Students engage Pawlenty on climate change, MN policy

By Daniel Kerwin

Students came from across Minnesota to meet with Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty at the University of St. Thomas on Monday at the Youth Forum on Global Warming Solutions. The event was organized by Will Steger, an evironmental activist and polar explorer, and the Trans-campus Energy Action Movement Minnesota as a chance for Minnesota students to share their ideas for combating global warming with the governor.Pawlenty shared the stage with student environmental leaders from throughout the state. Erick Boustead of the University of Minnesota was up front about the student presence.

“To quote the Wu-Tang Clan, we’re here to bring the ruckus,” Boustead announced to the audience.

After Steger and Pawlenty gave opening remarks, a panel of six student leaders including Madeline Kovacs ’08 talked about different student initiatives that being taken to address global warming. Students talked about the recent events such as the National Campus Energy Challenge and Focus the Nation, as well as individual campus projects such as the goal of the University of Minnesota-Morris to provide 100 percent of campus energy through wind power within a year and a half.

“I don’t really know how receptive [Pawlenty] was or how much he really knew about the youth movement,” Matt Kazinka ’11 said. “Hopefully if nothing else we came to recognize each other as forces.”

The main body of the event was a question and answer session paneled by Pawlenty, Steger, Boustead and Timothy Den Herder-Thomas ’09.

There was basic agreement all around towards the seriousness of the problem and the imminent need for action, but there were some sticking points as to the specific actions that should be taken.

Pawlenty drew attention to Minnesota’s goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050, among the most ambitious in the nation, and also stressed the need to invest in a new green sector, creating jobs in renewable energy around the state while also reducing dependence on foreign sources of energy production such as oil.

However, he also stressed a heavy reliance on technological breakthroughs as the means to solve the issue, necessitating a continued investment in energy sources such as nuclear power and coal in the short term.

The student position focused more on the need to improve the efficiency on resources already being used and to circumvent the need for coal by investing directly in renewable energy sources. Students also called for carbon emissions reduction standards that would surpass those outlined by the governor.

“Pawlenty gave many politically safe preconditions to governmental action on climate change, while students are ready to move forward in building a more just, green and vibrant society from the ground up whether or not they can get political leaders to come along,” Kovacs said. “It may be true that we do not now possess the ‘breakthrough’ technology of carbon sequestration as the governor mentioned, but we do not need such a breakthrough to accomplish reductions in electricity use through efficiency improvements.”

The student position was based on a four page long vision document drawn up by a small group of students, including Den Herder-Thomas, Kazinka, Thom Boik ’09 and Kai Bosworth ’10. The forum was productive in debating some of the key issues in the document such as plans for new coal power stations, but the conversation was too short to fully bring about the promised “ruckus.”

“While we had a fantastic discussion with Gov. Pawlenty, it’s difficult to see how that will translate into both policy and action,” Bosworth said. “I would hope we inspired him in some way to live up to his own words.”

“To see the energy, enthusiasm and passion in the room, it renews my energy to be a part of it,” Pawlenty said. “It’s great to see so many young leaders who care about the issues and want to be involved.”

The forum was preceded by an MPIRG and Minnesota Environmental Partnership lobby day at the state capitol, during which over 100 students discussed environmental issues with legislators. While the meetings with legislators and with the governor were significant, Den Herder-Thomas labeled it “a moment of escalation in a much broader, much longer term process.”

“The next big step is to engage the people who were in the audience and build our college coalition to a massive size,” Den Herder-Thomas said. “Students are the leaders of this around the world, and people need to take that seriously. This is a movement and there are a lot of people working on it, and that’s why it works.