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Climate Summit gets UW-River Falls talking about how to be sustainable

April 14, 2016

Student leaders, environmental groups and experts from across the country gathered Saturday at UW-River Falls to discuss problems, potential solutions and plans of action related to climate change and sustainability.

The UW Climate Leadership Summit was organized by the UWRF Student Senate and was sponsored in part by the National Campus Leadership Council (NCLC). It included guests from all across Wisconsin and Minnesota, a large proportion of them from student governments and environmental clubs, and they gathered at 8:00 a.m. in the University Center Ballroom in order to discuss and learn about the dangers of climate change and what universities can do in order to be more sustainable.

“We’ve been contributing to climate change for quite some time,” said Cecilia Martinez, the director of research programs at the Center for Earth Energy and Democracy (CEED) and one of many experts who presented over the course of the summit about the impact of humans on the planet.

A study done by NASA reports that in the past century alone, the average global temperature has climbed by about 0.7 degrees. Historically, temperature fluctuations have occurred as the planet goes in and out of ice ages, but the current rise in temperature is happening about ten times faster than in the past. This change correlates with steadily increasing carbon dioxide levels in the earth’s atmosphere–levels that humans have contributed to through use of fossil fuels.

“I think [people] should be aware of their own actions on a daily basis,” Martinez said. “I think also that it is really important for people on college campuses to become very aware of the different processes of intervention, where are the points of intervention where they can actually make a difference.”

In addition to the expert panels and speeches, there were breakout sessions in which groups of guests could listen to and discuss ideas with one another. One featured the concept of the “green fee”, a practice UWRF is hoping to implement in the near future in order to promote greater sustainability on campus. UWRF’s sustainability supervisor Mark Klapatch joined forces with Alex Thomas, the environmental and sustainability affairs director from UW-Stevens Point, to discuss how Stevens Point has already implemented the idea and what methods UWRF might use in creating its own green fee program.

The green fee, they explained, would come from students in the form of segregated fees, and would be pooled together into what Stevens Point calls a “green fund” that can be allocated towards different projects related to sustainability. Thomas cited projects already being implemented at Stevens Point, and Klapatch proposed potential projects for UWRF such as a composting program, investment in the River Falls solar garden, and faculty/student research projects.

Brian Erdrich, a junior creative writing major at UWRF who was invited to the event, said that he liked what was going on at the Climate Summit, but believes that more needs to be done. “What we’re doing is good,” he said. The universities are serving as a role model for the surrounding communities and other institutions, but the next step is to do more outreach towards those communities and get as much of the world involved in solving this problem as possible. “If every single university in the Wisconsin system is one hundred percent clean and green and nobody else is, that’s not going to be enough.”

Brady Murphy, the Student Senate chairman of external relations and one of the organizers heavily involved in the summit, spoke on what Senate plans to do in following up on the ideas discussed at the event. Specifically, he said, the aim is to implement the green fee concept discussed by Thomas and Klapatch.

“I genuinely think that the best way to connect the students with information is to enact it, and let them know as we’re doing so why we’re implementing these things,” Murphy said. “In order for people to care on this campus, you kind of have to give them something to talk about.”

The green fee will only go into effect pending a proposal from the Senate and a vote of approval from the student body. It will not be enacted this year, but Murphy says next year’s Senate, presumably, will make the project a top priority.