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Q&A: Reports from the front line of ideas for a sustainable planet


Cornell's faculty works at the epicenter of a global effort to understand and ultimately provide workable solutions to urgent environmental, ecological and energy challenges to the planet. Ezra posed some provocative questions to a few of the more than 300 professors working on sustainability projects in the Colleges of Engineering; Agriculture and Life Sciences; Arts and Sciences; and Architecture, Art and Planning; and at the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, founded by David Atkinson '60 and his wife, Patricia.

Natalie Mahowald, investigator of climate dynamics

Natalie Mahowald, investigator of climate dynamics and humans' impact on the environment. See larger image

Is climate change really happening?

Yes, we can see the changes in climate in surface temperature trends, here in New York and across the globe, especially in the Arctic. Ship-borne observations of temperature show the oceans are warming. Satellites have detected the higher sea levels that are a result. Snow in the spring in New York and across the United States and Europe is gone earlier. Sea ice in the Arctic is reduced during the summer to the point where, for the first time, commercial ships can now navigate the Northwest Passage connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. All this provides evidence that climate change is indeed happening.

– Natalie Mahowald, associate professor, earth and atmospheric sciences, and lead author, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

David Wolfe, who studies bloom and leaf trends

David Wolfe, who studies bloom and leaf trends. See larger image

It's not just the thermometers telling us the climate is changing; the living world is already responding. As the planet warms, the range of many species is shifting northward, and in the spring plants are blooming earlier. Apples, lilacs and grapes are blooming four to eight days earlier than in the 1960s. Migrating birds and insects are also arriving sooner than expected. Those who make their living from the land will be on the front lines of confronting this challenge.

– David W. Wolfe, professor, horticulture, and chair, Atkinson Center Climate Change Focus Group

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