Declaring this a “decisive decade” for climate action, Cornell launched The 2030 Project: a climate initiative, which will mobilize world-class faculty to develop and accelerate tangible solutions to the climate challenge. From transforming food and energy systems and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to advancing environmental justice and shaping policy, Cornell will use practical science to help save the planet before it don’t be too late.
The 2030 Project, which will bring together the expertise of hundreds of faculty members, debuted May 11 at the Cornell Future Forum in San Francisco — the first in-person event in California since the pandemic began.
“We truly are an institution like no other,” President Martha E. Pollack said, addressing alumni and friends at the event. “We combine the Ivy League scholarship with this land-grant mission. We combine the liberal arts with the trades, our rural identity with our urban campuses; we have an incredible depth and breadth of world-class expertise and a culture of collaboration. And of course, we have a fundamental commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. And I think that constellation of forces has really allowed us to be uniquely agile in our response to the changes and challenges of our times.
The 2030 Project aims to solve the climate crisis through existing cross-disciplinary faculty collaborations, dissolve academic silos, and foster unlikely partnerships to address one of the most serious challenges humanity has ever faced.
“We know the climate is changing,” said Benjamin Z. Houlton, the
Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, who will serve as co-chair of the new initiative. “It’s bad and it’s getting worse. We know why this is happening. We can solve it. All of these things are true at the same time.
“Climate is not a partisan future, a threat lurking behind the scenes,” he said. “He’s trying to figure out — in places like California, where many of you have experienced drought, heat waves, wildfires, and continuous whiplash — how to address atmospheric change.”
Houlton said the world needs a systemic, comprehensive and holistic set of scalable solutions that must be fair and inclusive. There is a brief window that is rapidly closing, he said, to resolve what the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calls a “code red” climate scenario.
Co-chairing the project with Houlton is Lodge Daviddirector Frank S. DiSalvo of the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability, who said the project will encompass all of Cornell’s expertise to move research, insight and discovery into large-scale impact and solutions.
Project leadership also includes Lynden Archer, Dean of Engineering Joseph Silbert, and Ray Jayawardhana, Dean Harold Tanner of the College of Arts and Sciences. It will be managed by Ben Furnas ’06, the project’s executive director.
“This project is a manifestation of Cornell’s nimble and open enthusiasm for attracting researchers, faculty, and students from across the university to climate action,” Furnas said recently. “As an ambition, The 2030 Project will engage Cornell and connect to our community and the state, and then expand our research to the world – which is certainly part of Cornell’s DNA as a grant-granting institution. land.”
For now, Houlton said, academic expertise will drive collaborative research and teaching in four main areas: materials of the future, energy systems of the future, food and farming of the future, and society and the policies of the future.
“We aim to make sure that every green electron we generate is actually used,” said Lindsay Anderson, associate professor of biological and environmental engineering (CALS) and acting director of the Cornell Energy Systems Institute, speaking on the 2030 Project panel at the event. “Our energy – especially our electrical power system – is a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. If we can decarbonize our energy system, we will have a big impact on climate change. »
This 2030 project brings together internal strengths at Cornell, she said.
“If we are going to tackle these big issues at the forefront, we will all have to work together. And not just my industry, but this collaborative culture that [Cornell has] is a unique opportunity,” said Anderson, who is also a Norman R. Scott Sesquicentennial Faculty Member and Kathy Dwyer Marble and Curt Marble Faculty Director for Energy at Cornell Atkinson.
Greeshma Gadikota, Assistant Professor and Croll Sesquicentennial Fellow at the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, where she directs the Sustainable Energy and Resource Recovery Group, spoke about using Earth Source Heat – a project currently in the testing phase – as a way to keep the campus warm in the winter, instead of using carbon-based methods.
“If we can try to decarbonize the university, we can be an example for the rest of the world on how to decarbonize institutions,” she said. “These solutions are not exclusive to Cornell. These are also for the rest of the world.
Geoff Coatsprofessor at Tisch University in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology (A&S), discussed plastics and the discovery of new advanced materials as the key to decarbonization.
Coates said about 100 pounds of plastic, created from natural gas, is made every year for every person on Earth.
“We’re adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere to make plastics and it’s not sustainable,” he said. “As we start to decarbonise transport, energy, chemicals – especially plastics – this is next on our list. We’re going to have to sort this out.
“We’re not just polluting the atmosphere,” Coates said. “We pollute the Earth, the soil, the water. Around 40% of our plastics go to landfill.
Coates’ lab is working to put carbon dioxide into the plastic, rather than releasing it into the atmosphere.
“We’re trying to flip the script,” he said. “The chemical industry is unfortunately 60 years behind us, but I’m trying to completely change the way we make plastics.”
A second panel, addressing “Computing for a Better World and a Sustainable Future,” featured Carla Gomes, Ronald C. and Antonia V. Nielsen Professor of Computing and Information Science, at the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science; Alex Flecker, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (CALS); and Dan Fink, Senior Research Associate, Lab of Ornithology. The panel was moderated by Kavita Bala, Dean of Cornell Bowers CIS.
Computational sustainability, Gomes said, can be the foundation for helping other fields of science achieve environmental action. Flecker explained how artificial intelligence has enabled strategic hydropower planning in the Amazon Basin; and Fink demonstrated how AI adjusts to gaps in citizen science data and how it can promote sustainability.
“This is the decisive decade. We used to think we could just reduce emissions or capture carbon. We’re past the thinking stage in terms of either/or cases,” Houlton said. “We have to think about silver buckshot, not silver bullets.”