A forum on climate change occurred on June 3rd in association with World Environment Day events in Omaha, Nebraska.

The theme for this year is “UNite to Combat Climate Change” and the forum Wednesday afternoon was part of the events being held in Omaha, the North American host city for celebrating World Environment Day on June 5th.

“Climate change is a long-term issue,” said Dr. Mack Hack, the forum moderator and director of The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska (TNC). The forum was meant to “introduce people to perspectives on this issue and spur thinking on this topic and to join in the conversation.”

“Climate change threatens to become the dominant environmental issue of our lifetime, and our children’s lifetime,” Hack said in a prepared statement. “It’s not just about nature; it’s about people in nature. Climate change is beginning to unravel the natural systems that provide us with clean water, clean air, and the food, fuel, and other natural resources that sustain our lives on this planet. Right now we have time to react in an effective and thoughtful manner – if our carbon emissions continue to grow, our options will decrease.”

Presentations were given by four speakers.

Speaking first — on sustainability issues — was Dr. Harmon D. Maher Jr., of the University of Nebraska at Omaha Department of Geography and Geology. He noted the importance of education and presented several examples of activities by UNO educators.

“What climate change may mean for the Great Plains,” was the subject for Jonathan Hoekstra, managing director of The Nature Conservancy’s climate change program. “Climate change is a real and present issue here and now,” he said. “We need to address the root causes and prepare people and the planet for impacts which are unavoidable.” He then cited several examples which indicate a changing climate, including earlier spring seasons, shifts in the ranges of animal species, dramatic weather events such as extreme droughts and changes in precipitation patterns.

“We need solutions from all sectors of society,” Hoekstra said, mentioning restoration of natural habitats to protect coastal people and properties, improving the sustainability of natural resources such as coral reefs, and working to foster a transition to new conditions.

A new website — Climate Wizard — debuted in early June according to Hoekstra. It provides access to climate change information and lets users visualize model scenarios of future weather and precipitation for different geographic regions around the world. The site was developed by TNC, the University of Washington, and the University of Southern Mississippi.

Dr. Joseph Fargione, a lead scientist for TNC’s North America region then spoke on renewable energy development. Biofuels and wind energy were two of his primary topics.

“Business as usual” will not work, he pointed out. Carbon emissions need to be reduced through improved efficiencies in the standards for miles per gallon achieved by motor vehicles, energy efficient buildings, more wind, biofuel and solar energy. He also indicated the importance of eliminating tropical deforestation and an increase in the planting of trees.

There is also a need transition to more sustainable sources of biofuels, saying waste biomass, agricultural residue, forestry waste, municipal waste, and algae are sources.

His comments also addressed how wind turbine can locally impact wildlife, discussing how development of turbine farms in grasslands can have a detrimental impact on prairie-chickens.

Amy Fraenkel, represented the United Nations Environment Programme, and told the crowd of about 100 about climate change in relation to the global economy.

“The economy and the environment are tied together,” she said, “and all the costs of burning fossil fuels are not considered.”

A “green economy initiative” is needed, Fraenkel said, indicating that money needs to be invested into a sustainable economy which implements improvements in use of energy by buildings, use of renewable energy, improvements in transportation, increased investment in renewable energy, and sustainable agriculture that will reduce green house gasses.

“Climate change is a lens to see other issues affecting the environment,” she said.

“There needs to be a global transition to low carbon and a sustainable economy,” Fraenkel said. Working on the local or individual level is an important step. People making certain their voices were heard in local and national politics was also stressed during her remarks.

Mary Daugherty, World Environment Day liaison in Omaha and a city resident instrumental in having the city be selected as a host city, was “proud the city of Omaha” was selected. “It was my dream to see it happen,” she said after the forum. “I would like to see people make decisions for themselves, as better decisions on a broader scale” can be made on a personal level.

A 30-minute period of questions and answers followed the formal remarks.

The forum at the Milo Bail Student Center was sponsored by The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska, the United Nations Environment Programme and the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

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