International climate conference in North Dakota

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LISA MULLINS: Climate negotiators from nearly 200 countries are meeting in Bonn, Germany this week. It's a special session leading up to a global climate summit in Copenhagen in December. The meeting was called because according to the UN's top climate official time is running out for a deal. This, even as evidence mounts that the world's climate may be changing more quickly than most scientists had predicted. But if the road to a deal in Copenhagen runs through Bonn it also runs through places such as Bismarck, North Dakota. North Dakota's congressional delegation could make or break climate legislation here in the US. And that's one reason Bismarck was recently the site of an international climate change conference. The World's Jason Margolis was there.

BRAD CRABTREE: There's the Missouri River folks. You see the cotton woods along the banks.

JASON MARGOLIS: Before you the International Climate Stewardship Solutions Conference officially began a few out-of-town guests got to see a bit more of North Dakota than just the inside of the Bismarck Civic Center.

CRABTREE: The river is constantly shifting course.

MARGOLIS: That's Brad Crabtree, part-time conference organizer and full-time cattle rancher. His tour touched on North Dakota's history with a visit to Lewis and Clark's winter fort on the Missouri River.

CRABTREE: You got a blacksmith shop here in the corner which was a work station for them.

MARGOLIS: The tour also took a look at the state's future with a visit to a coal plant that's capturing carbon dioxide from its emissions.

SPEAKER: As the coal reacts in each gassifier vessel extremely high pressure and heat is created.

MARGOLIS: Among those listening was John Halmans who came from the Netherlands at the request of his government.

JOHN HALMANS: At first I was� I thought that's quite the journey.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: What did you know about North Dakota?

HALMANS: Not quite a lot.

MARGOLIS: But Halmans wasn't here to learn so much as to teach.

HALMANS: Ten years we decided to do business another way. And we have to combine ecology and economy.

MARGOLIS: Halmans is a brewer of carbon neutral beer. He works with local farmers to produce organic grain. And he controls the supply chain so that no excess CO2 is released along the way. Halmans hasn't knocked off Heineken but business is going well.

HALMANS: Now we succeeded in that and that makes us quite proud.

MARGOLIS: The lesson? There's money to be made by going green. It's one that Brad Crabtree is trying to pass along to his fellow North Dakotans.

CRABTREE: There's a great fear that climate policy will lead to loss of jobs. What isn't well understood is that there are other countries� Take renewable energy in Denmark. Because of their energy and climate policies that they started over a decade ago they actually nurture the development of an entirely new industry. Danish companies today command, I think it's roughly half the world's market for manufacturing turbines.

MARGOLIS: So Crabtree also invited a Danish wind turbine manufacturer to speak at the conference. Not a bad idea considering that North Dakota is among the windiest states in America. Crabtree says there's another reason to have an international conference in Bismarck.

CRABTREE: We've had plenty of climate conferences in San Francisco and Boston and those are two cities that I love. But it's very clear how the congressional delegation from those cities and those states will vote. We know that now.

MARGOLIS: What we don't know is how North Dakota's three members of congress will ultimately vote on a climate bill. They're all Democrats but in a red state in the heart of farm and coal country. That makes them crucial swing votes. And Crabtree says American politicians like them will have to move first if there's any hope for an international climate change treaty later this year.

CRABTREE: I say this jokingly in a way but also in a very serious way that the road to the global climate negotiations in December in Copenhagen runs through Bismarck.

MARGOLIS: Whether or not the conference will end up making that road any clearer remains to be seen. Neither of the state senators, Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad, support cap-and-trade, that's the pollution control idea at the heart of the climate bill that passed the House in June. And neither of the senators came to the meeting. North Dakota's one House member, Earl Pomeroy, did attend and defended his vote against the House bill.

EARL POMEROY: North Dakota's got one vote here and I don't think North Dakota's interests got adequately accommodated in this bill. And for that reason I voted against it even while acknowledging it was an extraordinarily important piece of legislation.

MARGOLIS: Like many of his constituents Pomeroy is concerned about the potential impact of climate legislation on his state's economy. But the argument that environmental stewardship doesn't mean unemployed coal miners and abandoned farms was reaching at least some people at the Bismarck conference. Among them North Dakota state senator and wheat farmer, Ben Vig. Vig says he was glad to have the opportunity to learn from far flung visitors.

BEN VIG: It is interesting to hear what's happening around the world, happening in Europe or in South Korea, and how we in the United States can work on developing our economy for a green technology, green economy.

MARGOLIS: Vig says even as North Dakotans struggle with a political response to climate change farmers here have been experimenting with new practices that reduce carbon emissions.

VIG: In North Dakota the farmers union has been the leader in carbon sequestrations. With that going on on the farmer's side and then climate change legislation in Washington I think this is a prime conference to get involved in and find out what could be happening for the next couple of decades.
SPEAKER: Welcome back to News and Views coming to you live today from Bismarck. We're at the International Climate Stewardship Solutions Conference.

MARGOLIS: One conference won't transform the political realities in North Dakota. But just starting a public discussion about climate change in the conference rooms or talk radio might be having an impact.

SPEAKER: Talk about economic development. Talk about how this can mean money and jobs.

MARGOLIS: After all it's easy to dismiss a debate in far away places like Washington and Copenhagen but it's a lot harder to ignore an international issue when it's brought home right to you. For The World I'm Jason Margolis, Bismarck, North Dakota.