Prof. Robert Howarth, ecology and evolutionary biology, has been named to the 22-member New York Climate Action Council to help New York State reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent before 2050.
The council aims to implement renewable energy sources under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. Members of the committee were appointed by the governor, president of the senate, speaker of the assembly and minority leaders of the Senate and Assembly of New York.
The committee has two years to come up with a plan, and they are charged with developing a plan to bring about the bill’s ambitious emission goals. According to Howarth, New York State setting ambitious laws, such as the CLCPA, is a necessary step in keeping the planet in a habitable state.
“The only way to avoid that is to try to make the world mostly fossil fuel free within the next 20-35 years … the trick now is making it actually happen and making the law work,” Howarth told The Sun.
Howarth, who has been researching and teaching climate change since 1980, has already seen a remarkable intensification of weather events, saying that “we are seeing more intense storms, greater floods and longer droughts,” such as recent bushfires that have ravaged much of Australia.
“By 20 years ago, it was pretty clear that the planet was warming, but we hadn’t yet seen what that would mean in terms of other climate feedbacks,” Howarth continued. “We weren’t seeing that ten years ago. Now we are, and that’s likely to become much much more pronounced over the next 10-20 years.”
As a result of climate change’s worsening symptoms, Howarth called the role of New York’s Climate Action Council “critical.”
“I think this is one of the most important things I’ve been asked to do in my entire life,” Howarth said.
Although Howarth now holds a key policy position in government, he nevertheless believes that students can play a large role in Cornell’s effort to reduce its carbon footprint by advocating for University reform.
“Students play a critical role in bringing that to the attention of the trustees and the administration,” Howarth said, calling Cornellians’ fossil fuel divestment efforts –– such as a December 2019 march in which students delivered a list of climate demands to President Martha Pollack’s office –– a “great way to raise visibility.”
But beyond campus activism, Howarth stressed that students who wish to see broader action on climate change should involve themselves in politics, including the upcoming presidential election.
Referring to the current President as an individual “who basically doesn’t believe that humans are doing things,” Howarth highlighted presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as candidates who understand the environmental issues affecting the world today.