Focus the Nation highlights climate crisis

By Anna Waugh

Macalester joined over 1,800 institutions and 1 million people across the country on Thursday, Jan. 31 for Focus the Nation, a full day event focused on the need for substantial action in the fight against the climate crisis. More than 100 Macalester students spent the day attending educational panels, which featured Macalester professors, student leaders and staff from non-profits, businesses and corporations.The event culminated with a discussion led by Minnesota State Sen. Ellen Anderson, State Rep. Erin Murphy and Senatorial candidate Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer.

Dr. Eban Goodstein, an economics professor at Lewis and Clark University, directed Focus the Nation in order to inspire young people to discuss possible solutions and to inspire enthusiasm for what the national website describes as “the challenge of our generation.”

“Climate change is now the most important issue,” Nelson-Pallmeyer said. “We need nothing short of a real movement to help save the world… Welcome to the most important decade in human history.”

The event kicked off nationally on Wednesday night with a showing of “The 2% Solution,” a live webcast that was broadcast to more than 10,000 people; the number was so high that the viewers temporarily overloaded the server.

The event continued throughout the day on Thursday as students participated in and listened to panels on topics ranging from climate change geology to community organizing and home solar installation.

In a panel organized by Jeff Jay ’08, Economics Professor Sarah West, Geography Professor Bill Moseley and Environmental Studies Professor Roopali Phadke spoke from different on current and future policy approaches that could address the impacts of global warming. Moseley spoke about the discrepancy between consumer and producer nations.

“We benefit from China’s carbon dioxide. We are not paying the full environmental costs of the things we are consuming,” Moseley said.

He continued to explain the United States’ apparent increase in energy efficiency over the past four decades.

“Part of this seeming increase in energy efficiency comes from the fact that we have put all the manufacturing in other countries.”

His policy suggestion: “Rather than focus on a stimulus package on spending and consumption, we should invest in clean energy.”

West spoke about two prospective market initiatives for reducing carbon emissions, a cap and trade system and a carbon tax. She also responded to a carbon-emissions caps bill proposed by Sens. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and John Warner, R-Va., which outlines a possible U.S. cap and trade system. The bill made it through the legislative subcommittee in January.

“We should applaud any move by the U.S.,” West said.

But West also noted that that any good policy must have the ability to join with an international climate agreement.

Later in the night, Focus the Nation participants listened to local legislators, who spoke of the major change in political opinion about global warming over the past five years.

“We have reached a tipping point. The scientists say we are at a tipping point. The young people of the country are catching on that we have to act. It’s a different world at the state capital [now],” Anderson said.

Focus the Nation began to take shape last October, after Dr. Goodstein visited the campus. Madeline Kovacs ’08, one of the event organizers, said that she got involved at the beginning of the planning process.

“We tried to draw on a mixture of disciplines to give people a range to draw interest,” she said. She cited an unexpectedly well attended panel on the psychology of addressing global warming, led by visiting Environmental Studies Professor Christie Manning and two St. Thomas psychology professors.

Another event coordinator, Piera Von Glahn ’10, said that she was happy with the event’s turnout, but that Focus the Nation was only the starting point “for what will be a revolution for our generation.”

“What is so powerful about Macalester is just how we represent a miniature world and a miniature United States,” Von Glahn said. “Global warming is not a partisan issue. It is not a political issue. [Mobilization] is in everyone’s best interest.”

As a follow-up to the Focus the Nation event, colleges and schools across the nation launched the National Campus Energy Challenge, a month long competition to reduce carbon emissions, the next day, Feb. 1. Macalester is participating in the challenge.