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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

What Can A Climate Summit Accomplish?

Susan Bence
As leaders were about to gather for a climate change summit in San Francisco, Azam Niroomand-Rad (red T-shirt) urged people to vote with an environmental conscience at Saturday's rally in downtown Milwaukee.

People worldwide recently protested climate change in the “Rise for Climate” march. Last Saturday, thousands took to the streets of San Francisco, the site of this week’s Global Climate Action Summit, and hundreds gathered in downtown Milwaukee. 

Azam Niroomand-Rad was among 350-plus people who walked through downtown Milwaukee.

“We are here so people are aware of their environmental problems so that in November they will be able to vote for the candidates who support environmental issues,” she said.

Surrounded by music and chanting, the retired professor of radiation medicine said she wants citizens to be more aware of environmental issues. “As a scientist, I think global warming is most important,” she added.

Niroomand-Rad thinks it’s going to take a sweeping grassroots effort to propel climate change action.

“Of course, one person cannot solve this problem. But collectively as a community, globally we can take one-step reducing the rate of the problem. And, eventually, I’m hoping that Trump won’t last long in the White House,” she said.

More than a year ago, President Trump withdrew from the Paris climate accord, calling it “an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries.”

Extended conversations with Clay Nesler with Johnson Controls and Dr. Jeff Thompson with Gundersen Health System that aired on Lake Effect.
Credit Clay Nesler
The 2018 Global Climate Action Summit takes place in San Francisco Sept. 12-14.

La Crosse-based pediatrician Jeff Thompson shares Niroomand-Rad’s intense concern about climate change but has a different perspective.

“Instead of expecting a president to lead on this for the long-term good of the whole, it’s just not happening, so other people have [to] rise up — corporations can rise up, states can rise up, individual organizational groups," he said.

Thompson is CEO emeritus of Gundersen Health System, which is a network of hospitals and clinics. In 2008, Gundersen did some soul searching and began to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

Over a six-year period, the group reduced its emissions, including mercury, by 95 percent, “And we made money and we did it all with locally sourced energy supply that boosted the local economy,” Thompson added.

Thompson said other hospitals and health systems around the country are jumping aboard.

“Health care is 18 percent of the United States GDP. If we all get organized towards improving the health of the population broadly — how we source all of our equipment, how we source all of our medications, how we use and produce energy — we can all have a huge impact,” he said.

Thompson participated in the Paris climate talk and was on his way to San Francisco after our phone conversation. 

Credit Jeff Thompson
Health systems leaders from Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America met on Sept. 11 — a day before the summit officially opens — to share sustainability strategies.

Clay Nesler is another seasoned climate change summit participant — he leads global sustainability at Johnson Controls.

Nesler calls investing in energy efficiencies and renewable energy as no-regret strategies.

“What’s wrong with reducing energy costs for homeowners and businesses? What’s wrong with creating lots of local jobs? There are 2.2 million workers in the United States that are employed in the energy efficiency area. What could be wrong with increasing the health and wellness of people that work in high performance, green buildings that are more comfortable?” he added, “We see investment going in that direction.”

Johnson Controls and others companies plan to dig deeper to reduce their carbon footprints through a new initiative called Science Based Targets, according to Nesler. The initiative uses climate change science to determine goals to help reduce climate change.

During the summit, organizers hope to announce that 500 global companies have joined in the challenge. As of Monday evening, the count was 476.

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