'Green' is the theme for annual Winter Institute [St. Cloud Times, Minn.]
(St. Cloud Times (MN) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 26--The Winter Institute, St. Cloud State University's annual summit on economic affairs, turns 50 this week. It's the first time, however, that Ming Chien Lo, a professor in the school's economics department, has been director of the event.
A year ago, when he debated a potential topic, Japan was struck by a tsunami that killed more than 15,000 people, damaged 125,000 buildings and caused several nuclear accidents. The World Bank estimated it was the most expensive natural disaster in world history.
To Lo, that seemed like a perfect reason for this year's Winter Institute to focus on "Green Economic Growth: How Natural Resources Will Shape Our Economy and Community." The event will start Wednesday at the Kelly Inn and conclude Thursday on campus.
"Japan is dependent on nuclear energy because of a lack of natural resources," Lo said. "Our university's goal also is to support sustainability. So I wanted to bring speakers who have a background in this area from academia and public policy."
In the past 49 years, the Winter Institute has featured speakers who would go on to become chairman of the Federal Reserve (Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke) and others who won Nobel Prizes. Those include Gary Becker, Milton Friedman, James Heckman, Leonid Hurwicz and Paul Samuelson. Heckman, who won the Nobel Prize for economics in 2000, spoke at the Winter Institute last year.
This year's event will include an exploration of green technology relating to business practices, a look at oil prices and their economic growth and exhaustibility, an examination of environmental policies and their relationship to economics, and a panel discussion by regional entrepreneurs on going green.
Headlining Wednesday's events will by Lynn Scarlett, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Interior during the George W. Bush administration. She said she intends to speak about three categories involved with the "greening of the economy."
"First, opportunities lie anywhere and everywhere," said Scarlett, who is co-director of the Washington D.C.-based Center for the Management of Ecological Wealth. "Hitachi has a six-screw washing machine that has -- you guessed it -- six screws. That allows for easier deconstruction and reconstruction. There's also a shift in some manufacturing materials, for example copper cable to fiber-optic cable for communications. There's more capacity for a handful of sand than there is for a ton of copper in transmitting information."
Second, Scarlett will address organizational and institutional changes that can promote environmental entrepreneurship. She said an example of this is a car manufacturer that switched from paying for the paint it took to paint its cars to paying by the number of cars painted. That made it an incentive for the painter to produce a paint that was more adhesive and efficient to apply so there was less waste.
Third, she will address the benefits of using "nature's capital," like wetlands to purify water and permeable pavement to reduce runoff. Her experience there is no surprise given she's involved with a project to establish 700,000 acres of wetland and marsh areas in Texas.
"The main thing is to hopefully broaden imaginations to the myriad opportunities to employ green technology," Scarlett said. "The reality is the economy and the environment are interrelated even though they're often juxtaposed when we talk about them."
Wednesday's events will include the annual economic outlook panel, a discussion of the directions of the economies of the United States, Minnesota and the greater St. Cloud area.
Thursday's activity shifts to Ritchie Auditorium in Stewart Hall, 720 Fourth Ave. S. James Hamilton, a professor of economics from the University of California-San Diego, will detail the increase in global crude oil production during the past 150 years and the implications if that trend should be reversed. It's a real danger, he says, because one reason for the recent growth has been exploitation of new areas rather than significant improvements in technology. He says we could be approaching the end of an era in oil production.
"Production isn't going to go up in the next 20 years and the implications of that can be pretty rough for the economy," said Hamilton, who also is a research associate with the National Bureau of Economic Research. "There have been some amazing technological advances, like the horizontal fracturing you see going on in North Dakota today. But that's producing one-fifth of the oil we got out of Alaska when it was at its peak. We don't have anything to replace what we had 20 years ago."
Hamilton said it is important that an alternative transportation fuel be found.
"We made all the easy transitions in the 1970s, like using natural gas to make electricity and for heating," Hamilton said. "It's a painful process to reduce consumption. And with the tremendous demand for oil in emerging economies, we're going to have to find another solution."
Richard Morgenstern, former director of the Office of Policy Analysis for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will deliver the third of three keynote speeches. He will examine the regulation of greenhouse gases in the U.S. He said 20 years of effort to reduce greenhouse gases have had "quite limited success so far."
Chris Farrell, a Minnesota Public Radio contributor and regular participant in the Winter Institute, also will speak at a luncheon Thursday.
"The theme for the Winter Institute was at my discretion," said Lo, who has been an instructor at St. Cloud State since 2002. "Last year we discussed the recession and its impact on the labor market, but most of the events were on campus. I want to make it a community outreach. I hope we can bring the campus to the community on one day and the community on campus the next."
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