LIVE: Student Forum on Global Warming, 03/03/2008

Note: If the tense of this entry seems odd, it's because it was written live during the forum. Also, sorry for messing up the views count, it increments whenever I edit.

The Student Forum on Global warming is being held at the University of St Thomas on March 03, 2008. UST president Father Dease introduced MN Governor Tim Pawlenty and UST alumnus and world-renowned arctic explorer Will Steger.

On the wall above Will Steger is a graph of "Global CO2 Concentration over the Last 40,000 Years". When the ppm drops below 200, we hit an ice age. Above 300? Warming. Currently the concentration is 385 parts per million. This increase began at the beginning of the industrial revolution.

Will Steger is listing some of the statistics about global warming (Note: he promises not to bore us with graphs). It's apparent from his last two graphs that the CO2 concentration is increasing, and that they've never been this high or increased this rapidly before.

There's a feedback loop associated with all of this: ice reflects light and heat. Water absorbs light and heat. As ice caps melt, more water is exposed to light and, thus, gets warmer. As the ocean temperatures rise, more ice melts, exposing more water. The pictures Mr Steger has of disintegrating ice shelves are depressing.

The solution isn't complicated: phase out the use of fossil fuels. The methods required to get to that solution, however, are.

(16:31) Steger handed it over to Governor Tim Pawlenty for his comments. He told a cute little story about Michael Jordon and a NBA game in which he scored 52 points. His point was (Note: somehow) that individual actions matter just as much as the action someone important, like Will Steger, takes.

Pawlenty went through the usual statistics: 25% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020, 80% by 2050, increase solar and wind electricity production by X%... He put a particular emphasis on the economic opportunities involved in alternative/clean energy and green collar jobs. He comes at it "from the perspective of a capitalist" (Note: this is a direct quote).

He also spoke a bit about debunking skepticism -- which Steger already did near the beginning of his speech. Pawlenty said that you should listen to the experts; in the event that the results aren't cataclysmic, why not clean everything up anyway? In other words, the benefits outweigh the risks.

(16:42) Pawlenty wants to focus specifically on transportation and electricity generation. He sais that we have the chance to revolutionize our transportation within 5 or 10 years. He's very interested in plug-in electric vehicles and biofuels. He'd love a car that can go 30 miles or more on electricity. (Note: Only 30?!).

The good thing is that Pawlenty realizes that electric vehicles just move CO2 output from the car to the power plant. (Note: I had a note about that but since he brought it up I removed it.) This just means that we need to invest in other sources of energy -- solar, wind, geothermal, biofuel/biomass, etc. "China, every eighteen months, is building more in coal plants that the entire energy production of the midwestern United States" (Note: close as I can get to a direct quote.)

Pawlenty suggests natural gas (Note: so long as we don't throw anything at him). He seems frustrated that the "plug was pulled" on a carbon sequestration project. Nuclear? People are afraid of it, he says, but why can't we at least discuss it? If the waste-storage problem could be minimized, would the general public be more accepting? And what about conservation on the personal scale? (Note: Pawlenty said "the root of conservative is conserve, reducing consumption" and someone laughed.)

Pawlenty's three stages of public policy: 1) "Oh, that will never work"; 2) "That will cost too much money"; 3) "Hey I was for that all along!" And the people are so much further ahead than the politicians.

Student Panels

(17:00) Participants: UMN-Twin Cities, St. Olaf, Hopkins High School, UMN-Morris, Macalester College.

  • Bridget (UMN-TC) worked with students and faculty to make the UMN-TC the first Big 10 school to sign the Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC).
  • Kate (St. Olaf) spoke about Focus the Nation and the National Campus Energy Challenge (NCEC, formerly Campus Energy Wars), a nation-wide competition between college campuses to reduce energy consumption.
  • Ethan (Hopkins High School) spoke about his work with his high school's environmental club's work to get a wind turbine installed. He also founded Youth Energy Action - Minnesota (YEA-MN)
  • Steve (UST) spoke about his work with an environmental engineers' group, as well as his work internationally in Tanzania. UST is planning to build a new student union, and administration is looking for student input about LEED standards.
  • Matthew (UMN-M) is also working with his school's administration about two new LEED-certified buildings. His work is primarily with wind energy and St. Olaf's turbine (soon to be two). The campus will also be heated (80%) with corn waste via a gasification plant.
  • Madeline (Macalester College) spoke about her work with the Ford Plant Project and the ARISE coalition, which will hopefully repurpose the Ford plant site to produce electricity or other green products from hydroelectric power.

Student Presentation

Timothy (Macalester College) and Erick (UMN-TC), both Udall Scholars, presented on "people power". (Note: This is Timothy's favorite phrase; he was wonderfully excited when a keynote speaker at a conference in Bali used it.) They say that what we need is a policy that allows people to fix things for themselves. There are students all over the nation working on this already. People want a green economy, and a large number of people, especially in rural communities, need it. We need strong, clean rural development; we need to reform our methods of transportation; we need to clean up our cities and suburbs.

How do we build this new society? Of course we have to improve our technology. But how do we improve those things that already exists? "We need policy incentives ... that are going to support development at a mass scale" (Timothy). But we also need to be sure not to take steps backwards. We should not build any more coal plants, and we should plan to take existing plants off the grid (Erick).

To get organized:

  • Middle and high schools (MN): YEA-MN
  • Colleges/universities: TEAM-MN
  • Midwest: Energy Action Coalition

Final Panel Discussion

(17:39) Participants: Timothy (Macalester College), Erick (UMN-TC), Gov Tim Pawlenty, Will Steger; also open to participants from the student panel. Questions submitted by members of the audience.

Regarding emissions standards, and adhering to stricter standards like those California has.
Pawlenty: stricter standards are illegal, except in CA because theirs existed already.
(Other comments from Timothy)
If Steger said we only have ten years, why is the project "80% by 2050"?
Steger: He meant that in the next ten years we have to stabilize our emissions, after that we need to reduce them.
(Other comments from Pawlenty and Timothy)
To Pawlenty: How do you feel about wind energy?
Pawlenty: We're already doing a very good job -- somewhere around 3rd when it comes to wind energy production. But we also need to encourage community-based investment ... and don't forget to respect the pie chart.
(Other comments from Madeline, Steger, and Timothy, regarding the can-do spirit and developing technology)
To the students: what are your views on the proposed new coal plant in Minnsota?
Erick: Like he said before, we don't need coal plants. We need to invest in other forms of energy, and we need to do it now.
(Other comments from Pawlenty, regarding "next-generation" coal and carbon sequestration, and from Steger regarding government subsidies, coal, and China and India)
A student said, to Pawlenty, that we need to face reality -- coal plants only last 50 to 70 years, and the technology to sequester carbon doesn't exist yet. Shouldn't we look into clean energy instead?
Pawlenty: What if we can't do either? (Note: I'm not entirely sure what he meant, but it was a short response like this.)
Timothy: We need to avoid the rush to build coal plants. We need to to focus on cleaning up we have and improving things to come. Just by cleaning up our coal technology we can decrease our consumption by 30%. Regarding China and India, why don't we say, "We know how to go green, and we can show you how to do it, too?"
Coon Rapids middle schoole made an 80-foot long banner with signatures of students and teachers who want Pawlenty to do something about global warming.

Closing Remarks from Will Steger

(16:02) Steger tries to be self-sustainable. Coal is very important right now, as is petroleum. In fifty years the majority of countries will have burned all of their coal, and it will become even more valuable. So, we need to save our resouces and focus on alternative sources of energy. Also, we need to cooperate and work together; "this is a non-partisan issue ... there are democrats and republicans, and something else called 'youth'".

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