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ISSUE 118 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/18/2005

Talking climate

By Jean Mullins
News Editor

Friday, March 18, 2005

The Global Warming Forum held March 13 in Viking Theater was a joint effort of the St. Olaf Environmental Coalition, Peace and Justice, the St. Olaf Biology Club and the St. Olaf Chemistry Society. The forum featured speakers from a variety of fields: Professor of Physics Bob Jacobel, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Paul Jackson, Instructor of Economics Dan Kramer, Associate Professor of Religion David Booth and State Representative Ray Cox all took turns sharing their expertise on the future of the environment.

The forum began with an introduction by Kyla Bauer ‘06, co-leader of the Environmental Coalition, who told the audience that the phenomenon known as global warming is more accurately known as "global climate change.” She said she felt that global climate change was "clouded by misunderstanding" and that the purpose of the forum was to help clarify this complex issue.

Jacobel spoke of his research on Antarctic ice and the evidence it showed concerning global warming. He explained that the dynamics of ice masses fluctuate in response to climate change. He showed evidence that levels of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, are at an all-time high in the present and may continue to climb. "It’s warming and it’s us," Jacobel said.

Next, Jackson gave a talk on his research on water and the ways in which communities and individuals can lead a "greener" existence. He then brought an everyday commodity to the audience’s attention: water bottles. He explained how these bottles are produced from crude oil by a process inimical to the environment, producing a product which does not biodegrade.

An alternative bottle is produced, Jackson explained, from other material, like cornstarch, which is biodegradable and takes half the energy to produce. He gave this as one example of how humans can conserve resources, reduce the use of hazardous materials and “minimize resource intensity.”

"Think about what our ecochemical footprint on the land is," Jackson said.

Kramer presented the economic point of view on global warming. He started off by explaining the Kyoto Protocol, a global initiative to lower greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, explaining that the United States Senate did not pass the protocol for a number of reasons. He said that the Bush administration intends to address global climate change, such as emissions reduction in proportion to economic health. The larger the reduction in emissions, the more costly it is to industry.

He explained some individual states’ plans to reduce emissions through their own initiatives as well as those of individual groups. All of these and other pressures on the government may lead to legislative changes in the near future.

Cox next explained state efforts to reduce waste and pollution. "It’s a confusing issue in the legislature," Cox said.

He listed many different ways the state does this, namely through relying on multiple sources of power – including wind – investing in more mass transit and requiring all gasoline sold to be 10 percent ethanol, which burns cleaner. He also said that he feels education will be an important part of the future of this issue, but said, "It is the most difficult aspect to talk about."

The final speaker was Booth, who brought a theologian’s perspective to global climate change. Booth said that religion can be used to justify both perspectives. Some Christians, he said, refer to Genesis, where God gave humans the use of the earth, and therefore humans can do whatever they want. Booth talked about the other side, which sees the Earth as a gift from God and a way to better know him. Humans, according to this point of view, are stewards of the Earth and must take care of it, addressing global climate change because it presents a problem.

The forum finished with questions from the audience.

"I think that it is frightening," Maria Hedberg ’07 said. "It is surprising how little everyday things contribute."

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