Sunday, January 31, 2021

Students engaging for change - team projects for the climate classroom

Carbon Reduction Challenge Assignment

            Climate change is one of the most pressing problems facing society today, yet reducing our dependence on fossil fuel-based energy requires new policies at the city, state, federal, and international levels, technological innovation, as well as the change of decades-old habits. The main assignment for this course will be a “Carbon Reduction Challenge”, which will be carried out by teams of ~4-5 students. The project involves designing and implementing creative strategies to reduce each team’s CO2 footprint. All of the winning teams have chosen to partner with a large organization that is eager to reap energy cost savings while reducing CO2 emissions. Typically, they are able to identify a very large energy "knob", and tweak it lower. Think fleets of cars, parking lot lights, industrial hot water consumption, HVAC controls, etc.


To ensure the success of the student-chosen strategies, students will be required to perform the following three tasks:  


1) Identify an approach for reducing CO2 emissions that can be accomplished over the course of 8 weeks (implementation period spans March 1 – April 30) 

2) Quantify the total CO2 emissions averted (and money invested vs. saved, when relevant) using their approach by researching primary literature (books, journal articles, government and/or industry reports, etc); and 

3) Present evidence at the end of the 8-week-long implementation phase that their strategy worked. 


At the end of the semester, the team that executed the most compelling/largest carbon reduction strategy will be invited to Washington, DC, to present their research results to legislative aides and/or lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The projects will be scored on the basis of innovation, creativity, total CO2 reduced, implementation of original plan, and degree of teamwork exhibited.


There are five main academic tasks associated with the project:

1)    Rough Draft of Plan (due Feb 10):  a 3-page maximum (double-spaced) proposal that identifies a strategy for reducing CO2 emissions, explains the timeline for its implementation, and discusses the types of evidence that will be presented at the end of the semester to measure the strategy’s success. [See “Plan Requirements” on next page.]

2)    Final Plan (due Mar 1)

3)    Progress Update – 3-5min in-class presentation (due Mar 30)

4)    Student Presentations (Apr 21, Apr 26):  7-9minute presentations with 3 minutes for questions and discussions, per team

5)    Poster Presentations (May 5, 2:40pm):  one poster per team; rough drafts encouraged by Apr 30 if you would like preliminary feedback from instructors.

Carbon Reduction Challenge:  Plan Requirements

Your plans must contain explicit statements and plans about the following requirements:

1)  Magnitude of minimum reduction:  10,000 lbs CO2

2) Additionality:  You must prove that the carbon reductions you will take credit for would not have happened without your actions. This is easy to prove for a building heating/cooling modification, but harder to do for personal choice-type projects.

3) Scaleability:  Clearly state how your plan will scale up to the large carbon reduction numbers to be competitive in this challenge. Again, this is not so much an issue for campus infrastructure projects, but is a big issue for personal choice initiatives.

4) Financing (if appropriate):  You are allowed to seek donations to support spending in the carbon reduction challenge to cover small expenses, but you must show that the money was a donation.

5)  Quantification:  You must provide a “back-of-the-envelope” estimate of CO2 reductions your initiative will achieve, citing peer-reviewed journal articles and government reports and web-sites only. Where relevant, provide estimates of costs needed to implement your approach as well as estimates of cost savings through time. 

6)  Documentation:  What kinds of documents/evidence will you collect over the course of the semester to prove that you achieved your stated CO2 reductions?

7)  Division of labor:  Please indicate what activities the various members of your team will focus on over the course of the semester’s challenge.

8)  Team name:  Please devise a team name!

Please see many Carbon Reduction Challenge student projects featured here.


Engage for Change Assignment - Engineering our Climate Future                                      

Schedule of deliverables

Oct 5 – preliminary plan due

Oct 7 – instructor feedback delivered to inform revised project plan

Oct 14 – revised plan due

Oct 14-Oct 28 – project plan implementation

Oct 28 – project team presentations


Project goal

Students will design and implement a strategy to engage their communities in climate solutions, via one of two avenues:  


1) putting carbon in the bank

Design a strategy to reduce/avoid carbon emissions across your combined networks. There are no rules, only that you have a clear, executable plan with clear roles for each team member, and that you can document and quantify your team’s total carbon savings by the date of the presentation. If you go this route, please benchmark your achievements relative to the average American’s carbon footprint of 40,000 lbs/yr.


2) building climate change awareness/literacy

Design a strategy to increase climate change literacy and/or engagement across your network, along your metric of choice. This need not be targeting thousands of people – it might be better to have a few targeted conversations at greater length. As above, there are no rules, but you must quantify progress towards your stated goal through a quantitative and/or qualitative assessment. 


Required project elements


1) Project plan (40% of project grade; average of preliminary and revised plans) – 1 page maximum

a. statement of project goal

b. proposed method to achieve goal

c. method for quantifying impact (How will you measure your impact?)

d. project timeline 

e. distribution of tasks across team


2) team presentation on Oct 21 (60% of project grade) – 5-7min presentation (recommend that this is pre-recorded to avoid technical glitches)

            - introduction including background and explanation of project goals

            - delivery of results including discussion of uncertainties, challenges, limitations

- discuss any changes to design that you would make to improve it for next time

- list of main learning outcomes by team members; What did your project teach you about encouraging climate engagement?

2016 Winners of the Carbon Reduction Challenge pose in front of the US Capitol, where they shared their project with members of Congress and their staff.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Comments provided to the US House Natural Resource Committee's livestream, May 5, 2020

Full livestream available here. Dr. Cobb's oral comments run from 44:45 to 49:44.
Link to @NRDems website for the event here.

Prepared comments:
Thank you, Chairman Grijalva, for inviting me to participate in this important conversation. As a climate scientist, I’m grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the critical role that science plays in keeping Americans safe.

Even as we speak, millions of healthcare and other essential workers are putting their lives on the line in an effort to keep us safe, and I want to recognize their sacrifice and express my gratitude not only to them, but to the families that support them in their work.

The essential role of scientists, including epidemiologists, virologists, and public health experts, is on full display as they provide decision-makers with the best available data and model output. 

Even so, COVID19 safeguards came too little too late for many in my home state and across the country. Dire warnings from experts across the country and around the world went unheeded for weeks on end. It is now clear that the most vulnerable Americans are paying the steepest price, esp low-income communities of color. This trend is especially stark in Georgia, where a recent CDC study revealed that 80% of COVID19 patients in several hard-hit hospitals were African-American. According to statistics compiled by Georgia’s Dept of Public health, African Americans comprise 50% of COVID19 deaths, but only 32% of the population (GA DPH,  

These same communities are also uniquely vulnerable to another escalating global threat - man-made climate change. There is no doubt that the most vulnerable among us will bear the brunt of the losses from climate change, sometimes with their very lives. 

America faces a stark, urgent choice. Science tells us that we must work aggressively to reduce our emissions in the next 10-20 years, or face a future of accelerating climate impacts that will threaten our food supplies, our water supplies, our infrastructure, our economy, our national security, and the very lives of vulnerable frontline communities. Climate losses are already piling up. Every year, extreme rainfall, coastal flooding, staggering heat waves, and wildfires play out like scenes out of a sci-fi film. Except these impacts are all too real, and they were avoidable, if we had acted upon scientific guidance decades ago. 

As party to the Paris Agreement, the United States has committed to act on climate science findings. As a country, we are well on our way, thanks to the evidence-based policymaking by governors and mayors across the country, and to a public that is hungry for climate solutions. 

However, the Trump administration has turned a blind eye to decades of robust climate science findings since its first days in office in its relentless pursuit of fossil fuel interests, even as the warnings from our climate science community have become more dire, and our time to avoid the worst-case climate outcomes ticks down. 

Here are some lowlights from the administration’s fossil-fuel agenda:

·       relaxed restrictions on methane, a powerful greenhouse gas

·        just weeks ago, it rolled back fuel efficiency standards that would have saved Americans money at the pump while reducing deadly air pollution (see NYTimes article here), and revoked CA’s right to set their own fuel efficiency standards

·     bypassed long-standing review processes designed to set air pollution standards at safe levels, disregarding expert recommendations to tighten those standards  

As you’ve heard, this agenda has continued during this pandemic. 

Make no mistake:  the sustained pursuit of this agenda requires undercutting the mechanisms designed to ensure that policy is shaped by the best available science. In a recent study by Union of Concerned Scientists Dr. Gretchen Goldman, federal scientists report a loss of scientific integrity that is particularly pronounced at the EPA and DOI.

Keeping Americans safe means letting science be the guide for policy, and right now, that includes a rapid shift away from fossil fuels, and the infrastructure and outdated policies that perpetuate our dangerous dependence on them.

Several months ago, we could never have imagined how our lives would change in the last weeks, seemingly overnight. Let’s hope that Americans are newly equipped to see our climate futures with new eyes. 

In one future, we watch helplessly as climate change ravages our infrastructure, our food, our water, our nation’s biodiversity and thriving coasts, and tears at the very fabric of our society. We wonder what might have been.

In another future, we enjoy cleaner air and healthier lungs, cleaner water, well-paying clean energy jobs and a thriving economy fueled by developing the best solutions to the global climate crisis. We can start walking that path, today, by making data-driven investments in our low-carbon energy future.

For a safe, thriving America, science must be our compass. This is true in the best of times, but as recent events have shown, it is especially true in the worst of times. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Congressional testimony by Kim Cobb - Natural Resources Committee, Feb 6, 2019

My oral statement delivered to the Natural Resources Committee hearing on "Climate Change:  Impacts and the Need to Act", Feb 6, 2019.
The full hearing can be viewed here, with my testimony beginning at 1:58:20.

I thank Chairman Grijalva and Ranking Member Bishop for allowing me to contribute to this important conversation about our nation’s climate future. My message today is simple:  the data and the science could not be more clear -- it’s time to act. There are many no-regrets, win-win actions to reduce the growing costs of climate change, but we’re going to have to come together to form new alliances, in our home communities, across our states, and yes, even in Washington. I know I speak for thousands of my colleagues when I say that scientists all over the country are willing and eager to assist policymakers in the design of data-driven defenses against both current and future climate impacts.

As a Professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology for the last 15 years, my research uses samples from the remote Pacific islands to reconstruct past climate variations. Our records are consistent with countless other climate records in illustrating that the rate and magnitude of recent climate change dwarf natural climate variability over the last millennium.

I love my work. But three years ago, I witnessed something that would change my life forever.

In 2015, we received funding from the National Science Foundation for a series of field expeditions to document the evolution of a strong El NiƱo event projected that winter. I had waited 15 years for this opportunity. However, little did I know that ocean temperatures, 6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than usual, would kill up to 90% of the coral at our study site. And I had a front-row seat to the carnage. 2016 would go on to become the worst global-scale coral bleaching and mortality event on record, and the warmest year on our planet since records began. Personally, 2016 was my wakeup call.

Unfortunately, the last years brought a number of devastating wake-up calls much closer to home. Hurricanes Harvey, Lane, and Florence delivered record-breaking rainfall while Hurricanes Maria and Michael decimated entire communities with their force, including many in my home state of Georgia. The National Climate Assessment – released this last November by a consortium of 13 federal agencies – documents how climate change loads the dice in favor of extreme precipitation events, and how warmer oceans fuel larger tropical storms. On the other side of the country, record-breaking wildfires raged across California, linked to prolonged drought and warmer temperatures. The economic toll of these disasters can be measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars. However, their real toll -  the vast human suffering left in their wake - is immeasurable.

And beyond these deadly extremes, a host of additional climate change impacts represent a growing threat to ecosystems and communities alike. Sea levels are rising, with up to 6ft of global sea level rise projected this century. Drought threatens water supplies across the western US, with no end in sight. The oceans are becoming more acidic as excess atmospheric carbon dioxide reacts with seawater.

And as of today, 2018 will officially take its place as the 4th warmest year on record, behind 2016, 2017, and 2015.

Climate change impacts are now detectable all across America. And they will get worse. That’s the bad news. I’m sure you’re ready for some good news, and there is plenty to go around.

The good news is that science can help inform measures to protect communities, as well as our oceans, forests, parks, waterways, and wildlife, from the most devastating impacts of climate change. Here, early action is essential to the success of these approaches, delivering vast returns on investment.

Many jurisdictions – from the local to the federal level - have developed a range of climate adaptation measures informed by rigorous science, stakeholder engagement, and cost-benefit analyses. But we must accelerate these efforts. Towards that end, The National Climate Assessment provides an actionable blueprint for such adaptive measures, including an in-depth analysis of climate impacts on ecosystem structure, function, and services.

The other good news is that it’s not too late to avoid the most damaging impacts of future climate change. We have the tools we need to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And in doing so, we will enjoy cleaner water, cleaner air, and healthier communities.

The rapid expansion of renewable energy across the nation demonstrates a strong appetite for carbon-free, clean power. Even so, US greenhouse gas emissions were up 3% last year. The bottom line is that we are running out of time. Comprehensive federal policies are needed to speed the transition to low-carbon energy sources. Top on the list must be a price on carbon, to reflect the true costs of continued fossil fuel emissions, and to incentivize consumers, companies, and the market to find the cheapest, most effective means of reducing emissions. With or without a price on carbon, increased energy efficiency is a win-win strategy that can deliver energy cost savings, while reducing harmful air pollution.

Lastly, there is a strong case to be made that we can deploy our vast forests, grasslands, and coastal marshes in service to natural carbon sequestration. At its most basic level, this means designing strategies to safeguard these environments, with their rich carbon reserves, in the face of continued climate change.

As a climate scientist, I have to wonder:  How bad will it have to get for us to recognize that climate change represents a clear and present threat, and to act decisively to protect ourselves?

I’m heartened by recent polls showing that nearly 3 in 4 Americans are concerned about global warming, and support a range of policy options to address it.

And as a mother to four young children, I’m inspired by the sea of young people demanding that we not squander their chances for climate stability.

I urge this committee to capitalize on the vast trove of climate science findings by:
1) protecting our natural resources, and the communities that depend on them, from known climate change impacts, and
2) using federal lands to advance climate solutions, rather than expanding the scope of the climate change problem.

References and additional resources can be found at the end of my written testimony, linked here.

Monday, April 24, 2017

My March for Science speech

Atlanta, GA
Credit:  Colin Potts
April 22, 2017

Thank you for the opportunity to speak at this incredible event. And let us all give the organizers a big round of applause for bringing us together today, in celebration of science, and in defense of science. Today I marched as a woman, as a mother to four little people, and most importantly, today I marched as a climate scientist.

These days, people ask me how I get out of bed in the morning. And I’ll be honest with you – there were some dark days last year when I didn’t. How could I? Temperatures around the globe soared to a staggering new record, in the process killing 85% of the corals at my long-time, beloved research site. Words cannot describe the shock and sadness of diving on these reefs, digesting the fact that a climate future I thought was decades away is here, today, threatening not just coral reefs around the world, but human health, prosperity, and well-being.

The good news is that science can tell us how to tackle climate change. The bad news is that many powerful forces are aligned against science, robbing every single American of their right to a sustainable and prosperous future.

The long arc of human history is inseparable from the cumulative benefits of science, yet we find ourselves at a pivotal point:  are we going to unleash the full power of the scientific enterprise to safeguard our future, or are we going to turn our backs on science, its many lessons, and its infinite promise? And guess what? Like it or not, this showdown is happening on our watch.

As a scientist, I can no longer pretend that sitting in my office, plotting new data and publishing papers, is enough. I can no longer pretend that clicking Paypal buttons every 4yrs is enough. So I woke up on January 1st, on my twin’s birthday, and I turned the page. I became a daily bike commuter. [shout out to bikers] I started walking my kids to school. I’ve signed on to help half a dozen organizations [shout out to 500womenscientists], delivered a petition to my Councilmember at City Hall, signed an open letter to EPA head Scott Pruitt denouncing his false statements about the causes of climate change, and shared my message of climate action, and climate hope, at a dozen public appearances.

But, if we are going to fight for facts, and data, and truth, and justice, then we’re going to need ALL hands on deck.  And I mean ALL hands. We’re going to need all the black people and the brown people and the gay people and the trans people and the native people and the Muslim people and the immigrant people and the disabled people. Your cause is our cause. We’re going to need the PhDs and the GEDs, the atheists and the evangelicals, the rich and the poor, the lifetime activists and the newbies. And yes, we need the women. We need EVERYONE.

And our goal can’t just be change in Washington DC. It has to be about change in our homes, in our neighborhoods, our city, and our state. And it’s not just about election day. It’s about every day. Engagement is a powerful anti-depressant. Trust me. But science tells us that it’s most effective if you take it every day.
My sign from the March.

Today, the powerful forces that are fighting against science, against a sustainable, just future for this great country are scared. Because they are counting on us to remain silent, and afraid, and most of all, they are counting on us to remain divided. So I ask you to join hands with your neighbor, whether they are part of your family or a perfect stranger, and raise all your arms into the air. Are you ready to turn the page? Are you ready to fight for science, and facts, and truth? Are you ready to rise up, together, to translate hope into action? Then let's do this. Thank you for being here.