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Sustainability Superstar James Hansen Slated for Milwaukee Talk on Climate Change

Bill Ebbesen

Milwaukee is hosting today one of the world's foremost experts on climate change.

Scientist Dr. James Hansen of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies will be speaking as part of the 10th annual Sustainability Summit, which begins today in downtown Milwaukee at the Milwaukee Area Technical College.

This year, the three-day conference's theme is "Sustainability - An Economic and Ecological imperative!" and Hansen will be discussing global sustainability at noon on Thursday.

Summit chair George Stone (pictured at right) says getting Hansen was a coup."I won't say it's like going to hear Einstein," says Stone, an MATC instructor of natural science, "but you know, it's not far behind. When you have such a prominent person, such a renowned and respected and celebrated scientist coming here to Milwaukee, see him. I mean, it's the chance of a lifetime."

Stone says Hansen's lecture will reflect his commitment to intergenerational justice as it relates to the environment.

"We have a responsibility to pass on planet earth to our children to our grandchildren to future generations which is basically the same wonderful habitat that we've enjoyed," Stone says. "It's immoral to destroy the planet, to leave it in a less habitable condition, and that's the direction it's moving."


Stone cites a recent study in the February issue of Nature Climate Change as evidence. The study says most of the world's coral reefs won't be saved even if global warming is limited to the commonly accepted standard of only 2 degrees Celsius. Stone says these divers ecosystems are the base of the food chain for the planet and face threats from the rising temperature of ocean waters and increased aquatic acidity.

"When the coral reefs start dying off... that's a very serious warning," he says. "This is more than a single canary dying in the coal mine. The coral reefs around the world are leaching and dying, this is really serious."

While some question how much of global warming is man-made, Stone himself has no doubt that the burning of fossil fuels is the culprit. He says the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are 40 percent higher than they were 200 years ago - and are responsible for the earth's rising temperature.

To combat global warming, Stone says a variety of stakeholders must be engaged politically and individually; that includes students, business leaders, investors and the future workforce. That's why there's an economic aspect to this year's conference, which Stone says will not only raise awareness of the current climate trends, but also encourage business leaders of the financial and ethical benefits of pursuing environmentally friendly business practices.

That includes developing clean and green technology, using renewable energy and energy efficiency, and maintaining sustainable business practices. Stone says many companies are even creating the position of CSO - chief sustainability office.


"These areas are going to become more and more important in the economic development, not only in this region but around world," he says.

In addition to Hansen, the conference's other speakers include researchers from around the world, including China, Germany, the UK and Israel, as well as Milwaukee's own Will Allen of Growing Power and actor and environmental advocate Ed Begley, Jr.

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Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.