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Deliberative Polling Project seeks input

February 14, 2008

UW-River Falls will be taking part in the Deliberative Polling Project Feb. 23 to discuss the best strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions on campus.

UWRF is one of 15 campuses in the nation selected by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities to participate in the project, which is run by the American Democracy Project.

Agriculture economics professor David Trechter is organizing the day-long event.

“Administration has said this is a very important issue. Students are going to be effected in important ways and they will take into account their views coming out of this process,” Trechter said.

Over 300 students volunteered to be a part of the Deliberative Polling Project, including sophomore Jenna Fritz.

“It’s important to have a student opinion about the issue,” Fritz said.

Sophomore Amanda Hafeman didn’t sign up for the event because she didn’t feel that she’d make a difference.

“I do my best to try to save energy when I can,” Hafeman said. 

Students that volunteered to take part in the event will be sent a briefing book describing the current energy situation on campus.  The booklet will include the different types of energy used on campus, the total amount of money spent on energy, and a variety of options that are available to reduce greenhouse gases.

Options for reducing greenhouse gases include buying more nuclear power that doesn’t emit greenhouse gases, buying renewable energy blocks, generating energy on campus through windmills and conserving energy. Currently, the University Center is completely powered by renewable energy blocks.

During the event, participants will be split into groups of 10 to 15 students. For about an hour students will discuss the best strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and writing down questions they have.

All 300 students will be brought together and their questions will be answered by expert panelists. There will be panelists from differing energy perspectives including renewable energy such as wind and solar energy, nuclear energy and energy conservation.

One of the panelists will be environmental science and management professor Kelly D. Cain.  Cain is also the director of the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development (SCISCD). 

Recently, Cain helped put together an energy audit which concluded that UWRF is the second most efficient campus in the UW-System in terms of energy use per square foot of space. Cain has also been working on data collection measuring the carbon footprint of the campus. 

After lunch, students will be split into small groups and will attempt to answer the question of how the university will pay for the strategies they have thought of.

After about an hour of group discussion, all students will get together for the afternoon panel discussion with a new set of panelists to talk about the fiscal side of the equation.

“We’re trying to get someone from the department of administration in the governor’s office since it was the governor’s idea to do this, and they may have some information of how it might be paid for,” Trechter said. 

The first things that are done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are relatively inexpensive and have a big impact, whereas when you get closer to being off the grid, the more expensive it gets, Trechter said.

“It’s a lot more expensive to get that last 25 percent than the first 25 percent,” Trechter said. “So how pure do you want to be and what is the trade off?”

When considering the cost, it is important not to think in today’s dollars. With energy prices continuing to increase, the money that one might spend now may seem relatively cheap in the future, Cain said.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions goes beyond the results of this project.  Trechter and Cain are also concerned about university vehicles that faculty use to drive to other colleges and events around the state.

Whether it is taking students on field trips, class related efforts, faculty and staff travel for University-related business or outreach efforts, the University vehicles get a lot of use.  Cain noted the large number of meetings that he goes to off campus. Each trip can be between 60 and 100 miles, and he is just one person in a Dodge Neon.

The university is considering replacing the Neon’s with fuel-efficient Priuses. 

“It’s an interesting conundrum; we want to be engaged with the region and beyond, which often necessitates someone on campus going to those places,” Trechter said. “We are supposed to be giving students a globally informed perspective. Well, if you don’t go to Europe or India or somewhere, how can you have a globally informed perspective?”

At the end of May, some students and faculty will be traveling to Peru for the Chancellor’s Global Leadership Colloquium.

“There is the consideration, whether or not the value of the educational experience of the trip exceeds the carbon footprint that it takes to actually get there,” Cain said. “This is a question for all trips that faculty goes on to facilitate globalization.”

The Deliberative Polling Project Feb. 23 will allow students to voice their opinions and ideas about the future of the University. Trechter urges the students that have volunteered to come to actually show up.

“We are counting on those 300 to represent the voice of the students,” Trechter said.

To learn more information about sustainable community development, go to www.uwrf.edu/sustain/.