Tim Peacock/The New York Times

March 2, 2022

Cornell Alum To Direct Atkinson Center for Sustainability’s “2030 Project”

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In 2021, the Biden administration set a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. Cornell will contribute to this goal through a new climate initiative –– The 2030 Project. The Sun spoke to Ben Furnas ’06, who will be the executive director of the initiative. 

The University-wide climate project housed in the Atkinson Center for Sustainability is designed to accelerate the ways in which Cornell can mobilize to support climate action. 

As a part of the 2030 project, Cornell plans to advance and accelerate climate change solutions. The project plans to do this by supporting and mobilizing climate work at both a small and large scale, developing new technologies and making innovative government policies. 

The 2030 project is a collaborative effort involving deans, faculty, staff, students and internal and external partners. As a result, this initiative will be able to contribute to the climate action goals of not just New York State, but also the United States. 

Furnas was formerly the director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Climate and Sustainability, which works to reduce emissions from New York City government operations and help people live lower-carbon, climate-friendly lives. In December 2021, former Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a law requiring that all new buildings in New York City run on electricity, meaning that they won’t burn fossil fuels on site. 

As director of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Climate and Sustainability, Furnas also oversaw initiatives that brought clean and renewable electricity into New York City homes and transformed the transportation system so that people can get around without having a climate impact. 

“All of these actions we took were ways of not just fighting climate [change] for the future, but helping to improve lives in the here and now,” Furnas said. “One thing I’m so excited about in joining Cornell is that Cornell has world class experts leading in everything from agriculture to battery technology to thinking about the ways in which farms can not just reduce their emissions, but actually help to reverse some of the impacts of climate change.” 

Furnas explained that this project will not just mobilize faculty, but a broad community of people including Cornell networks, alumni and friends to help support taking action against climate change. 

With four contract colleges, Cornell is uniquely situated to help Ithaca, New York City and New York State in their decarbonization and climate action goals. This will provide benefits for not just the Cornell and Ithaca communities, but New York State as a whole. 

Furnas said that students are a crucial part of University climate initiatives. 

“When I was an undergraduate, there was a vibrant activism culture at Cornell,” said Furnas. 

“I think that the history of this institution is that students have always played a really key role in holding us to our highest version of ourselves and pushing the university –– and the broader world –– to take action on climate.”

He explained that as the years have gone by, people are beginning to feel the realities of climate change. 

“They’re recognizing that the lives of this generation will be dominated by questions of how we decarbonize, how we reduce emissions, how we remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere and how we prepare ourselves for the now inevitable changes associated with climate change,” Furnas said.

According to Furnas, taking action on climate change will have a positive impact on our lives.

“So it’s sort of a humbling task, but I also think there are aspects of it that are really positive because as we take action on climate change, we can also end up improving our lives in the process,” Furnas said. 

Furnas said that since Cornell is an institution that prides itself on its “any person, any study,” motto, all students can get more involved in climate change and environmental justice, regardless of their field of study, from engineering to social science and more.

“Even artists and musicians have a role in helping us maintain a sense of perspective on this really important work at a really harrowing time,” Fumas said.

Furnas said he is looking forward to directing the 2030 project and accomplishing Cornell’s climate goals.

“I grew up in Ithaca and I’m a Cornell alum, so it’s really a lovely full circle moment for me to be coming back to do this really important work in a community and University that I have a lot of affection for,” Furnas said. “I’m really looking forward to getting to know everyone and working with everyone to put our shoulders to the wheel and advance this really important work.”