Teach-in puts focus on global warming

Local climate-change issues came to campus yesterday with Focus the Nation, a nationwide teach-in on global warming.

More than 1,750 college campuses participated in the teach-in, and 500 UK students participated locally in yesterday’s daylong event, said Shane Tedder, sustainability coordinator for UK’s Office of Residence Life.

UK Residence Life Recycling and UK Greenthumb sponsored the teach-in, which included events like architecture professor Richard Levine’s discussion on energy-efficient homes. During the discussion, Levine outlined how community members could make their homes more energy-efficient by recycling and using efficient light bulbs.

The teach-in ended with a roundtable discussion among UK, Lexington and state leaders about local, state and national efforts in dealing with climate change. U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, state Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, UK Vice President for Facilities Management Bob Wiseman, and other state and local officials discussed the problems caused by global warming.

“On the national level, we’ve had a president that hasn’t acknowledged this problem,” Chandler said. “If we don’t solve this problem, I don’t think it matters what other problems we have.”

The event provided an important discussion on a topic that affects everyone, said Greenthumb Co-Coordinator Brittany Zwicker.

“A lot of people who didn’t know (about global warming) were here,” Zwicker said.

John Lyons, director of Kentucky’s Division for Air Quality, said more than 95 percent of Kentucky’s electricity comes from coal, and the state has the third-lowest electricity rate in the nation.

Even with low electricity rates, UK and Lexington have electric bills worth millions of dollars. UK is Kentucky Utilities sixth-largest customer, Wiseman said, using about $20 million worth of electricity a year.

Cheryl Taylor, environmental quality commissioner for the Lexington-Fayette County Urban Government, said the city spends about $11 million every year on electricity.

Spending on electricity helps keep the economy thriving, creating a system where pollution equals wealth, Chandler said.

“We have a nation and world economy based on polluting,” he said. “It’s a tremendous conundrum that we’ve got. A lot of our progress is connected to polluting.”

Even though energy consumption is a problem locally and nationally, leaders said some improvement is being made.

“We have a lot of things going,” Taylor said. “Are they good enough? No. But we have a lot of things going for climate change.”

And while the state is in the middle of a budget crunch, Scorsone said he believed people could still be persuaded to help the environment.

“People are willing to make sacrifices,” Scorsone said. “The public will support increased cost if you show them something will benefit.”