The setting sun over Hoboken, NJ across the Hudson River seen from Lower Manhattan during the wildfire smoke event summer 2023.

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The 2030 Project invites proposals for annual research-to-impact grants, first round awarded

The 2030 Project has announced three new proposals funded with Research-to-Impact Fast Grants that will advance practical science that addresses the climate crisis. The projects will increase understanding of the public health impact of extreme weather, improve mechanisms to ensure reliability in electrical grids and create a dataset of global greenhouse emissions that includes livestock, crops and aquaculture. Each of the grants has been awarded between $21,000-$25,000 and will be administered by the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability

“These first three awards for our 2023 Fast Grant program illustrate how the 2030 Project is accelerating Cornell research into climate solutions during this critical moment. And we are just getting started,” said Ben Furnas ’06, executive director of The 2030 Project: A Cornell Climate Initiative. Researchers interested in applying for the next round of 2030 Project Fast Grants can submit proposals up until Oct. 23. An information session on the grants and the application process will be held Oct. 6.   

Preserving public health amid environmental crisis 

Across the U.S., cities and states have established public health surveillance systems that rapidly canvass hospital emergency departments to find patterns in patient symptoms that could indicate problems like a foodborne illness outbreak or a biological terror attack.  

Four Cornell faculty members propose to develop a similar public health surveillance system linked to climatological triggers, like heat and cold waves, as climate change worsens the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and threatens to strain public health resources.  

“This system would provide scientific and political leaders with near-real-time data on the wide spectrum of health impacts of climate events and also warnings about anticipated patient surges,” said Nathaniel Hupert, lead investigator and associate professor of Population Health Sciences at Weill Cornell Medical College. “Mapping these impacts will benefit both immediate crisis management and longer-term strategic planning for creating a climate-crisis-ready urban environment.” 

The researchers will identify the health syndromes and environmental conditions that should be included in such a system, and create a computational model that takes into account a community’s strengths and vulnerabilities – such as the number of institutional living facilities with highly vulnerable populations, number and location of cooling centers and healthcare capacity.  

Investigators on the project are Hupert; Angeline Pendergrass, assistant professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences; Flavio Lehner, assistant professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences; and Arnab Ghosh, assistant professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell.  

Ensuring reliability in the energy transition 

Increasingly extreme weather events are already challenging the capacity of electricity supplies nationwide: Winter Storm Elliott in December 2022 left 1.5 million Americans without power and dozens died; during Winter Storm Uri in February 2021 4.5 million Texans were without power for up to four days and hundreds died. While renewable energy sources are adding capacity to power grids, there is a need for improved market mechanisms and government regulations to ensure reliable, affordable, clean electricity.  

Jacob Mays, assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Andreea Minca, professor of Operations Research and Information Engineering, are leading a project to elucidate the operational and market issues underpinning electrical resource management and to design mechanisms that can facilitate a secure, economically efficient transition to clean energy. 

Although electricity markets are meant to be “technology neutral,” and allow generators of renewable or fossil fuel-based energy to compete on equal terms, in practice, several mechanisms implicitly favor gas-fired plants, Mays said. 

“We hope that our work will both inform adjustments to existing mechanisms that are implementable in the short-term and set the stage for deeper reforms in the long-term,” Mays said. “Our contributions will bridge the gap between the academic literature and conversations happening among decision makers, enabling our impact on both current and future debates.” 

Mapping global livestock, fish and cropland impacts 

Understanding the greenhouse gas, land and water use and economic impacts of the food and agriculture sectors can enable both consumers and policymakers to make better choices for the long-term health of people and the planet. Ten years ago, Mario Herrero led a research team that created a groundbreaking global dataset of livestock production and greenhouse gas emissions.  The dataset has been used in over 800 studies and influenced both the Paris Agreement and the International Panel on Climate Change Assessment reports. 

Now Herrero, the Nancy and Peter Meinig Family Investigator in the Life Sciences and Director of Food Systems and Global Change, is co-leading another team that is updating and expanding the dataset to include livestock, crops and aquaculture.  The project will map emissions, land and water use, biomass consumption, and food and ag industry livelihoods associated with these food sources. 

“The undertaking is massive, but the payoff would be great,” Herrero said. “Combining these three domains into one data product would allow for a more realistic representation of the resource use and impacts of food production, and to expand the potential scenarios this dataset could be used to evaluate, to include changes in the consumption of different animal-sourced foods and replacement of animal protein by plant-based protein.” 

The project is a collaboration between Cornell and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). The researchers leading the project are Herrero, Carlos Gonzalez Fischer, research associate in the Department of Global Development, and Joe Rudek, lead senior scientist at EDF. 

Krisy Gashler is a freelance writer for Cornell Atkinson.  

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