Climate Literacy

Report Cover: Climate Literacy MemoClimate Literacy 

Cornell University has two climate literacy goals as part of its Climate Action Plan.  These goals support the campus community in understanding how humans influence the climate, how the climate influences human society, and how to take meaningful climate action on campus and in the world beyond.

CAP Goals                                   
Two Climate Action Plan goals relate to literacy: Campus Literacy and Climate Literacy Outreach. Details below.

Resolutions                                  Assembly Resolutions have recently focused on supporting Climate Literacy efforts for students, faculty and staff.

Climate Literacy Memo              
The Climate Literacy Memo (above) is a draft vision for implementing climate literacy for staff, students, and faculty.

Campus Literacy CAP Goal

Work to ensure that climate literacy and sustainability are part of the curriculum and educational experience at Cornell. Build climate literacy in the campus community through curricular and extra-curricular programs for students and professional development programs for faculty and staff.

Climate literacy is understanding how human society influences the climate and how the climate influences human society – and it is fundamental to meaningful climate action on campus and in the world beyond. This Key Action involves the development and implementation of educational programs for students, faculty, and staff to be integrated with freshman orientation, undergraduate club leadership development, residential life, and professional development trainings.

The EcoReps program was launched in 2012 to help engage students in campus sustainability efforts through educational programs and positive role modeling. Over 60 students serve as EcoReps – or sustainable living peer educators – during freshman orientation and in freshman residence halls on North Campus. The majority of EcoReps also participate in a 3-credit service learning capstone course that focuses on sustainable living concepts, peer education methods, social marketing strategies, and the psychology of behavior change.

Looking beyond the classroom, Cornell students, faculty, and staff are applying the principles of sustainability to solve real-world problems. These efforts directly benefit the Cornell community, as well as people in communities around the globe. Recent examples of experiential learning both on and off-campus include:

  • Energy Corps efforts to replace incandescent light bulbs across campus with more efficient LED and CFL bulbs are projected to yield $245,539 in savings over the next seven years.

  • CU Compost Club is currently conducting a fundraising campaign to install a compost bin to serve residents of Collegetown.
  • Sustainability Internship Program students have tackled projects throughout Tompkins County to address energy planning, wood smoke assessment, waste reduction, greening operations, and wetlands development, among others.
  • Cornell University Sustainable Design’s (CUSD) Schoolhouse South Africa project is an award-winning design-build project focusing on resilient design and collaboration.
  • Cornell faculty and students are creating sustainable micro-energy systems for cooperative agriculture projects on Hawai`i Island.

Climate Literacy Outreach

Participate actively in climate literacy outreach to ensure that the broader community receives Cornell’s assistance in making critical decisions for a sustainable future.

As the 2013 IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report makes clear, the option of “business-as-usual” is no longer acceptable. Continued growth in greenhouse gases poses a clear and present danger to the Cornell community, our nation, and the world. The climate change challenge is understood by some but not all, and a sense of urgency needs to be conveyed in order to motivate long-term behavior change.

As New York’s land grant university, Cornell and the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) system provide research-based education, resources, and tools to help individuals, families, and communities make better decisions to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Current education and outreach efforts from the university for stakeholders in New York and beyond occur through several interdisciplinary efforts:

  • The Cornell Institute for Climate Change and Agriculture (CICCA) fosters partnerships, engages stakeholders, and delivers trusted, research-based climate information and tools to farmers, natural resource managers, and other decision-makers. CICCA empowers farmers and their communities to respond to increasing climate variability and change, take advantage of opportunities, and lessen their impacts on the climate. Our goal is to build the capacity to grow and strengthen agriculture in the face of a changing climate. The institute has organized multiple events to provide information to the public about climate change and agriculture, at events such as Empire Farm Days, the NYS Ag Society meeting, and Stone Barns Conference. It has also recently launched a new Climate Smart Farming Program and extension team, to provide specific information on climate change mitigation and adaption to New York's farmers and communities. 

  • Cornell’s Climate Change Program Work Team (PWT) is comprised of Cornell faculty, staff, CCE educators and stakeholders from around New York State who are working to share information on climate change research and funding opportunities, develop new educational materials and outreach programs for the public, and incorporate climate change into existing outreach programs, including train the trainer efforts. Faculty and CCE educators regularly provide climate change presentations to community groups and key stakeholders. Three concrete examples are:
  • Climate change training provided to New York State Master Gardener Volunteer (MGV) Programs through Cornell Cooperative extension. The NYS Master Gardener Volunteer Coordinator organized an October 2013 conference for CCE educators and Master Gardener Volunteers on “Gardening in a Changing Climate.” Additional materials will be developed to help support MGVs as they work to educate New York’s gardeners about climate change (
  • The Cornell Sustainability Website provides a comprehensive, interdisciplinary gateway to climate change initiatives, research, student courses and organizations, events, and public engagement at Cornell. The site provides specific tools and resources that have been developed for farmers, natural resource managers, communities, youth educators, and the general public to understand the fundamentals of climate change science. The website also provides an interactive forum for the public to ask relevant questions about climate change science or its effects in the Northeast, and a “what’s with the weather” explanation of recent extreme weather events.
  • The Northeast Regional Climate Center (NRCC) at Cornell acquires and disseminated accurate, up-to-date climate data and information for the 12-state Northeast Region under contract from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The NRCC staff often provide long term climate change for the public and stakeholders and provides frequent climate change presentations in the Northeast. The NRCC and other partners have been working to develop a new Climate Change Science Clearinghouse, funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency (NYSERDA).
  • The Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability works to discover and implement sustainable solutions to world needs for reliable energy, a resilient environment, and responsible economic development. There are 426 Faculty Fellows, many of whom are doing research on climate change. ACSF organizes multiple public outreach events, and supports efforts to extend research out to the public and policy makers.

The long-term goal of all of these outreach efforts is to increase understanding of climate change science and impacts, leading to behavior change to prepare for climate change and to reduce the ultimate magnitude of the problem by reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). A short- to medium-term goal is that Cornell faculty and staff will incorporate climate change data and concepts into existing outreach programs and develop new Best Management Practices and tools to help farmers, gardeners, communities, and other stakeholders make informed decisions.