March 30, 2009

Cornell Profs Brief Congress on Climate Change

Print More

As global warming becomes an increasingly acknowledged stark reality in Washington, policy-makers and politicians are scrambling to up the ante on “green” efforts. Last week, they sought the advice of Prof. Arthur DeGaetano, climatology and Prof. David Wolfe, horticulture.
The pair of Cornell professors briefed lawmakers on how farmers are able to respond to global climate change, an issue that forms the basis of their professional studies.
“We’re sort of a team,” DeGaetano said of his relationship with Wolfe. “We’ve been doing a lot in the past 10 years [by] now.”
On Thursday, the professors spoke to the House Committee on Agriculture, which featured congressional staffers and researchers interested in keeping agriculture a sustainable part of the American landscape, as farmers across the nation have begun reconfiguring the way they use their land.
“We can no longer rely on historical climate records to tell us what to expect in the future for any region,” Wolfe stated in an e-mail. “We are the first generation of humans in modern history to face this kind of predicament, and it creates a serious problem for decision- makers of all kinds. Cornell, with its blend of basic and applied research and education outreach is well-positioned to play a major role in the development of these new decision tools.”
The pair spoke to a slightly larger House Committee on Natural Resources Friday, with an audience Wolfe estimated to be about 80. A small group of young congressional staffers was grouped amongst the D.C. veterans and professionals, with attendees holding varying levels of clout within the D.C. political spectrum.
“We provided the policy-maker audience with some suggestions regarding upgrading the nation’s environmental monitoring efforts,” Wolfe stated. “Much of what various agencies are doing today is geographically incomplete, monitoring equipment is aging and not well-maintained, the monitoring systems were not designed specifically for climate change, and the many agencies involved do not integrate their data.”
Wolfe emphasized “stackability” as an increasingly important colloquial term in agricultural policy making. The phrase refers to managing natural resources in a way that is environmentally beneficial to many different sectors, such as cleaning up soil to increase water runoff quality.
To encourage this concerted effort towards an overall healthier environment, Wolfe suggested financial incentives for farmers. These sorts of policies are easier to implement with Congress increasingly viewing environmental issues as keynote topics.
“There’s sort of a climate change umbrella over much of what’s going on here,” Wolfe stated. “All the agencies must integrate this new concern. What we really need to do is to use this interest in making farms more environmentally friendly … Try to develop incentives for farmers to manage their soil in a more environmental way.”
Wolfe and DeGaetano hope to have more opportunities to put their expertise to good use. DeGaetano is optimistic that, as more and more environmentally-targeted legislation is passed, his intellectual services will be needed.
“We have our names out there and it’s an ongoing process,” DeGaetano said. “People are really in the information gathering stage … I hope to see my research put to good use, and also to see what’s on the policy-makers’ minds.”
Wolfe is also trusting in the policy-makers’ decisions, and hopes to have more involvement in swaying the policies of the D.C. elite.
“We were there as consultants you might say,” Wolfe stated. “It was encouraging that they are listening in Washington to what we have to say. They are in need of some good informa