November 22, 2015

Cornellians Discuss Climate Change at Bailey Hall Panel

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Cornell professors and climate change experts discussed the University’s role in environmental activism at the Climate Change Science and Policy Panel in Bailey Hall Friday.

The event, sponsored by the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future and the EAS 1540: Introductory Oceanography class, drew hundreds of students and community members interested in learning more about climate change.

The panelists — Prof. Bruce Monger, earth and atmospheric sciences, Prof. Toby Ault, earth and atmospheric sciences, Prof. Drew Harvell, ecology and evolutionary biology, Prof. Robert Howarth, ecology and evolutionary biology and Prof. Dan Kammen ’84, energy, University of California, Berkeley — answered questions submitted by Cornell oceanography students after a panel introduction by Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff. The questions, read by Emma Johnston ’16, addressed topics ranging from how the student voice has impacted Cornell’s climate change activism to geoengineering.

Geoengineering can be a controversial topic, according to Prof. Chuck Greene, earth and atmospheric sciences. Greene, who was a moderator at the panel, explained that the discipline refers to the manipulation of the environmental processes that affect the earth’s climate, such as the trapping of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, in order to counter the effects of global warming.

A prominent example of geoengineering is solar radiation management, the practice of launching human-produced aerosols into the atmosphere in order to reflect sunlight from the Earth’s surface and therefore cool the Earth.

“At a basic level, it works, but it would probably have a number of consequences, such as who controls the technology? Who controls the thermostat? Is the optimal temperature in my country the optimal temperature in other countries?” Ault said. “These are questions we must ask ourselves before looking to geoengineering as a solution.”

Greene explained Cornell’s role in geoengineering, referencing his research on land-grown marine algae for carbon dioxide reduction as a low-impact alternative to geoengineering.

“There are people doing research on this technology, it’s called carbon mediation,” Greene said. “In order for climate change to be reversed, we must begin drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.”

Addressing Cornell’s ability to combat environmental degradation, panelists referenced the progress student-led action on the Hill has made in the past, pointing to KyotoNow, a student organization dedicating to reversing the effects of global climate change, and a recent petition urging Cornell to divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry.

“We’ve made good strides on this campus, we have plans to go carbon neutral by 2035,” Howarth said. “I think we can do better …  if students continue to push the campus.”

All panelists emphasized the power of individual students and student organizations to produce real change in Cornell’s environmental policy.

“Raise your voice, there’s this bottom-up change that needs to occur,” Monger said. “Students need to write, to let leaders know about issues that are important to them and important to future generations.”