Cornell experts on soil, literature, environmental politics and greenhouse gases headed to Paris climate conference

Cornell University is sending four delegates to the COP21 Paris Climate Conference, which runs November 30 through December 11. Each delegate attending has a different research focus – soil science and climate smart farming, geo-engineering, climate change policy, greenhouse gases and methane emissions. The delegates are available before, during and after the climate conference for interviews.

Media Note: Short videos of the delegates previewing the conference and reviewing their research can be downloaded at


Robert Howarth: Reduction of both carbon dioxide and methane is key

Robert Howarth, the David R. Atkinson Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and a fellow with the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future has studied global warming for 40 years. His research focuses on methane as a greenhouse gas, and demonstrated large methane emissions from the natural gas industry, particularly from shale development.

Professor Howarth describes his work here.


Howarth says:

“This 21st Conference of the Parties is critical. The world is on a trajectory to warm to a dangerously high 1.5 degrees Celcius within 15 years, and 2 degrees within 35 years, unless we take urgent agent now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The scientific community of the world is united on these points, and the world’s religious leaders – including the Pope and the Dalai Lama – have given this message their full moral authority. Now is the time to act and Paris is the place where this must happen.

“We must reduce emissions of both carbon dioxide and methane. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions is essential for the long term, yet will not appreciably slow global warming over the critical next few decades. The only way to slow global warming in the next 15 to 35 years – and avert warming to the dangerous levels of 1.5 to 2 degrees – is to reduce methane emissions. And that means using less natural gas as well as coal, and moving quickly to renewable energy systems.”




Karen Pinkus: Philosophical and critical thought needed to further geo-engineering

Karen Pinkus is a professor of romance studies and comparative literature in Cornell University’s College of Arts and Sciences Department of Romance Studies and a member of the faculty advisory board with the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. Pinkus is fluent in French, English and Italian, and has been writing and teaching about the relation of the humanities and climate change for the past decade.

Professor Pinkus explains why we need to reflect with humility on the enormity of climate change here.


Pinkus says:

“What am I most interested in is geo-engineering. I know this may sound strange coming from a literature professor, but we’ve already undertaken the largest geo-engineering project in the earth’s history by emitting greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels. Given that the shift to renewables will not happen fast enough, I believe we may be headed toward some combination of solar radiation management and carbon dioxide removal. If we are going to further geo-engineer the planet, we need philosophical reflection and critical thought to guide the technological aspects of our work.

“The concept of the Anthropocene – the coming together of geological and human time –requires us to think in scales that we are not cognitively evolved to truly grasp. We need to step back and reflect with humility on the enormity of climate change, yet there is no more time. We need a revolution, yet revolutions fail. Let’s embrace this paradox to come together in a common space and have the courage to commit to radical engagement around mitigation of greenhouse gases.”




Johannes Lehmann: Soils a top priority

Johannes Lehmann is a professor of soil and biogeochemistry and soil fertility management in Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He is also a fellow with the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.

Professor Lehmann talks about his specialization in soil organic matter, soil carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas emissions and soil fertility here.


Lehmann says:

“This COP in Paris 2015 generates particular excitement after a hiatus of disappointing developments in the UN climate negotiations, especially for me as a soil scientist coming here on World Soil Day during the UN International Year of Soils 2015. And for good reason, several policy makers including and foremost the French government have put soils high on the agenda. And indeed, soils have a lot to offer in terms of both adaptation and mitigation of climate change. We hope to see a turning point towards an inclusion of soils as a key issue for discussion.

“Soils and agriculture are important emitters of greenhouse gases that we have to reduce, but can also be tremendous sinks. Soils contain much more carbon than the entire vegetation of the planet and atmosphere, combined. Small changes in soil carbon can have large effects on the greenhouse gas balance. And soils are the safest and most productive way of stashing away atmospheric carbon. Maybe it is the only way of drawing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that has only positive outcomes.

“We can now develop the knowledge and tools locally to implement best agricultural practices for reducing greenhouse gases and at the same time enhancing agricultural production. Food security and climate change mitigation are not incompatible alternatives. With clever design and using site-specific solutions, farmers and land managers can combine those approaches that work best under their situation. Policy, science and farmers need to work together to develop the enabling environment for a solution process, one case at a time.”




Allison Chatrchyan: COP21 will establish binding agreement on climate change

Allison Chatrchyan, the director of the Cornell Institute for Climate Change and Agriculture and a fellow with the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, is a social scientist with a background in international environmental politics and policy.

Chatrchyan explains her research interests and what Cornell will showcase at the Paris conference here.


Chatrchyan says:

“I am incredibly excited to be participating with this year’s Convention on Climate Change because COP21 is different – after more than 20 years of negotiations, 190 countries will come together to establish a universal and legally binding agreement on climate change, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, or 36 degrees Fahrenheit. Current international commitments run out in 2020, so we need an agreement to bind international action after that date.

“We must continue to keep the pressure on our governments to review their commitments regularly and continue to make stronger reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. We also need to work with stakeholders around the world, such as farmers, to reduce their emissions and put practices in place that will increase their resiliency to climate change.

“Cornell will be setting up an exhibit highlighting the incredible depth and breadth of research and outreach capacity we have on climate change. We will be showcasing Cornell’s work in the United States, through projects such as our new Cornell Climate Smart Farming Program, to our expertise in soil health, and projects in Africa and other countries. Second, we will be partnering with the United National Development Program, International Relief Development and International Food Policy Research Institute to organize a side event on December 3, 2015 in the Africa Pavilion focusing on ‘Climate Change, Agroecology, Nutrition, and Food Security’.”




For interviews contact:
Daryl Lovell
Office: 607-254-4799
Mobile: 607-592-3925



Cornell University has television, ISDN and dedicated Skype/Google+ Hangout studios available for media interviews. To get more information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.


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