The two-day-long conference consisted of six sessions. Bernton was the last of the 2013-2014 O’Brien Fellows to present, and was preceded by Lillian Thomas of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and Dan Egan of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on the first day of the conference. Bernton served as moderator for the conference’s final panel that was titled, “Wisconsin and the Struggle to Reduce Carbon Emissions.”
He was accompanied by notable voices on energy reform including Kevin Crosswhite of the Energy and Enterprise Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Charles Franklin and the Wisconsin Energy Institute’s director of Midwest Energy Policy Analysis, Gary Radloff. Former O’Brien Intern and recent Marquette graduate Erin Heffernan also joined the panel to discuss the work she contributed to the Wisconsin-based portion of Bernton’s project.
Bernton began the discussion with a short explanation of his project. As an O’Brien fellow, Bernton spent the year researching carbon emissions in Wisconsin and China. “When I started this project I asked myself, ‘Where are we in the process to control carbon emissions?’” Bernton said. What he discovered was that the United States has produced more emissions in history than any other country on Earth. As resources like coal, oil and natural gas continue to dwindle, it’s “vital the United States and other large carbon consuming countries continue to seek alternative fuel sources,” according to Bernton.
After detailing the issues surrounding the control of carbon emissions, Bernton offered three possible resolutions: Carbon capture is possible. Solar energy is currently generating less than two percent of our country’s energy, but it’s “on a roll.” Bernton said that more and more companies were inventing new, innovative ways to generate cleaner energy. “If (solar) continues at its current rate of growth, it has the potential to be producing more energy than current natural resources by 2050. The proposed final solution revolved around government regulations.
“Whatever method you choose to fight, the most important thing you need is the political will to carry this out,” Bernton said.
Speaking on behalf of such political will at Friday’s panel was Crosswhite, Wisconsin state director for the Energy and Enterprise Institute. The Institute is a group of conservatives who, according to Crosswhite, “believe that environmental change is real and that something should be done about it.” Crosswhite served as a primary source for Bernton during his year-long investigation. Crosswhite provided additional solutions for possible areas of reform.
"We're all energy consumers. Why can't we be energy producers as well?" Crosswhite asked.
This was one of the questions that recent Marquette graduate Erin Heffernan asked herself during her semester as an O'Brien intern. As a research assistant to Bernton, Heffernan traveled across the state investigating local issues like carbon emissions and the implementation of wind farms.
"I learned a lot from watching Hal," Heffernan said. "He coached me, but also had interest in what I was going to produce. The whole experience made me want to go into environmental journalism."
After her semester with Bernton, Heffernan was invited to spend her summer interning for The Seattle Times. Heffernan said that she enjoyed the internship and credits her summer experience for helping her land a job at Galveston County Daily News a few weeks ago.
"People should fight for (the O'Brien internship)," she said. "Working with Hal was an incredible experience and it solidified my desire to be a journalist."