RIVER FALLS -- When Mike Noreen became the conservation and efficiency coordinator for the city of River Falls, he wanted to develop a conservation ethic in the community, so he started holding community meetings at lunch to discuss topics of interest.
At first a dozen people showed up, but by last year, the meetings were drawing a crowd of 30 to 50. He got the idea to bring in speakers to talk to the group, and wanted to get some high-level people with good ideas.
He asked Nobel Peace Prize recipient Terry Root to come to River Falls and talk about climate change, but the cost of bringing her in was too high. Then COVID-19 hit, and the meetings stopped, but Noreen still wanted to find a way to carry on the discussions and ideas.
“I got a hold of her and asked if she’d be interested in presenting online,” Noreen said. “She was, and now all those costs and logistics to get her up here were gone.”
Noreen wanted to have a partner help and contacted the River Falls Public Library.
“The library already had a huge audience coming to them,” Noreen said. “If we could add value to their existing programming with a series of presenters, that all made sense.”
Tanya Misselt, director of the River Falls Library, said the speaker series is a perfect fit for the library.
“This is right on target with what libraries should be doing, fostering education and talking about problems,” Misselt said. “I think one of the most inspirational things about this is the number of partners in the community who have joined to help.”
Root agreed to speak to the group and community in a virtual session through Facebook and YouTube on Oct. 12, and the event was a success. Noreen was inspired to try to reach other well-known speakers and invite them into the series. His efforts paid off, as many speakers agreed, although he is still waiting for a response from the Pope.
On Jan. 25, Dr. Jonathan Overpeck will speak about preserving fish habitat and climate variability.
On Feb. 4, Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes will speak about the Wisconsin Climate Task Force and moving the state to 100% carbon-free by 2050.
On March 25, Tia Nelson, daughter of former Gov. Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day, will discuss a film created to continue the legacy of her father.
On April 21, Dr. Terry Root will return and discuss the impacts of plastics on the environment.
All presentations will be held at 6 p.m. on the River Falls Public Library Facebook or YouTube Channel. Anyone interested in further information or wanting to check out a Chromebook can call the library at 715-425-0905.
In addition to the River Falls Public Library, the University of Wisconsin-River Falls Office of Sustainability and Hope for Creation, a group of River Falls churches with an interest in climate change, have joined to help with the speaker series and further community discussion.
“We know there are different organizations around the area, in Hudson, Red Wing, Stillwater, that are all trying to get things done,” Noreen said. “Maybe something good can come out of this, and we can make connections with each other and magnify the impacts we are having.”