ORONO, Maine — Representatives of state government and the business community said Friday they are working aggressively to respond to the current energy and climate crises, but that it also would take a wider cultural change among Americans.
On Thursday, more than a dozen climate change researchers from the University of Maine and other institutions laid out the signs that humans are triggering alarming changes in the atmosphere, oceans and on land.
The second day of UMaine’s Climate Change 21 conference on Friday was devoted largely to the technological, financial and societal challenges that the world faces in seeking to reduce emissions of the pollutants tied to climate change.
Janet Waldron, vice president for administration and finance at UMaine, pointed out that the institution already had reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 10 percent and slashed use of oil by switching to cheaper and cleaner-burning natural gas.
The campus also has three certified “green” buildings and has inserted sustainability goals throughout the university’s recently updated master plan. These are consistent with the university’s participation in a presidential climate change commitment signed by hundreds of colleges and universities.
“This is not a light commitment,” Waldron said. “It’s going to take a lot of work and involve cultural change … and we’re going to have to find alternatives.”
John German, manager of environmental and energy analysis at American Honda Motor Co., said hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, which emit only water vapor as exhaust, are a promising technology. But large-scale manufacturing of fuel cell vehicles is still years away.
Likewise, plug-in electric vehicles are a great idea. But there are still challenges developing smaller and lighter-weight batteries that can re-charge quickly, German said. Putting thousands of electric or hybrid electric cars on the road won’t help much if the power stations providing the recharge are fired by dirty coal, he said.
German said that is why Honda continues to focus on increasing fuel efficiency in conventional cars and improving hybrid gas-electric car technology in addition to developing fuel cell and electric cars.
The conference was organized in large part by faculty at UMaine’s Climate Change Institute, who have conducted research throughout the globe. More than 500 people registered for the free conference, which was held in one of the university’s newer “green” buildings.
Several speakers said the large numbers of college and high school students in the crowd on both days was a sign that younger generations are determined to lead the effort to slow the rate of climate change.
“If you’ve got a little gray hair and you’re thinking it can’t be done, remember, I’m not talking to you,” said William Borland, vice president of Canadian federal programs for AMEC Earth and Environmental, an international consulting, engineering and project management firm.
“I’m talking to the brilliant, engaged students sitting in the back,” Borland said to laughs.