Callista Schoettmer and Hannah Smith

MSU chemical engineering students Callista Schoettmer, left, and Hannah Smith are organizing a free Climate Conference on Saturday at Norm Asbjornson Hall that’s open to the public.

Climate change will affect everyone, say Montana State University students who are organizing a conference this Saturday to highlight impacts on Montana and how renewable energy can help.

They’re hoping climate skeptics, farmers, ranchers and people “on the fence” will attend the free, public conference, as well as those who are already convinced, said organizer Hannah Smith, a senior from Colorado studying chemical engineering.

“This is something that will affect everyone, whether you believe it’s human-based or not, and it will impact us in our lifetimes,” Smith said.

“This is the largest issue for our generation, I believe.”

They have lined up six speakers, including several professors and the keynote speaker, Jim Williams, who will talk about energy markets.

The conference will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., in Norm Asbjornson Hall, the new engineering building on Grant Street.

A free lunch will offer locally produced farm-to-campus foods, provided by the MSU Office of Sustainability.

The conference will also feature, at 2:20 p.m., examples of MSU students’ research on renewable energy projects, like fuel cells and a solar bus-stop heater, as well as sustainable foods and climate change.

Callista Schoettmer, a sophomore in chemical engineering from California, said they will also highlight opportunities for students to get involved, whether in the community or in planning next year’s Climate Conference, so it can become an annual event.

The students said they want the conference to be “fact based” and avoid partisan views, “because at the end of the day this issue transcends societal divides.”

Here is Saturday’s schedule of speakers:

n Engineering Dean Brett Gunnink will open the conference at 10 a.m., explaining how solar panels and a geothermal system give the new Norm Asbjornson Hall the potential to produce enough energy to power itself and other buildings, Schoettmer said.

n Nick Silverman, a research scientist and climate expert at the University of Montana, will speak at 10:40 a.m., on the role of carbon dioxide in climate change, climate models and predicting what will happen in the near future.

n Bruce Maxwell, MSU professor of land resources and environmental sciences and co-director of the Montana Institute on Ecosystems, will speak at 11:20 a.m., on how ecological systems are evolving with climate change.

n After lunch, Paul Lachapelle, MSU associate professor of political science, will discuss at 1 p.m., community efforts to address climate change.

n Fabian Menalled, MSU professor in land resources and environmental sciences, will talk at 1:40 p.m., about how climate change is affecting crop yields, weeds and plant diseases.

n Williams, president of Basin Creek Power Services in Butte, which produces electricity from a natural gas-fired plant, will speak at 3:20 p.m., on climate change and energy markets and how renewable energy can be profitable.

Smith said she got the idea to start the conference after attending an American Institute for Chemical Engineers state meeting last fall. She said what she learned about carbon dioxide and how rising temperatures have a snowball effect on climate change “scared me a lot.”

“As a chemical engineer, I have an ability to make a difference and I feel a responsibility to make a difference,” Smith said.

Schoettmer met Smith last fall and figured her experience in MSU’s Leadership Institute, including work on the recent lecture by astronaut Scott Kelly, could help her organize the Climate Conference.

“It’s something I’ve been passionate about since I was very little – energy efficiency,” Schoettmer said.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at or 406-582-2633. Follow her on Twitter @gailnews.

Gail Schontzler covers schools and Montana State University for the Chronicle.

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