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Wisconsin Voices Weigh in on Paris Climate Change Conference

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S Bence
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Activitists gathered in cities around the globe over the weekend, including Milwaukee, in advance of the UN conference in Paris.

Today marks the beginning of the UN gathering. World leaders face a daunting task to draft an agreement to combat climate change.

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Clay Nesler was about to pack his bag and head to Paris, when I met him at Johnson Controls. He’s the company’s VP of Global Energy and Sustainability.

This won’t be Nesler’s first climate change summit. He attended the U.N.’s 2009 gathering in Copenhagen.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to make a couple of interventions for exactly two minutes on the role of the private sector, market place mechanisms, innovation,” Nesler says.

Nesler is hoping for multiple two-minute opportunities in Paris, to talk up technologies Johnson Controls has developed.

It's reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 41 percent.

Corporate headquarters in Glendale oozes energy efficiency and sustainability. Outside, systems capture and repurpose rainwater for irrigation and flushing toilets. Inside, even mere window shades play a role, by regulating how much natural light spills into the office.

“(They are) automated window blinds. If it’s very bright outside you don’t want direct light going into the work spaces here. So the blinds raise and lower automatically every twenty minutes,” Nesler says.

In each cubicle, the worker controls air flow, with a ‘personal environmental module’. “Which allows them to adjust the temperature of the air, the velocity of the air,” Nesler says.

When the employee steps away, the module turns off the system.

Nesler believes technology can help abate climate stresses in both developed and developing countries, for instance, Johnson Controls’ energy-storing batteries.

“Whether it’s in Africa or in Chicago, it’s generally less expensive to save a watt of energy than it is to generate it,” Nesler says.

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Stephen Carpenter recently spoke at the Program on Ecosystem Change & Society meeting in South Africa.

While large corporations hope their sophisticated technology can shift the climate change tide, Stephen Carpenter says the world needs much more.

Carpenter is a limnologist at UW-Madison, and while he won’t be in Paris, the attendees will likely feel his influence.

This year, he was one of 18 international scientists who coauthored a study of human impacts on the world’s ecosystems.

The group concurs that it's critical for countries to jointly limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, and the number is not arbitrary.

“Beyond 2 degrees C, we begin to have melting of permafrost and release of greenhouse gases from the tundra.  The oceans begin to change.  The melting of the ice caps begin to accelerate.  So 2 degrees C is about our last chance to control things before they begin to take on a life of their own,” Carpenter says.

Carpenter has also helped create an international research effort that's monitoring sustainable programs around the globe – from food production, to transportation and energy efficiency.

“We have to make sure we are entraining the energy of all of these local projects around the world that are helping to move us in right direction – because we need that local initiative along with the umbrella of smart policy to navigate the world to the place it needs to be,” Carpenter says.

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Alan Schultz and his two children.

In Milwaukee, Alan Schultz was among more than 200 climate action activists who gathered Saturday at City Hall. Similar rallies took place in 2,000 communities around the globe.

Schultz had his two young children in tow - bundled against the cold.

“ If we keep up at the pace we’re going, global warming will become irreversible, that’s what I’d be leaving my children to - a planet that would end up being so hot they couldn’t survive on it, or their children after them, so I just don’t want to see that," Schultz says.

Beyond the physical stressors, Schultz says a major challenge is complacency. He doesn’t think leaders will take on aggressive climate policy, until the public tide shifts.

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Lake Effect interview with Dr. Stephen Carpenter. He directs UW-Madison Center for Limnology.

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Some 200 activists marched from Milwaukee City Hall Saturday to the We Energies headquarters. They called for clean energy and strong public policy.

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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.