Following UN Climate Report, Students Promote Resilience
From quantifying climate vulnerability in Haiti to documenting the ecological calendars of indigenous and rural communities, Cornell student projects promise to reduce climate impacts around the world – an increasingly urgent need, as detailed in the Group. United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) this summer. report.
“Most of the outlook presented in the report is bleak,” said Madeline Keep ’21, master’s degree student in engineering and virtual global intern at the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies. “But even though some of the damage we’ve done is irreversible, I believe nature is brilliant, resilient, and has the power to heal itself if given the chance.”
On August 9, the IPCC released the first section of its four-part report, which focused on the science behind climate change. The news is grim: Humans are unequivocally to blame for global warming – and we are increasingly seeing the effects of our dependence on fossil fuels. The summer of 2021 has been the hottest on record on the planet, forest fires are ravaging countries around the world, and storms are more frequent and destructive.
“Climate change is something that literally connects the whole world,” said Rachel Riedl, director of the Einaudi Center. “The IPCC report demonstrates the urgent need for evidence-based policies and actions, and the faculty and students of the Einaudi Center are leading the way. Virtual internships have allowed Cornell to continue working with local communities for global impact.
Keep worked with Shona Allred, associate professor in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, to create a Vulnerability Index for Haiti. The index takes into account soil erosion, land degradation and susceptibility to landslides to determine which regions of Haiti would benefit the most from agroforestry.
Agroforestry incorporates trees and shrubs into crops and pastures, relying on their root systems to prevent landslides and loss of productive topsoil, while their leaves reduce the impact of rainfall.
“Large-scale agroforestry has the potential to increase Haiti’s resilience to landslides, erosion and floods,” Keep said. “At the same time, it can mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon dioxide and excess nitrogen and increasing biodiversity, soil health and food security. “
Major in Policy Analysis and Management, Shilvaan Patel ’24, spent the summer working with Chris Barrett, Professor Stephen B. and Janice G. Ashley at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. Patel is a Laidlaw Fellow of the Laidlaw International Undergraduate Research and Leadership Fellowship Program, which the Einaudi Center administers at Cornell.
Patel helped Barrett create animated maps depicting changes in range health and rainfall over time in Kenya and the Borana area in Ethiopia. The study examined the environmental impacts of livestock insurance – local pastoralists receive payment if their herds are wiped out by drought – which was first introduced to the region in 2010.
“Livestock insurance has been beneficial in the communities we studied,” Patel said. “But this project impressed me about what we could be missing if we don’t tackle climate change effectively. As climate change contributes to lasting and more severe environmental degradation, the cost of insurance can increase dramatically, potentially making it much less effective.
In 2019, Anna Ulmann ’21 joined Karim-Aly Kassam, Einaudi Global Public Voices Fellow and International Professor of Environmental and Indigenous Studies (CALS), in her Einaudi-funded project to document the ecological calendars of indigenous and rural peoples. Calendars use environmental events – for example, the arrival of a particular migratory bird – as a signal to begin specific livelihood activities, such as plowing.
Ulmann, who majored in environmental and sustainability science with a minor in climate change, worked on creating calendars with two villages in the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan.
“Calendars represent a form of adaptation to the severe impacts of anthropogenic climate change,” she said. “These communities suffer from some of the most severe consequences due to their location – from flooding threatening their farmlands to heat scorching fodder for their livestock. “
Last summer Ulmann focused on helping Kassam plan a climate conference: Earth Rhythms: Indigenous Knowledge, Science and Thriving Together in a Changing Climate. The October 11-13 event will bring together members of indigenous communities, academics and policy makers to share knowledge and build local capacities to adapt to climate change.
“An important part of ecological calendars is that this is applicable worldwide,” said Ulmann. “While each calendar is unique to the community, the process of generating ecological calendars is universal.”
The three students found the IPCC report on climate change to be a powerful wake-up call to the world.
“This world is full of incredibly motivated people who continue to tackle the causes and effects of climate change,” said Ulmann. “We already knew there was a lot to do – so the next step is to proceed with compassion, check with our neighbors and determine the best ways to support each other quickly.”
Jackie Swift is a freelance writer for Global Cornell.