Minnesotans press for change at Copenhagen global warming conference

Copenhagen demonstrators
Members of NGO groups hold up signs at the entrance to the main venue of a UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen, Tuesday Dec. 8, 2009.
AP Photo/POLFOTO, Claus Bjorn Larsen

Thousands of people are in Copenhagen for the international conference on global warming, including dozens of environmentalists, educators and students from Minnesota.

Several Minnesota-based organizations have sent representatives to the conference, and at least three groups that include Minnesota students and educators are also attending. The United Nations Climate Change Conference started Monday and runs through Dec. 18.

Students from the School of Environmental Studies at Apple Valley High School, a University of Minnesota professor and program director, and polar explorer Will Steger and his foundation are also in Copenhagen.

The Will Steger Foundation and Stonyfield Farm sent a dozen young Midwestern leaders ages 20 to 26 to the conference. The delegates already participated in a youth conference over the weekend to develop a position document that will be presented as part of the main conference. They're also hearing global leaders speak and are participating in policy discussions.

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"A lot of what we're having our youth do is actually bring the message of the Midwest here and bring the message of Copenhagen back to the Midwest," said Nicole Rom, the foundation's executive director.

Other Minnesota-based organizations also said it was important that the Midwest have representation at the climate talks.

Midwestern states rely heavily on coal-fired power plants, but the states could be part of the solution through things like wind power and capturing carbon, said Rolf Nordstrom, executive director of the Great Plains Institute.

"The Midwest is absolutely pivotal" in the global warming debate, said Nordstrom, who is attending the events in Copenhagen. "As the Midwest goes, so goes the United States. As the U.S. goes, so goes the world."

Political leaders from the Midwest view proposed global warming legislation through the lens of agriculture. But many discussions taking place outside the Midwest aren't making agriculture an important enough part of the discussion, said Jim Harkness, president of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

"The voices of farmers and agriculture have really been left out," he said, adding that he and others from IATP are bringing that perspective to Copenhagen.

Many of the Minnesotans attending the Copenhagen conference are updating their colleagues and the general public about their experiences through Twitter, Web postings and live Web events.

There are also plans to hold events and participate in discussions in the U.S. well after the climate talks.

Six students from St. John's University and the College of St. Benedict are shooting video for a documentary they plan to show on college campuses across the U.S.

The group plans to document the conference and record video of practices that Denmark is using to help reduce greenhouse gases, such as off-shore wind farms, sustainable public transportation and government-subsidized hybrid-electric vehicles, said Steve Dahlke, a St. John's University sophomore.

"We're going to try to capture the feel of the conference and bring all these global perspectives from people back to Minnesota and the United States to spread that message here," Dahlke said. "Things that we do to take care of our planet today are ultimately going to affect our home 10, 50, 100 years into the future."