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On issues of energy, environment and climate, Cornell experts say they have a leading role to play

Energy, the environment and climate change are pressing state, regional and global issues, and Cornell has the capacity to play a leading role in meeting the challenges.

At a daylong conference in the Statler Hotel on May 7, Cornell researchers and community leaders discussed establishing applied research and extension priorities for the coming year for more than $2 million in federal formula funds dispensed annually by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered by the experiment stations and extension services.

"Roughly 300 [faculty] are working on issues related to sustainability, across colleges and across departments," said David Dieterich, partnerships director for the new Cornell Center for a Sustainable Future. "I don't know anybody else that has all the pieces that can be pulled together, the basic and hard sciences, the applied research, extension and teaching. We have a lot to offer."

Other speakers at the conference for the Program Council, whose 140 members include Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) staff, faculty, policymakers and such stakeholders as farmers and community organizers from upstate New York, Albany, New York City and Washington, D.C., addressed rural poverty, health and physical environments. Regional competitiveness in workforce and economic development was also discussed.

Antonio Bento, associate professor of applied economics and management, whose specialty is public policy and environmental economics, said that a comprehensive global climate change policy package is expected to be a priority for the next government administration. It is critically important that economics, not just politics, be a factor in the policy deliberation, he said.

"So far most of the action on climate change has been at the state level, but this is a global problem, and it requires action at a higher level, at the national government, and I believe Cornell can and should play a role in advising the design of federal state and local public policies," Bento said.

The U.S. government could learn, said Bento, from the experience of cap and trade programs in Europe -- where companies are provided allowances for "carbon credits" that they can trade -- and from the successful laws here in the United States related to reducing sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere. Whatever system this country eventually adopts for carbon emissions, Bento said, it must be one that both encourages reductions in energy consumption and in the development of technological innovations that will reduce the cost and reliance on fossil fuels, which are the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

As a land-grant university, Cornell can proactively respond to sustainability issues, for example, by directing research and extension programming, said Michael Hoffmann, director of Cornell's Agricultural Experiment Station (CUAES). Feedback provided by conference attendees helps direct research and outreach to areas where there is immediate and pressing need, he said.

The annual Program Council conference focuses on food and agricultural systems, community and economic vitality, natural resources and the environment, quality of life, and youth development. The council members review more than 100 funding early proposals submitted by Cornell faculty members. The conference was organized by CUAES, the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station and CCE.

Lauren Chambliss is the assistant director for communications with the Cornell Agricultural Experiment Station in Ithaca.

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