Correction appended: The article stated that the Clean Air Act of 1990 was created to reduce greenhouse gases. The act was designed to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions.
As part of nationwide series of educational events about climate change, eight panelists, including Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje and former British Petroleum America CEO Steve Percy, spoke at Rackham Graduate School last night about climate change and its impacts on a local level.
Focus the Nation, a national climate change education organization that started at the University about 18 months ago, organized yesterday’s panel discussion along with 1,500 other climate change events that took place across the country yesterday.
Before the panelists spoke, a video recording of Rep. John Dingell showed the state congressman voicing his concerns about climate change.
“Climate change is a complex problem with a complex solution,” Dingell said. “We need all of us. We must act.”
After the clip, University Environmental Law and Policy Program director David Uhlmann, the panel’s moderator, opened the discussion with several statistics, stating that 19 of the hottest recorded 20 years have occurred since 1980 and 552 million tons of ice melted last year.
“The US is the single greatest contributor to climate change, and so we have an obligation to lead the world against global change,” Uhlmann said.
Hieftje discussed the city’s Green Energy Challenge, an initiative to make 20 percent of the city’s total energy usage come from renewable sources by 2010. He also challenged the city’s municipal services to make 30 percent of its total energy usage come from renewable sources by 2015.
Several energy reforms resulting from the challenge include hybrid fuel buses and the installation of light-emitting streetlights, which last for 10 years and pay for themselves in just over four years. The mayor also said he planned to invest in solar panels for the city’s Farmer’s Market.
These developments and intiatives, Hieftje said, are the reason Ann Arbor was named a Solar American City by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Natalia Andronova, a global and regional climate scientist at the University, focused on the recent legislative movements, like the Clean Air Act of 1990, created to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions.
Gary Was, director of the Phoenix Memorial Energy Institute, said the nation was addicted to oil.
He also said it would take “generations and trillions of dollars” to lessen the impact of climate change, and he dismissed what he called the “silver bullet theory,” which implies that there might be a single easy solution.
Steve Percy, former CEO of British Petroleum America, concluded the panel discussion by discussing how corporations could take responsibility for sustainability issues such as being economically competitive in today’s market.
Concluding his argument, Percy quoted Bob Dylan, “Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are a-changin’.”
When the question and answer session started, ideas were challenged and the panelists were forced to defend their statements. One audience member asked how the nation’s less educated people could be expected to understand global warming and the problems it inflicts.
Andronova responded by citing a letter from a sixth grader about the environment, which illustrates that young people are aware of the problems.
Another audience member asked why conservation and changing the way we use our resources in the U.S. wasn’t suggested as a solution. Bigelow answered that the gross American consumerism that drives the economy is too ingrained in people’s lifestyles.
“Living simply is a personal decision,” Bigelow said. “It has to start on an individual level. To stop the excess level of consumption in an economy where people thrive on excess is too difficult to regulate.”
After the intense question and answer session, people left the auditorium with a lot of new information to process.
In response to the diversity of the panel, College of Engineering graduate student Mary Mello said, “It’s good to have all these people involved. They all need to work together to get this done.”