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UWRF participates in nationwide program

February 7, 2008

On Jan. 31, UW-River Falls participated in a nationwide program entitled Focus the Nation. Focus the Nation organized a national teach-in on global warming solutions across America. The intent is to educate and engage millions of students and citizens nationwide in an effort move America forward so we can face up to the challenge of global warming. This all came together as a simultaneous educational symposia in which over 1,700 schools across the country participated.

Kelly Cain, one of the people who helped organize the events at UWRF and director of the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development said that this was the first year to have this particular event nationwide.

The events took place in the Falcon’s Nest in the University Center and started at 8 a.m. with an introduction by Chancellor Don Betz.

Following that was a webcast from Dr. James Hansen, who participated in the Nobel Laureate Conference at Gustavus Adolphus College in October 2007.

Hansen, a leading climate scientists talked a lot about how the climate has changed dramatically over the past 65 million years and how much more it could change over the next several decades if we don’t act.

“I believe that a business as usual scenario will guarantee disintegration of West Antarctica and parts of Greenland.”

In the afternoon, Brad Pfaff and Karrie Jackelyn, advisors for Congressman Ron Kind, discussed Kind’s climate change agenda and discussed the Energy Independence and Security Act, which was passed last December. This initiative will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, implement new standards for businesses and improve the efficiency of consumer appliances. They ended with a brief discussion of how the United States needs to lead the way as countries like China and India try to increase their standard of living.

The final presentation of the day was a panel discussion featuring four professionals who are informing the public about what different businesses are doing. The panel included Brian Zelenak of Xcel Energy, Jake Oelke of Wisconsin Public Power, River Falls Mayor Don Richards and Director of Facilities Management at UWRF, Mike Stifter.

Brian Zelenak discussed wind power and how Xcel Energy is the No. 1 provider of wind power in the nation.

He also discussed some clean energy policies in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Minnesota has the most aggressive renewable energy standard in the country, while Wisconsin has a government task force on global warming and has increased spending on energy conservation. Xcel has pledged to continue to be an environmental leader.

The other three all had similar presentations. They talked about leading by example and how we as a nation need to keep working on solutions for global warming by leading other countries into new standards of living. Richards extended a hand of gratitude to UWRF students for choosing renewable energy for our new University Center.

In the end, Cain was very happy with the speakers and their commitment. He said that with all the speakers “the consensus is clear that we have moved beyond the question of whether climate change is real; we have moved into the solution phase.”

Cain did mention that while the afternoon events were poorly attended, the morning crowd was good, thanks to some environmental science management classes. He mentioned that the poor crowd was due to the fact of the late semester start among other circumstances, which made it difficult to get the word out.

“Regardless, every effort helps move us a little closer to a public clarity on the issues and the recognizing of socio-economic opportunities that emerge in the form of ecologically-based solutions,” Cain said.

This was a day when UWRF students, faculty, and staff could put aside business as usual, focus on one topic and discuss global warming solutions for the future.