Perspectives on the Climate Change Challenge
Most sessions 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 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.
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 (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.
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 (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 (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 (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 (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
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.
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.
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 (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
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.
January 29: Introduction to the Science of Climate Change
Peter Hess (Biological & Environmental Engineering)
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 (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 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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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
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.
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)
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 (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 (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.
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.