Scientists, White House Officials, Industry Groups Gather for National Forum on Climate Change at Colorado State University

Top scientists, national policy makers and environmental groups will gather at Colorado State May 27 to discuss how climate changes affect the Great Plains environment and suggest ways to deal with those changes.

The forum, hosted by Colorado State’s Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory in conjunction with the University of Nebraska, is the first of seven regional conferences nationwide sponsored by the U.S. Global Change Research Program and Office of Scientific and Technology Policy. The program, under the auspices of President Clinton, aims to provide a scientific basis for national and international policies surrounding global climate change issues.

The forum will include more than 50 scientists as well as representatives from farming, ranching and conservation groups from Colorado, Montana, Nebraska and Washington, D.C. The forum will feature a keynote address by Timothy Wirth, U.S. undersecretary of state for global affairs, a position appointed by President Clinton. Other speakers include Mark Drabenstott of the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City, Mo., who will discuss the economic implications of climate change in the Great Plains; and David Schimel of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder and member of NREL’s research team.

Also scheduled are panel discussions led by regional and national industry leaders on the potential effects of climate change on agriculture, livestock production and conservation efforts. Top scientists from Colorado State’s NREL and other agencies will present the latest scientific research on how climate change already affects food production, the economy and environment in the Great Plains.

Colorado State was chosen to host the first conference based on NREL’s reputation as one of the world’s premier ecosystem research centers and because Colorado is home to many other climate scientists, said Dennis Ojima, forum co-chairman and an NREL researcher.

Scientists have documented the effects of climate change on ecosystems for many years, but Ojima said there have been few opportunities to discuss this research with other stakeholders, such as farmers, ranchers and concerned members of the public.

"The potential impact of climate changes affects all aspects of the environment–winter snowfall, the frequency and intensity of rainfall, and average temperatures in the summer," Ojima said. "The combined effects of these changes in weather patterns and seasonal climate will affect the economic, social and ecological welfare of this region.

"The evidence for climate change is becoming more compelling, yet most regions of the United States do not have a strategy to deal with them. This conference sets out to gather top scientists studying these changes along with farmers, environmental groups and members of the public to develop ways to cope with these changes." The forum will take place in the Lory Student Center Theatre on campus. The complete schedule follows.

  • 1 p.m., opening remarks by Dennis Ojima, co-chairman of Great Plains workshop; Diana Freckman, director of NREL; and Jud Harper, vice president for research at Colorado State.
  • 1:20 p.m., speaker Mark Drabenstott, Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City, Mo.; "Economic Factors Affecting Agronomic Systems in the Great Plains."
  • 1:40 p.m., speaker Ken Hubbard, High Plains Climate Center in Lincoln, Neb.; "Characteristics of the Climate System in the Great Plains."
  • 2 p.m., panel discussion: "Limitations to Sustainable Land Use Among Critical Conservation, Ranching, and Farming Sectors in the Great Plains and Mountain Regions." Panelists are George Blum of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a farmer; Jim Geist, member of the Colorado Corn Administrative Committee; David Sands, member of Audubon Nebraska; and Phil Sanders, a rancher and farmer from Dalton, Neb. Panel moderator is Bill Easterling, director of the Great Plains Regional Center for Global Environmental Change.
  • 3 p.m., keynote speaker Timothy Wirth, U.S. undersecretary of state for global affairs; "A Framework of Regional Climate Change Impacts on National and International Policy: What Does This All Mean to You, the Citizen?"
  • 3:40 p.m., speaker David Schimel, National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder; "Climate Change in the Industrial Era: Past and Future Considerations."
  • 4 p.m., speaker Bill Riebsame, geographer at the University of Colorado; "Links Between Climate Change, Vulnerability, and Coping Strategies to Environmental and Socio-Economic Changes."
  • 4:20 p.m., panelists respond to climate change implications.
  • 4:50 p.m., closing remarks.

A private workshop will follow the public forum on May 28 and 29 at the Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, where invited guests will further discuss issues and research priorities related to climate change.

Research done at Colorado State’s NREL since its establishment 30 years ago has shown that even subtle changes in climate have profound effects on the environment, from the atmosphere to microbes that process nutrients in the soil. Intense periods of drought draws saline to the top soil, affecting plant development and growth. More extreme periods of rainfall triggers soil erosion, making it more difficult to sustain food crops. Subtle climate changes can also exacerbate air and water pollution, affecting the quality of life and health of residents.

Under the direction of researcher George Van Dyne in the 1960s, the NREL established a team of scientists that studied all aspects of ecosystems, a model now used by scientists internationally.

Some of the laboratory’s early findings explain the important role of soil microbes and animals in cycling water, carbon and nutrients through all types of ecosystems, from polar deserts to cornfields to tropical rain forests. The NREL’s studies also have analyzed how humans affect these natural cycles through a variety of activities.

Other long-term studies under way at NREL are analyzing the effects of greenhouse gases on the environment, changes in biodiversity, levels of organic matter in the soil and the relationships between plants and animals in ecosystems.

For more information about the forum or research at NREL, contact Diana Freckman at (970) 491-1982 or Dennis Ojima at (970) 491-1976.