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St. Olaf to kick off national global warming event

By Peter Hill '08
January 8, 2008

St. Olaf College will kick off a national teach-in on global warming called "Focus the Nation" with speakers and campus activities Jan. 15-16.

More than 1,000 colleges and universities across the country will take part in the event, which most will be holding Jan. 31. Since St. Olaf isn't in session then, it will lead the way in focusing the nation's attention on global climate change by holding the event several weeks earlier. Focus the Nation is designed to turn the entire college's attention to climate change, building awareness and encouraging politicians to address the issue.

The event will open on campus with a keynote address by David Orr, author and professor of environmental studies at Oberlin College, at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 15 in Science Center 280.

The teach-in will continue Jan. 16 with lectures, panels and other activities throughout the day. More than two-dozen faculty and staff members -- including St. Olaf President David R. Anderson -- will deliver short lectures and reflections addressing various aspects of global climate change, ranging from "Wal-Mart and Climate Change Solutions" to "The Literary Climate."

Arctic explorer and environmentalist Will Steger will speak about the changes he's observed in his expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic in a lectured titled "Eyewitness to Climate Change" that will begin at 7 p.m. on Jan. 16 in Science Center 280. He will be joined by Toby Thorleiffson, a Norwegian Arctic explorer and environmental educator. Steger's speech will be recorded and made available online.

The event will conclude with a concert dance in the Lion's Pause that will begin immediately following Steger's presentation.

"Largest civilizational challenge"
Global climate change refers to the increase in earth's average temperature over the past 100 years, a trend that is likely to continue. Many experts and international panels attribute this increase to escalating greenhouse gas concentrations resulting from human activity. In particular, many believe that coal-based energy production, intense automobile use and reliance on disposable products are major culprits.

"We're living in ways we can't sustain, even for 50 years," says St. Olaf Professor of History Jim Farrell, who is organizing the college's Focus the Nation events. "But most politicians do not discuss global climate change, and many college students don't realize how their lifestyles affect the earth."

According to the Focus the Nation website, global climate change is the "largest civilizational challenge any generation has faced." The goal of the teach-in is to make it a front-burner political issue, forcing presidential candidates to address the matter during their upcoming campaigns.

Teaching and learning
Focus the Nation is slated to be the largest teach-in in U.S. history. As part of the event, students will vote to select five priorities for action, which will be presented to political leaders in Washington, D.C.

The nationwide initiative is coordinated by GreenHouse Network, a grassroots organization located in Portland, Ore., and directed by Eban Goodstein, professor of economics at Lewis and Clark College. Among the 38 organizations that endorse the event is Bon Appetit Management Company, St. Olaf College's food service manager.

College-wide priority
Since making environmental sustainability its academic theme during the 2005-06 school year, St. Olaf has taken significant steps to reduce its environmental impact. In September 2006, the college switched on a 1.6-megawatt wind turbine, supplying one-third of its annual energy need. Other initiatives include a food composter, "green" science curriculum and "green" building practices for the college's new Science Complex.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or