State AG Speaks about Global Warming at Wesleyan’s Earth Day Celebration

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal speaks with Joe Bruno, vice president for Academic Affairs and provost; Barry Chernoff, director of the Environmental Studies Certificate Program; and Midge Bennet prior to his talk on global warming April 18.
Posted 05/02/07
“Connecticut’s Role in the Fight Against Global Warming” was the topic of Wesleyan’s Earth Day celebration April 18. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal delivered the keynote address to a Memorial Chapel-full of students, faculty, staff and members of the local community.

Blumenthal, the 23rd elected AG of the state, had worked as a federal prosecutor for several cases against environmental polluters. He has also addressed issues on interstate air pollution, clean energy solutions and the environment of Connecticut, with an emphasis on rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. CO2 is the principal greenhouse gas emitted as a result of burning of coal, oil, and natural gas.

“You know CO2 is a great threat to the future of our planet,” Blumenthal said during the presentation to more than 150 audience members, including Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz and President Doug Bennet. “It will have the greatest impact on lower-income countries, but it’s going to have dire effects on the United States, and especially a state like Connecticut, and our shoreline. CO2 is odorless, tasteless and invisible, and the challenge here is to continue advancing to make sure people understand the way this pollutant affects our daily lives.”

Blumenthal stressed the importance of using renewable resources such as solar and wind power, and even natural gas – rather than burning oil – for “cleaner” energy sources. He spoke on energy efficiency standards, stating that they are a “no brainer,” and “must be at the heart of the state’s CO2 battle.”

Blumenthal mentioned the Clean Air Act, amended in 1990, which says CO2 is classified as a pollutant that needs to be regulated. In a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on carbon dioxide emissions, the Environmental Protection Agency was found guilty of violating the Clean Air Act.

Blumenthal said he’s already noticing changes in the automotive and power industries.

“I think they’re beginning to get it,” he said. “They know they are not going to be permitted to function in an unregulated world. The question is, ‘How soon can we provide new technologies and make it a common ground?” We may see a whole new wave of technology because the interest will be there.”

Graduate Liberal Studies Program student Nicole Conti Lee says she was impressed with Wesleyans Earth Day talk. Lee, who was raised in Africa and Italy, and moved to the United States in 1996, says European countries are far more advanced when dealing with the global warming crisis than the United States. She hopes Blumenthal’s message will become widespread across the state, New England and the country at large.

“I think that most people are aware of the situation, but it was great Wesleyan was able to bring in the attorney general to hear what he has to say,” she said. “The amount of CO2 being produced from mansions and SUVs is unthinkable, and I really think that people have to step it up in this country as a general rule.”

Johan (Joop) Varekamp, the Harold T. Stearns Professor in Earth Sciences and department chair, explained the flip side of the CO2 issue.

“The classification of CO2 as a pollutant is heavily attacked by ‘climate contrarians’ who argue that CO2 can not be a pollutant because it is an essential nutrient for plants. The question then becomes is CO2 a pollutant, a contaminant or something else? Here we come into gray terrain of nomenclature – more CO2 means a warmer climate with potentially severe impacts for many organisms, but on the other hand more CO2 is also beneficial to many plants,” Varekamp says. “This classification conundrum is not easily settled, but many environmental and scientific organizations, including the IPCC, regard the current global climate warming deleterious for the global ecosystem and humans. They all thus argue that CO2 should be considered a pollutant.”

After his talk, the Attorney General answered questions from the audience. Questions on carbon tax, natural gas, considerations on rail and electric cars, a proposed gas-based energy center on Long Island, Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, Connecticut’s electric grid and opponent’s views were all posed and discussed. Conversation continued at a reception in Zelnick Pavilion following the keynote address.

Blumenthal applauded the Wesleyan’s efforts in education, programs and actions to help reduce global warming. He told the audience it was up to them to educate others on the ongoing fight.

“I think we all have an obligation to leave this world better than the way we found it,” he said. “Can one state or one country make a difference by example? People, as individuals, that come together can make a difference.”

The presentation was sponsored by The Robert Schumann Lecture Series in the Environmental Studies Certificate Program.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor. Photos by Richard Marinelli.