Centenarian Tom Swain and a younger U professor kick off a climate change series

Longtime Minnesota civic, higher education, government and business leader Tom Swain marked his 100th birthday this summer calling for serious action to confront climate change by launching “Advancing Climate Solutions Now: The Swain Climate Policy Series” at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

a man's headshot with U of M imagery in the background
Tom Swain is launching the climate change series at the University of Minnesota
Courtesy of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs

Climate activist and former vice president Al Gore is the inaugural speaker on Tuesday.

Swain told Minnesota Now host Cathy Wurzer that about 15 years ago he attended a conference on climate change at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., where James Hansen told the audience we were already past a tipping point. “When people asked me what I wanted to do for my 100th birthday, instead of cake and ice cream, I said, ‘We need to do something more to get people — and particularly young people — aware of the threat, which in my judgment is the most serious that mankind faces.”

Swain added that without action, we’ll have an “ever-growing warm planet, and that’s scary … we’ve got a real challenge ahead of us.”

Gabe Chan, a professor in the Humphrey School’s Center for Science, Technology and Environmental Policy, is playing a major role in the U’s initiative and also joined Minnesota Now on Monday.

Chan says it’s climate week at the Humphrey School.

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“In Minnesota, we have an energy system that’s rapidly changing,” Chan said. “And as we’re making progress on electricity, we need to be aware of other sectors like agriculture, buildings, transportation and more.”

When asked about working with centenarian Tom Swain on this major issue, Chan said it’s good to embrace the intergenerational nature of climate change.

“It’s one of the few problems where Tom’s generation has created huge amounts of wealth and stability, and our global order, that we’ve enjoyed in the United States.”

But also, he and Swain talked about the greenhouse gases that have accumulated in the atmosphere and that will stay in the atmosphere for thousands more years, but Chan added that “We, today, my generation, is contributing to emissions as well. Climate change connects the previous generation with our current generation and with future generations.”

Chan concluded: “Tom keeps me accountable, and I keep him accountable as well.”

The virtual keynote address by Al Gore is Tuesday at 6 p.m. This climate initiative at the University is in honor of Tom Swain.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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