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Hamilton examines possible solutions to Global Warming through national policy

<re near the tipping point; but there is still time,” warned convocation speaker Jane Drake Hamilton, the Science Policy Director for Fresh Energy, in reference to the steady increase of human-generated greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere. On Friday, February 8, 2008, Carleton received Hamilton in Skinner Memorial Chapel, where she delivered her convocation, “Global Warming Solutions and Economic Opportunities,” offering the audience hope in the form of changing environmental policy that is gaining momentum nationwide.

Hamilton, who described her job as “translating scientific information for legislators,” insisted that the year 2007 “set us up for huge economic change” in the energy sector, change which will realign economic interests with environmental interests. She cited several major events, beginning with the birth of the United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) in January, 2007; a report from the Military Advisory Board, which suggests that climate change will increase the threat level of national security by causing massive movement of people worldwide; the inception in February 2007 of the Western Climate Initiative, a coalition of governors of western states to seek policies to diminish the causes of global warming; and the Midwestern Governors Association’s Energy Summit in September of that year, which sought strategies to improve energy efficiency and sustainability.

“I don’t believe that national policy will be driven by what California and Vermont do,” claimed Hamilton; rather she suggested that sustained and significant policy change will require momentum generated from America’s heartland – hence the significance of 2007 for policy change. She cited Governor Tim Pawlenty’s signing of the 2007 Next Generation Energy Act, which seeks to reduce the carbon market for the upper Midwest, as an example of this increasing momentum that is shifting thoughts and policies towards green energy. Hamilton also assured the audience that “you can grow the economy and cut greenhouse gas emissions even in a cold state like Minnesota” – that in fact “there is not a choice between market growth and emission reduction.” When asked by a student to explain this claim, she suggested that, despite being initially expensive, heavy investment in both green energy production and overall energy conservation will save consumers enormously, such that there is an eventual economic motivation in going green. “It will not be easy,” she said, “but it is possible.” In response to being asked what an individual should do to lessen greenhouse gas emissions, Hamilton initially responded that “this is not a problem that can be dealt with at the individual scale.” Rather, she stated that “we need regulations that will set targets that are enforceable for commercial enterprises,” which she cited as the most damning sources of harmful emissions. Later, she did suggest that an individual should be conscious of her actions involving electricity, which consumes mainly coal; her actions that involve transportation, which consume mainly oil; and her actions “in buildings,” which consume gas. She also encouraged conversations between citizens and representatives. “Make sure your representative knows who you are” she advised.

Students’ reactions to Hamilton’s claim that there is still time until the tipping point of global warming varied from critical to indifferent. Sam Lemonick ’08, was “somewhat skeptical of her claim that we still have time, not so much because I believe otherwise, but because [Hamilton] has a vested interest in [not having reached the tipping point] being true. Her project is meaningless unless there is still time for humans to turn climate change around, so I don’t believe that her claim can be unbiased.”

Nora Mahlberg ‘09 and current manager of Carleton’s Green House, suggests that “we cannot know whether we can avoid the “tipping point” because climatic systems are so complicated.” Furthermore, she states that “there’s a tipping point for ice sheet melting, permafrost melt, et cetera, and I think it’s impossible to predict when these will happen and how they will interact.” Nevertheless, she insists “that it is our responsibility to do everything we can to avoid the worst effects of climate change. We know what to do; we just have to do it, now. It’s kind of like smoking – we know it’s bad, but we’re used to our ways and see the end (cancer, or climate change) as far away, and we are easily able to defer responsibility and change our unhealthy habits ‘later.’” Past the tipping point or not, Drake Hamilton’s assertion that “now is the time to watch people’s deeds, rather than their words” rings true to a lot of people. She says now there is only one question: “are emissions going up, or are emissions going down?”

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