Symposium addresses global changes

Erica Holte

A group of scientists, ethicists and policy-makers gathered Thursday afternoon at the Humphrey Center’s Cowles Auditorium to discuss global changes and their present and future effects.
The symposium, titled “Global Ecosystem Changes: Ethics, Science and Policy,” featured speakers from a variety of fields concerned with global changes. The meeting drew more than 200 students, faculty members and other concerned people for an afternoon of discussion, debate and questions.
“I don’t think there is a larger, more important public issue than global change,” said Eugene Wahl, a doctoral student in the Conservation, Biology and Ecology program. “In terms of human impact on the environment, 200 years from now, people living then will look at us and wonder why we did nothing or why we didn’t act more emphatically. … I think an event like this is absolutely crucial. It helps us wake up to the fact that there is a real problem.”
The increases in human population and industrialization in the 20th century have resulted in changes in the ecosystem, such as the greenhouse effect, global warming and the extinction of both plant and animal species. The symposium discussed those changes and explored the importance of economics, ethics and the environment in making policies affecting the ecosystems.
“I spend a lot of time doing the nuts and bolts of science, but I don’t usually get to hear people talking about how our work really applies, both socially and environmentally,” said Christine Douglas, a technician in the ecology department. “I think it’s really important to hear people who are really considered great minds in their fields coming together and discussing something that’s a real problem for everyone on the planet.”
The speakers covered a number of different angles concerning global change. Peter Vitousek, a population biology professor at Stanford University, spoke on the types of changes occurring in the environment because of human actions. Other speakers included Paul Portney, president of Resources for the Future, Kristin Shrader-Frechette, a professor of biological sciences and philosophy and John Baird Callicot, a University of North Texas professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies and author of several books on the ethics of global change.
“I think it’s important for scientists to get a more political or ethical perspective, and likewise, for people in politics to get a better understanding of the scientific side,” Joy Branlund, a graduate student in the geology department, said.
The event was sponsored by the University of Minnesota Ethics and Public Policy Initiative, the College of Biological Sciences, the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior and the Institute of Technology.