Europa (and other icy worlds). Britney’s work provides a framework by which to remotely understand planetary cryospheres and test hypotheses, until such time as subsurface characterization becomes possible by radar sounding, landed seismology, or one day, roving submersibles.

Much work remains to correlate observations and models of terrestrial icy environments—excellent process analogs for the icy satellites—with planetary observations. Britney thinks about how to incorporate melting, hydrofracture, hydraulic flow, and now brine infiltration as process analogs into constructing models for the formation of Europa’s geologic terrain and to study the implications for ice shell recycling and ice-ocean interactions. The inclusion of realistic analogs in our backyard–Earth’s poles –using imaging and geophysical techniques is a common thread of this work, giving tangible ways to generate and test hypotheses relevant to environments on Earth and Europa.

In the long term, Britney envisions constructing systems-science level models of the Europan environment to understand its habitability and enable future exploration.

May 10: Estimating Vector-borne Disease Transmission in a Human-modified World
Courtney Murdock

Courtney Murdock (Entomology, Cornell University)

Climate change will alter the distribution and intensity of transmission of vector-borne diseases, potentially increasing the probability of disease emergence and threatening the fragile gains current control programs have made in combatting these diseases. Approximately 400,000 deaths occurred due to malaria in 2018 alone, despite intense effort to control transmission over the past two decades. Additionally, currently half of the world's population is at risk for contracting mosquito-transmitted viruses, with 390 million dengue infections per year. Further, many diseases that have recently emerged or are re-emerging globally are mosquito-borne. It has been well established that temperature has non-linear effects on vector-borne disease transmission. Thus, the effects of climate change on disease transmission will likely differ across regions. This seminar will explore the mechanisms that generate complex effects of temperature on mosquito-borne disease in the malaria and arbovirus systems and will discuss implications for transmission of these diseases in a changing climate.

  • 2020 Seminars  

    Amanda Rodewald presents in Seminar
    February 3: Species Interactions and the Challenge of Predicting Ecological Responses to Climate Change
    Amanda Rodewald

    Amanda Rodewald (Natural Resources and Lab of Ornithology)


    Impressive advances in our ability to forecast changes in the Earth’s climate have not translated to similarly robust capacity to anticipate responses of individual species and ecological communities.  Communities are assemblages of multiple species that interact directly or indirectly, and the response of one species to environmental change may depend upon responses of the other species with which it interacts.  For example, a flowering plant that is exclusively pollinated by one bee species will be unable to track changes in climate if its pollinator cannot.  In other cases, entire communities might collapse in the absence of certain species that are disproportionately important (e.g., keystone species).  Dr. Rodewald will discuss how predicting future communities remains a challenging and complex endeavor that demands a more thorough understanding of species interactions.

    February 10: The Challenges of Meat and Media in Brazil: Decoding Manifestations of Climate Skepticism
    Myanna Lahsen

    Myanna Lahsen (Wageningen University, The Netherlands, and INPE, Brazil)


    Recent analyses of Brazil's mass media coverage of climate change have found it relatively devoid of climate skepticism and more "advanced" compared to more "advanced" societies, such as the United States, responsible for generating a high and striking level of climate change concern. Through a focus on resource depletion and global environmental change generated by agricultural expansion in Brazil, I examine the extent to which Brazilian research and mass communications structures contribute to the challenge of communicating and addressing them. I argue that current scholarly analyses fail to perceive the nationally particular expressions and foci of anti-environmental forces and how these forces limit the country's environmental policy and politics.

    February 17: Catalyzing Action in the Climate-adaptive Design Studio
    Gay Nicholson

    Josh Cerra (Landscape Architecture)


    Bio: Associate Professor Cerra has practiced as a designer and ecologist for over 25 years combined. His work investigates relationships between urban ecosystems, communities and site development processes, and their implications for climate-adaptive design and urban ecological design.


    Feb. 24: No Class - Break

    March 2: Ithaca’s Green New Deal - Opportunities and Challenges
    Svante Myrick

    Svante L. Myrick (Ithaca Mayor)


    Bio: Svante L. Myrick was sworn into office in January 2012 and became, at 24, the City of Ithaca's youngest Mayor and first Mayor of color. Svante was first elected to the Common Council at the age of 20 while still a junior at Cornell University.


    March 9: What Is New in the Recent Oceans, Land, and 1.5C Special Reports From IPCC?
    Natalie Mahowald

    Natalie Mahowald (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences)


    Bio: Professor Mahowald has undergraduate degrees in German and physics from Washington University, an M.S. in natural resource policy from the University of Michigan, and a Ph.D. in meteorology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Mahowald conducted her postdoctoral research at Stockholm University in Sweden prior to holding a faculty position at the University of California, Santa Barbara from 1998-2002. She then spent five years as a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) before joining Cornell as a faculty member in 2007.

    March 30: No Class - Break

    April 6: Transforming Carbon From a Pollutant to a Resource
    Giana Amador

    Giana Amador (Carbon 180)


    Bio: Giana Amador is the cofounder and Managing Director at Carbon180. At the organization, she wears many hats — from guiding the team’s strategy and communications to more recently, building out the organization’s agriculture policy program. In all of her work, Giana is focused on connecting economic development, social justice, and climate action. Her past research focused on the political economy of climate change, with an emphasis on green industrial policy and coalition building.

    April 13: Carbon in the Built Environment
    Katharina Kral

    Katharina Kral (Architecture)


    Bio: Katharina Kral is a German architect with a focus on housing and material specific construction topics in the fields of timber and concrete construction. During five years at Buchner Bründler Architekten in Basel, Switzerland, where she led design and construction projects, Kral acquired a holistic understanding of the complex processes of building. Her most recently finished project is a large residential complex in Zurich, Switzerland, that features one of the largest, entirely wooden facades that has been built up to that point.

    April 20: Tropical Land Use, Carbon Emissions, and Indonesia's Oil Palm Explosion
    Jenny Goldstein

    Jenny Goldstein (Global Development)


    Bio: Jenny's work is driven by interests in environmental conservation and development in the tropics; intersections of data infrastructure and land governance; human health impacts of ecological change; global food and agriculture systems; the financialization of land; and the role of scientific knowledge in climate change politics.


    April 27: What Can We Do to Save Coral Reefs When It's Too Damn Hot Already?
    Joanie Kleypas

    Joanie Kleypas (National Center Atmospheric Research)


    Bio: Joanie Kleypas is a marine ecologist/geologist that focuses on how coral reefs and other marine ecosystems are affected by changes in the Earth's atmosphere and climate. Global warming, for example, is causing tropical ocean temperatures to increase faster than corals can adapt, resulting in high rates of coral bleaching. This is one of the major causes of the present, rapid degradation of coral reef ecosystems. Ocean acidification is another major threat to coral reefs, because as the oceans absorb much of the CO2 released to the atmosphere by fossil fuel burning and deforestation, seawater pH declines and reduces the ability of corals and many other organisms to build their skeletons and shells.

    May 4: Climate Change Policy: Dynamics, Strategy, and the Kyoto Protocol
    C.-Y. Cynthia Lin Lawell

    C.-Y. Cynthia Lin Lawell (Applied Economics and Policy)


    Bio: Cynthia is an Associate Professor and the Robert Dyson Sesquicentennial Chair in Environmental, Energy and Resource Economics in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University. She is an economist with a background in both the natural sciences and the social sciences. She uses a variety of economic and econometric methods in her research, including dynamic structural econometric models, structural econometric models of dynamic games, reduced-form econometrics, spatial econometrics, dynamic programming, and optimal control theory. She is interested in a variety of issues, including those related to energy, the environment, and natural resources. She enjoys working on projects that are technically sound, innovative, challenging, and that are of interest to academics, business practitioners, and policy-makers alike.

    May 11: On Planetary Health: Achieving Joint Food and Environmental Security in a Climate, Changed
    Sonali McDermid

    Sonali McDermid (New York University)


    Bio: Sonali McDermid is Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies. She holds a Ph.D. (2011), and M. Phil. (2011) and an M.A. (2009) from the Dept. of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, specializing in Atmospheric Science and Climatology. She holds a B.A. in Physics from NYU (2006). McDermid’s research focuses on understanding interactions between climate change and variability, land-use, and agriculture, with an eye towards identifying and quantifying important feedbacks and uncertainties. To this end, she uses a variety of tools and datasets, including global climate and earth system models, process-based crop models, and observed datasets.

  • 2019 Seminars  

    Linda Shi presents in Seminar
    February 4: What’s New in the UN’s Special Report on 1.5C Warming?
    Natalie Mahowald

    Natalie Mahowald (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences)


    The recent report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that human activities have already caused 1.0C global warming, but that past emissions alone do not cause a warming of 1.5C. This report addresses the emission reductions required to keep warming below 1.5C, what the climate impacts would be of achieving 1.5 vs. 2C and what these imply for adaptation requirements. An important part of the report is evaluating the synergies and tradeoffs between clim ate mitigation, adaptation, eradication of poverty and sustainable development. Ambitious and unprecedented changes in behavior and transitions across many sectors, including energy and agriculture, are required, in addition to the research, development a nd deployment of carbon dioxide removal technologies.

    February 11: The Social Value of Mitigation Activities
    Drew Shindell

    Drew Shindell (Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University)


    The Paris Agreement recognizes the "social, economic and environmental value of voluntary mitigation actions and their co-benefits for adaptation, health and sustainable development." Yet strategies to mitigate climate change often do not explicitly consider impacts apart from climate change. A prime example is European policy to encourage use of diesel vehicles in order to mitigate climate change, which led to worsening air pollution. Another example are the scenarios developed in support of climate modeling, which choose economically optimal pathways to achieve climate targets that ignore non-climate impacts. I will discuss research to provide decision-support tools that allow multiple impacts to be assessed, focusing on climate, air quality, and agriculture, and including the economic valuation of these impacts. Results span a range from emission metrics to complex physical and socio-economic models to fit a variety of applications, examples of which will be presented. Such tools enable policy makers to "put a price on the invisible", thereby tailoring decisions to achieve priority policy goals via regulatory or market interventions.

    February 18: Supporting Energy Democracy with Local Carbon Offsets
    Gay Nicholson

    Gay Nicholson (President, Sustainable Tompkins)


    The climate policy battles ahead may take quite a long time to achieve a carbon tax and a redistribution of resources to assure energy democracy. In the meantime, local communities can provide leadership toward including everyone in the transition to a clean energy economy.  The Finger Lakes Climate Fund works to promote renewables and energy efficiency projects while strengthening our regional economy and assisting local families in need.  Carbon offset donations are used for grants to fund energy improvements that would not otherwise be possible in low to moderate-income households in the Finger Lakes Region. These grants help pay for insulation, air sealing, solar PV, energy efficient heating and cooling, and other upgrades to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

    Feb. 25: No Class - Break

    March 4: Climate and Land-Use Change
    Johanne Pelletier

    Johanne Pelletier (Atkinson Center/TNC NatureNet Fellow, Cornell University)


    Land-use change, especially deforestation in the tropics, is one of the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Net CO2 emissions from land-use change were on average equivalent to 1.5±0.7 GtC (5.3±2.6 GtCO2) during 2008-2017, accounting for about 12% of all emissions from human activity. Forests and soils also play a major role as carbon sink and reservoir. Impetus to curb deforestation has led to the mobilization of international efforts around a new mechanism under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD+) and increase absorptions by forests. This line of action to mitigate climate change is attractive for multiple reasons, including for the co-benefits that standing forests can provide and because these mitigation actions can have an immediate impact on our climate. Focusing mainly on three case study countries, including Panama, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia, I will show that various methodological and social characteristics complicate the successful implementation of these mitigation strategies. Emission and absorption estimates from forests and land management have large uncertainty compared to other sectors of activities. This matters especially in a context where countries would receive result-based payments for reducing deforestation. Drivers of deforestation are often difficult to address and vary in space and time, and governments in developing countries do not always have the capacity and/or the interest to address those drivers. Furthermore, there are real risks for undermining the livelihoods of forest dependent people in REDD+ participating countries. Nonetheless, there are examples of countries that have been successful at reducing deforestation. Forests and land management will necessarily play an essential role in climate change mitigation for achieving the ultimate goal of the Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement.

    March 11: Climate Change in Court
    Zach Clopton

    Zach Clopton (Law School, Cornell University)


    In many ways, lawsuits are a poor fit for the problem of global climate change. Proving individual harms from climate change is scientifically difficult. Even if one could prove that they had been harmed by climate change, it is not obvious whom they should sue. And even if they knew whom to sue, it is not obvious what law had been broken. But in the face of a federal government seemingly uninterested in addressing climate change, those committed to action on climate have turned to courts. To do so, they have developed creative theories of legal wrongs, and often they have turned to unexpected plaintiffs to serve as the faces of those lawsuits. Cities and states in particular have taken on a leading role. This seminar will review these efforts and critically examine the role of courts and litigation in ongoing efforts to fight global climate change. It also will explore what these efforts reveal about the American system of government and its capacity to respond to pressing global problems.

    March 18: Property Taxes, Fiscal Policy, and Climate Change: Why We're Doomed to Keep Building Where We Shouldn't and What to Do About It
    Linda Shi

    Linda Shi (City and Regional Planning, Cornell University) 


    Climate change presents a massive challenge for cities because their built assets, boundaries, revenue streams, and operating costs are fixed, while the landscape of land suitable for human settlement undergoes permanent change. Much of public discourse decries poor (even corrupt) political choices in land use planning on the one hand, and contends with the trauma of retreat or resettlement after disasters on the other. Yet, all our institutional structures - fiscal, legal, and infrastructural - are predicated on cities maximizing land value and this fundamental reality remains unchanged despite new information about climate risks. In this seminar, I'll explain the policy context that shapes the (lack of) land use planning that accounts for natural hazards, the implications this has for cities moving forward, and how we're seeing cities respond to these changes on the ground. The seminar invites conversation around the scale and scope of changing core structural policies to support long-term, fundamental societal adaptation.

    March 25: 20th and 21st Century Climate Change
    Warren Washington

    Warren Washington (National Center for Atmospheric Research)

    (Video not available)

    Everyone knows that climate has changed...almost everyone. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Assessment Report (IPCC AR4) has convinced most climate scientists that humankind is changing the earth’s climate and that significant global warming is taking place because of the burning of fossil fuels. A review of climate modeling development and underlying science will be given along with 20th and 21st century computer simulations. A major societal question is whether renewables and negative emission methods can significantly contribute to reducing future global warming.

    April 1: No Class - Break

    April 8: Climate Change, Indigenous Communities, and the Imperative for Action!
    Karim-Aly Kassam

    Karim-Aly Kassam (Department of Natural Resources & American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program, Cornell University)


    Indigenous and rural societies who have contributed least to anthropogenic climate change are facing its harshest consequences and for them climate change is one of the greatest challenges. But an estimated 70-80% of the world’s food is produced by the same smallholders with less than two hectares of land. Therefore, climate variability is disrupting food systems and generating a debilitating anxiety. Consequently, anticipatory capacity–the ability to envision possible futures and develop a plan of action to deal with uncertainties–is needed urgently.

    April 15: Our Changing Menu: What Climate Change Means to the Foods We Love and Need
    Mike Hoffmann

    Mike Hoffmann (Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions, Cornell University)


    Human caused climate change is upon us and the evidence is everywhere, including rising sea levels, melting glaciers, more extreme weather events, increasing temperatures, and shifting precipitation patterns. These changes are rapidly making the business of growing the foods we need and love less predictable and riskier. Staples like rice, wheat and corn are becoming less nutritious, salt water intrusion is impacting rice production in Vietnam, the transport of vast amounts of grain through the Panama Canal is becoming more challenging, and extreme weather is compromising vanilla production in Madagascar. Almost everything on our food and beverage menu is changing–some obvious and some subtle and ominous. The challenges that face our local to global food system will be discussed along with solutions, including research and educational efforts underway at Cornell University.

    April 22: Building Climate Resilience for Greater US Security
    Alice Hill

    Alice Hill (Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University; Former Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Resilience for National Security Council)


    Climate change affects our infrastructure, economy, public health, and national security. As we recover from extreme weather events and other climate impacts, we must ensure that the infrastructure systems we rely upon will withstand future risks. Climate related disasters can have cascading impacts on multiple sectors and systems, including our public health and economy. Climate change is a “threat multiplier” that can undermine national security. To prepare our communities and build resilience, we must develop a new paradigm that looks beyond just our past experience to determine what will keep us safe in the future.

    April 29: What Is the Social Cost of Carbon?
    Ivan Rudik

    Ivan Rudik (Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University)


    The social cost of carbon (SCC) is the monetized global damage caused by emitting another ton of CO2. Individual estimates have ranged from negative values to hundreds or even thousands of dollars per ton of CO2. In the lecture we will cover three components of how economists calculate the SCC. First, we will broadly cover the structure of integrated assessment models, models of the climate and the economy used to compute the SCC that are linked together by an object called the "damage function." Second, we will cover in more detail the history and challenges of estimating damages caused by climate change. Last, we will go over the discount rate and the debate about the correct discount rate to use in analysis of climate change. The discount rate translates costs and benefits accruing to future generations into today's dollars, and is a major determinant of the value of the SCC.


    May 6: Theoretical Ecology: A Century of Progress, and Challenges for the Next Century in the Face of Global Change
    Gabriel Vecchi

    Simon Levin (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University)


    Levin is noted especially for his contributions to the development of the foundations of spatial ecology, for his work on pattern and scale, and more recently for his research at the interface between ecology and economics, especially problems of public goods, common pool resources, and the global commons. His book, Fragile Dominion, along with his subsequent research, weaves these themes together, invoking ecological and evolutionary theory to inform principles for management practice.


  • 2018 Seminars  

    Natalie Mahowald Presents in Seminar
    January 29: Introduction to the Science of Climate Change
    Peter Hess

    Peter Hess (Biological & Environmental Engineering)



    February 5: Does the United States Need a Climate Refugee Policy?
    Maria Cristina Garcia

    Maria Cristina Garcia (History)

    (No recording available)

    The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center reports that, since 2008, roughly 25 million people have been displaced each year because of sudden-onset disasters such as hurricanes, typhoons, earthquakes, and tsunamis.  More difficult to count are those who are displaced by slower-developing environmental crises such as deforestation, erosion, drought and the salinization of fresh water sources.  According to some forecasts, unmitigated climate change may result in the displacement of as many as 250 million people by mid-century, many of who will have no choice but to cross international borders in search of refuge.  Migration has always been a strategy of survival and adaption.  We can expect more migration in response to climate change but the exact numbers are impossible to predict. 

    What legal protections are available to the so-called “climate refugees”?  What are the duties of nations?  How does U.S. immigration policy respond to those fleeing environmental crises?  Does the United States need a “climate refugee policy”?  What might that look like?

    February 12: Climate Jihad in Africa: Sea Level Rise, Forced Migration, and Related Turmoil Across the Continent
    Charles Geisler

    Charles Geisler (Development Sociology)


    Conflict and turmoil in Africa are only partly due to surging population, authoritarian rule, and Islamic Jihadism. Sea level rise and changing weather regimes, underreported in Africa, are resetting the survival stage for the continent’s cities and rural interiors. Adaptation costs may be USD 7-15 billion annually by 2020.  Inaction now means exponentially larger adaptation costs by 2100.

    Feb. 19: No Class - Break

    February 26: Filling the Vacuum: Global Climate Prospects Following US Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement
    Jennifer Havercamp

    Jennifer A. Haverkamp (Executive in Residence, Atkinson Center)


    While media attention focuses heavily on the United Nations’ Paris Agreement – including the inadequacy of countries’ pledges and the United States’ plans to withdraw – fortunately that is not the only available venue for making climate progress.  Internationally, in 2016 world governments reached two other significant agreements: the Montreal Protocol’s Kigali Amendment to phase down HFCs, a potent class of greenhouse gases used for refrigeration and air conditioning, and the UN International Civil Aviation Organization’s CORSIA agreement to limit future emissions from international flights to 2020 levels.  What are the prospects for implementing those agreements, and for fulfilling the promise of the Paris Agreement?  And how are states, provinces, and cities, as well as the private sector, contributing to the forward momentum so critically needed to avoid dangerous levels of global warming?

    March 5: The New Dominance of Renewables in Energy Markets
    Bruce Bailey

    Bruce H. Bailey (Underwriters Laboratory)


    Wind and solar energy now account for the majority of new electricity sources in a growing number of countries, including the US. Thanks to technological innovation and dramatic cost reductions, a “new normal” has emerged that is turning the traditional utility business model on its head. It is accompanied by new energy policy paradigms and is enabling a revolution in battery storage and electric vehicle utilization. This presentation will discuss the fundamental changes occurring in the energy and transportation sectors, how we got here, and what the implications are for the foreseeable future.

    March 12: How much climate change is too much? The "Reasons for Concern" about climate change
    Brian O'Neill

    Brian O’Neill (National Center for Atmospheric Research)


    The Reasons for Concern (RFC) framework communicates scientific understanding about risks to society and ecosystems associated with varying levels of global average warming. The framework has been a cornerstone of the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for more than 15 years and informed the establishment of goals for limiting warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees C in the recent Paris Agreement. I draw on a new review and update of the RFC's conceptual basis and the risk judgments made in the most recent IPCC report to discuss how well we understand climate-related risks, particularly at the levels of climate change targeted in the Paris Agreement.

    March 19: Do We Fully Understand the Challenges and Implications of Climate Change Scenarios?
    Patrick Reed

    Patrick Reed (Civil & Environmental Engineering) 


    Future climate change, societal evolution, and their interaction abound with uncertainties.  Reflecting these uncertainties, it critical to carefully consider how we should model potential socio-economic development pathways, the effects of alternative carbon policies, as well as the inherent challenges associated with different climate targets. These elements when explored in combination yield a wide array of climate change futures. Even optimistic scenarios can contain unintended, disproportionate regional or intergenerational impacts.  This presentation will share examples of how emerging  visualization and data discovery methods can be helpful for better understanding how global change may pose severe challenges across regions or different economic sectors. 

    March 26: Could Geoengineering Be Part of an Overall Climate Strategy?
    Doug MacMartin

    Doug MacMartin (Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering)


    The 2015 Paris agreement set a goal of keeping global mean temperature rise to well below 2C, and ideally below 1.5C, yet the commitments made as part of the agreement are projected to lead to closer to 3C warming.  While aggressively reducing our greenhouse gas emissions (“mitigation”) is essential, by itself it will not be sufficient to meet these goals.  Carbon dioxide removal (“CDR”), if implemented at sufficient scale, could eventually reduce temperatures, but these ideas remain untested, and there could still be a potentially significant overshoot of temperature targets, with associated climate impacts.  Given this context, should we conduct research to understand solar geoengineering?  This includes ideas such as adding aerosols to the stratosphere that would reflect some sunlight.  Climate model simulations suggest that it is plausible that a limited deployment, if used in addition to mitigation and CDR rather than instead of it, might reduce many climate impacts for most people.  However, there are substantial uncertainties in the climate system, as well as substantial challenges for governance.

    April 2: No Class - Break

    April 9: Achieving a Carbon Neutral Campus by 2035
    Sarah Zemanick

    Sarah Zemanick (Campus Sutainability Office)


    Sustainability is a signature area of excellence at Cornell University. Its faculty, students, staff and alumni have a wealth of knowledge, and tapping into their expertise is critical to meeting our ambitious campus carbon goal while providing opportunities to use our campus as a living laboratory to discover and demonstrate new solutions. The choices Cornell makes today to power a carbon-neutral campus tomorrow will involve real costs. These investments would insulate Cornell from unknown future volatility in fossil fuel markets and associated carbon fees. Nevertheless, they must be carefully considered in the context of the University’s need to advance its full academic mission, including the ability to offer the best and most cost-effective education for its students, and the creation of new knowledge that advances society and serves the citizens of New York state. It is a delicate balance. In addition to assessing the single bottom line of proposed solutions, Cornell uses social and environmental impacts, and academic opportunities as a measure of the true impact of University carbon use in Ithaca and beyond.

    April 16: How Low Can We Go: What Is Needed to Achieve Low Temperature Climate Targets
    Natalie Mahowald

    Natalie Mahowald (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences)


    Reaching low temperature targets would avoid substantial impacts from climate change, but how low is necessary or possible? Here we discuss some of the important ideas around getting to low temperature targets, what mitigation pathways are available to us at Cornell, in the US and in the world.  In addition we discuss the ideas of carbon dioxide removal, as well as the climate justice issues associated with climate change, and climate change mitigation targets.

    April 23: What Climate Do We Owe to Our Great-Great-Grandchildren?
    Anja Karnein

    Anja Karnein (Binghamton University)


    It is becoming less and less controversial that we ought to aggressively combat climate change. One main reason for doing so is concern for future generations, as it is they who will be the most seriously affected by it. Surprisingly, none of the more prominent theories of intergenerational justice can explain why it is wrong for the present generation to do very little to stop worsening the problem. I will briefly review discusses three such theories, namely indirect reciprocity, common ownership of the earth and human rights. I show that while the first two are both too undemanding, the latter approach misunderstands the nature of our intergenerational relationships, thereby capturing either too much or too little about what is problematic about climate change. I then propose a way to think about intergenerational justice that avoids the pitfalls of the traditional theories and can explain what is wrong with perpetuating climate change.

    May 7: Past and Future Hurricane Activity
    Gabriel Vecchi

    Gabriel Vecchi (Princeton University)


    Tropical cyclones, which are called hurricanes in the Atlantic, are one of the most destructive weather phenomena. This presentation will explore the links between climate and tropical cyclones, with a focus on how hurricanes and tropical cyclones have changed in the past, and what we think they will do in the future.


  • 2017 Seminars  

    Gerald Torres presents in Seminar
    February 6: Sources of Uncertainty about Future Climate
    Natalie Mahowald

    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

    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

    February 27: Impacts of Global Warming and Ocean Acidification on Ocean Biology
    Bruce Monger

    Bruce Monger (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences)


    Rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations threaten global ocean ecosystems through the duel actions of raising ocean temperatures and ocean acidification.  The lecture examines a wide range of impacts cause by these twin threats that includes: impacts on coral reefs, shifts in biogeographic provinces of pelagic ecosystems, rapid changes in arctic ecosystems, global expansion of oxygen minimum zones and the broad impacts of ocean acidification.  An emphasis will be placed on the speed at which changes are taking place and the need for rapid action to bring CO2 emissions to zero by mid-century

    March 6: Rethinking Growth in Light of Climate Change and Inequality
    Kaushik Basu

    Kaushik Basu (Economics)

    (No Recording Available)

    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.

    March 13: Climate (Paleoclimate) and Archaeology/History
    Sturt Manning

    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.

    March 20: The Oxymoronic Possibilities of Climate Change Comedy
    Aaron Sachs

    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.

    March27: Through the Looking Glass: Global Climate Politics after Paris and Under Trump
    Stacy VanDeveer

    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)

    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

    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.

    April 24: How do Hurricanes Respond to Climate Change?
    Kerry Emanuel

    Kerry Emanuel (MIT)


    Hurricanes are sensitive to the Earth's climate and may also help regulate it.  After reviewing observational evidence for how hurricanes are responding to regional and global climate change, I will present an overview of hurricane physics and models and what they have to tell us about the future of hurricane activity as the climate continues to change. Then I will discuss the more recent and controversial idea that hurricanes play an important role in the climate system by drying the atmosphere and by inducing strong lateral heat fluxes in the ocean. 

    May 1: Communicating Climate Change
    Andrew Revkin

    Andrew Revkin (Dot Earth Blog, NYTimes)


    It seems the only thing changing faster than Earth's environment these days is the communication environment. Mainstream media are shrinking. Global connectivity is exploding. Facts and fantasy flow side by side. Filters and bubbles insulate factions. Andy Revkin, who's been communicating about climate, energy and sustainable development for more than 30 years describes paths toward progress, most requiring a relentless focus on engagement and innovation. 

    May 8: Religion and Climate Change
    David Lodge

    David Lodge (Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future)


    Religion, especially Christianity, and science have a fraught relationship because of multiple well-publicized historical clashes (e.g.,creation vs. evolution) that shape the current debate in Christian circles about climate change and fuel some climate change deniers. However if science provides a foundation for environmental management, and if religion is one potential motivation for environmentalism, then society would benefit from a détente between religion and ecology. To have integrity and lasting influence, however, a relationship must be based on mutual understanding and respect (and not only on instrumental motivations). I summarize some of the historical tension points between science and Christianity in the US, and identify opportunities for increased intellectual understanding and application.

  • 2016 Seminars  

    Toby Ault Presents in 2016 Seminar
    February 8: Climate Change at the Frontiers of Ethics
    Dale Jamieson

    Dale Jamieson (New York University)

    Feb. 8 video

    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

    Art DeGaetano (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences)

    Feb. 22 video

    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.

    February 29: Long-term Climate Perspectives, Mega Drought and Seasonal Forecasts
    Toby Ault

    Toby Ault (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences)

    Feb. 29 video

    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

    Peter Hess (Biological & Environmental Engineering)

    Mar. 7 video

    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

    Natalie Mahowald (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences)

    Mar. 14 video

    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.

    March 21: Reflections from the COP21 Climate Talks in Paris
    Cornell's COP21 Delegation

    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) 

    Mar. 21 video

    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.

    April 4: Planning Our Water Resources Systems for a Changing Climate
    Scott Steinschneider

    Scott Steinschneider (Biological & Environmental Engineering)

    Apr. 4 video

    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.

    April 11: Climate Change and Terrestrial Ecosystems
    Christine Goodale

    Christine Goodale (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology)

    Apr. 11 video

    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

    David Wolfe (Horticulture)

    Apr. 18 video

    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

    Katherine McComas (Communication)

    Apr. 25 video

    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.

    May 2: A Look at the Evolution of Determining the Impacts of Climate Change through the IPCC
    Linda Mearns

    Linda Mearns (National Center for Atmospheric Research, NCAR)

    May 2 video

    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.

    May 9: Climate Justice: Economics and Philosophy
    Ravi Kanbur

    Ravi Kanbur (The Dyson School)

    May 9 video

    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.