Cornell, EDF partner on five environmental projects

Cornell University’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) have announced five new research projects addressing urgent public health and environmental issues. The projects are part of a three-year collaboration made possible by a $1.7 million grant from Cornell alumnus and private investor David Atkinson ’60 and his wife, Patricia Atkinson.

The joint research program, which leverages Cornell’s scientific research and EDF’s leadership in the environmental policy arena, has funded 13 projects to date and continues to engage new researchers at Cornell and EDF.

The five new projects funded are:

  • Mobile Sensing of Volatile Organic Compounds: Controlling methane emissions from oil and gas wells is a vital step toward slowing climate change and protecting global public health – but other airborne pollutants associated with oil and gas may have local health impacts. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency manages a national network of only 34 stations to monitor long-term concentrations of volatile organic compounds, so little is known about the risk to communities near most oil and gas sites. This project will evaluate sensors that detect and quantify emissions of compounds such as benzene, using a mobile monitoring approach. This approach will reduce monitoring costs while giving communities and policymakers solid information about emissions levels and health risks.
  • Power Huron Project: California’s planned electricity rate reform will save $700 million and prevent 8 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution each year. The state’s transition to time-of-use pricing, however, may stall if at-risk communities are disproportionately affected by higher bills or negative health impacts. Based in Huron, California, and partnering with EDF’s sister program in Fresno, this project will develop policy solutions and practical strategies to identify and upgrade vulnerable homes. The initiative will help city agencies, utilities and community partners work together to address low-income residents’ risks – so that people living in inefficient homes and rental properties can benefit from and support clean energy.
  • Sardine Harvest Control for the Philippines: Sardine fishing is vital for food security and livelihoods in the Philippines. As a step toward harvest control for all of the nation’s fisheries, EDF is working with Filipino fishery managers, scientists and industry representatives to develop new science-based harvest rules for the sardine fishery. Cornell and EDF researchers will work together to evaluate and test acoustic monitoring as a cost-effective method for estimating sardine biomass, a measurement of total adult stock that allows fishery managers to calculate optimal annual catch limits. The project aims to support adaptive fishery management, improve fishing yields and profits, and protect ecosystem services in the western Pacific.
  • Financing Sustainable Fisheries: Fishery reform is a big investment – but we know from experience that recovered, well-managed fisheries can deliver significant financial returns to fishers, coastal communities and the many businesses that bring seafood to the table. This project aims to make sustainable fisheries an investment opportunity that meets the risk-return expectations of mainstream capital providers. Jumping off from successful business models in comparable sustainable business sectors, Cornell and EDF researchers will develop, explore and characterize best practices for project development in the emerging area of sustainable fisheries financing. The team’s findings and outreach will help stimulate investment in sustainable seafood production, marine biodiversity, and global livelihoods and food security.
  • Agricultural Sustainability Data Hub: Farm databases collect mountains of useful data about farming practices and environmental conditions – information critical for agricultural and environmental policy research and sustainability initiatives, but anonymized data is largely inaccessible to researchers. This project will design and map a secure Agricultural Sustainability Data Hub at Cornell supported by the Ag-Analytics data platform developed by the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business’ Joshua Woodard. Cooperating with agricultural and food industry partners and grower associations, the digital hub would serve as a focal point for ag-data sustainability activities, incorporating anonymized data sourced from agricultural service providers, food producers, merchandisers and retailers. This secure data warehouse will inform sustainability research and provide practical tools and analytics.

“The projects funded this year address some of the biggest challenges facing our planet today – including how to feed people with sustainable fisheries and farms, and how to ensure access to clean power and healthy air,” said David Lodge, the Francis J. DiSalvo Director of the Atkinson Center. “Bringing a collaborative approach to pressing questions like these will allow Cornell and EDF to achieve new insights and have a greater impact than either organization could achieve alone.”

Sheri Englund is a writer for the Atkinson Center. Kate Frazer is a freelance writer for the Atkinson Center.

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