Monthly Archives: October 2013

Making Sense of Climate’s Impact on Food Security

From warmer temperatures to natural disasters such as flooding and drought, changing patterns of climate are having billion-dollar impacts on our food-growing systems. But scientists are struggling to find ways to measure and predict what may happen in the future—and to translate that into policies to help feed a bulging world population.

“Agricultural risks are growing, including climate change,” said Cynthia Rosenzweig of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, an Earth Institute affiliate. “At the same time, a consistent approach is needed to enable the agricultural sector to analyze these issues.”

She spoke Friday at a panel on food security at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston. Also on the panel were Thomas R. Karl of the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center, Paul R. Ehrlich of Stanford University, and Felix Kogan of NOAA.

Cynthia Rosenzweig, GISS, Paul Ehrlich, AAAS 2013

Cynthia Rosenzweig of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Paul R. Ehrlich from Stanford University answer questions at a panel on climate and food security held at the 2013 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Rosenzweig detailed a new effort to mesh climate science, agricultural expertise and economics to help make better forecasts, titled the Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project—“AgMIP.” The multi-disciplinary effort involves scientists, economists and food experts on five continents.

“What’s been done over past decades is a whole cornucopia,” she said. “It’s hard to compare studies, and it’s hard to understand what all the studies are actually projecting. We need a consistent approach, and we need to set it up long-term.”

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Extreme Weather Adds Up to Troubling Future

US drought Feb. 13 2013

This story was first posted on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog on Feb. 15, 2013.

The drought that afflicts the U.S. Southwest has been going on for more than a decade, but if the distant past is any guide, the region could be in for much worse.

Extreme weather and climate-related events already have cost the United States billions of dollars. Speakers at a symposium Friday focused on the hard facts of what we know and don’t know about the causes, and how changing climate affects agriculture, water supplies, wildlife and our economy. The panel was part of the 2013 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, being held in Boston.

The drought offers an example of how difficult is can be to tease out the impacts of human-induced climate change from those of natural climate variations.

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Rosario’s Farm: Rising Tides, Shrimp from the Forest

The video above tells the story of Rosario’s farm, located on the banks of a light brown river in the lush rainforest of the Amazon delta. This story was first posted on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog on Jan. 23, 2013.

Rosario, right, and her brothers Alvino, left, and João.

Rosario, right, and her brothers Alvino, left, and João.

Rosario Costa-Cabral and her brothers harvest hundreds of products from the rainforest: woods like pau mulato and pracuúba, oil for cosmetics from the pracaxi tree, palm fronds for thatch, and fruits like açaí, bananas, guava and cupuaçu. Twice a day, tides swell the delta’s lacework of rivers and streams, flooding the forest and creating a rich nursery for shrimp and dozens of species of fish that serve as an important source of food and income. Without the forest, they say, you lose the fish and shrimp.

But now the tides run higher than in years past. The spring floods that threaten delta communities last longer and cause more damage; and the dry spells in late fall are growing drier. The climate is changing.

A team of scientists, led by Miguel Pinedo-Vasquez of Columbia’s Earth Institute, has come to the delta to find out how Rosario and her fellow caboclos—the people of mixed bloodlines who live here—are adapting. The researchers want to understand how the climate is changing, and how they can help with better forecasting and strategies for adaptation.

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Glenn Denning’s Road to Bali, and the Earth Institute

This post first appeared on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog on Dec. 2, 2012.

Glenn Denning, Center on Globalization and Sustainable Development

Glenn Denning. Photo: Winston Baltasar

Glenn Denning grew up in Brisbane, Australia, loved the outdoors and hated the idea of working in an office. And, he really didn’t have any urge to go to other countries. While studying at the University of Queensland, he thought a career in agriculture might suit him well.

Then he happened to overhear a conversation in a hallway between two students. That bit of serendipity sent him on a road to a life overseas; to key roles in “green revolutions” in Asia and Africa; and eventually to an office at Columbia University, and the Earth Institute.

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‘This is a wake-up call – don’t hit the snooze button’

Superstorm Sandy, New York City

Adam Sobel: “I was inside all day Monday, watching the tide gauge data at the Battery along with all the other observations. At 10:30 p.m., I couldn’t stand it anymore and went down to the Hudson, down by Fairway, to see the historic storm surge, just a couple hours after high tide.” This is his photo, looking under the elevated Riverside drive towards the river.

This story was first posted on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog on Nov. 2, 2012

We have to stop thinking in terms of ‘100-year events.’ It’s not going to be another 100 years before we see another extreme storm such as Sandy.”
Art Lerner-Lam, deputy director, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

For years before Hurricane Sandy charged ashore on Monday, researchers from the Earth Institute knew what was coming. In a rapidly urbanizing world, where hundreds of millions of people now live in low-lying coastal areas, those scientists have been urging policymakers to appreciate the threats posed by such natural disasters and find ways to make our cities more resilient.

As the region struggles to recover from this “superstorm,” we asked several experts from the Earth Institute to consider the lessons we can learn as we move forward.

Art Lerner-Lam

Art Lerner-Lam

Art Lerner-Lam watched the storm surge lap at the front door of his apartment building in Hell’s Kitchen on Monday, at the boundary of the evacuation zone. Lerner-Lam serves as deputy director of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and also directs the Earth Institute’s Center for Hazards and Risk Research.

“We have to stop thinking in terms of ‘100-year events.’ It’s not going to be another 100 years before we see another extreme storm such as Sandy,” he said. “The statements by Gov. Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg affirming the need to address the long-term trends in storm severity are welcome and politically courageous; but the true test will be whether we can muster the popular will to do something about it. …

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