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Fifty high-level scientists and dignitaries from Pacific Rim countries gathered to tackle the hot issue of global warming June 26-29 during UM’s Fifth Mansfield Pacific Retreat, titled “Melting Mountains: Climate Change in the Asia-Pacific Region.” Participants were from China, Korea, Japan and the United States.
Held at venues in and around Bigfork and Glacier National Park, the event allowed attendees to learn about and discuss the contentious international issue in a relaxed, informal setting. The retreat was organized by UM’s Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center and the Washington, D.C.-based Mansfield Center for Pacific Affairs, which both work to improve relations between Asia and America.
Participants saw the effects of global warming firsthand in Glacier National Park on Going-to-the-Sun Road. “We were given a very graphic presentation about how much the glaciers have shrunk,” says Joanna Shelton, interim director of the UM center. “Climate change affects everyone on Earth. It’s hard to imagine a more important topic.”
The high-profile guests included the Chinese and Korean ambassadors to the United States, as well as Jiang Zehui, the president of the Chinese Academy of Forestry and sister of Chinese President Jiang Zemin.
People also witnessed presentations by some of the world’s leading global-change scientists, such as Charles Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Tom Wigley of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research and UM’s own Steve Running, whose department has designed software for NASA environmental satellites.
Keeling pioneered the discovery that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are increasing, creating the potential for global warming. “This issue isn’t about the next 100 years but the next 1,000,” Keeling said. “We need to look at the ultimate picture: Where is this going in the long run? We are carrying on a grand geophysical experiment – one that is irreversible, as far as the human race is concerned, for a very long time.”
Wigley expects the climate to change faster in coming years. He says an enormous technological challenge facing mankind is to develop energy not dependent on fossil fuels. But that leads to another challenge: “How do you save the planet without destroying the economy?”
Other retreat speakers were from government agencies, environmental groups and even the forest-products industry. Informal debate was encouraged between presentations, with headsets to provide language translation for those who needed it. Participants mulled over a variety of possible strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, as well as thornier issues, such as should developing countries that bear little historical responsibility for climate change be required to reduce emissions as much as developed nations?
One speaker was Elliot Diringer of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, a former deputy press secretary to President Bill Clinton.
Diringer said, “In bringing us together here, the Mansfield Center has provided a very unusual opportunity to explore the ways in which our unique interests intersect, the ways in which they collide and, hopefully, the ways in which they might one day converge. I believe this is a fragile moment. It is clearer than ever that by addressing climate change we can help ensure a more sustainable future for all people.”
The 1996 and 1998 Mansfield Retreats also were held in western Montana. The 1997 retreat was in Beijing, and the 2000 event took place in Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan. Planners intend to hold the 2003 retreat, tentatively slated to address the topic of economics and the environment, in Korea. V
— Cary Shimek