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CARBONDALE - Southern Illinois' leading environmental groups are trying spur local efforts to address climate change in conjunction with the United Nations conference on the topic in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The Carbondale Climate Action Network will host three events this week designed to bring attention to organizers' desires that community leaders take actions to help reduce or eliminate carbon emissions believed to be behind the phenomenon of global climate change. Events begin at 4 p.m. Wednesday with "State of the Sustainable City" address at Carbondale Civic Center, which will feature various environmental group representatives introducing suggestions about how Carbondale can reduce its carbon footprint.

Wednesday's address will be followed by a candlelight vigil at 7 p.m. Friday at Labyrinth next to Gaia House (formerly the Interfaith Center) on South Illinois Avenue and an open forum at 11 a.m. Saturday at Town Square Pavilion.

Barb McKasson, chairwoman of Shawnee Group Sierra Club and one of events organizers, said the local attention is meant to coincide with the U.N. Climate Change Conference, which began Monday and will continue through Dec. 18. Fifteen U.N. countries are participating in the conference, but it's unclear whether definitive policy will result from the meeting in light of recently uncovered e-mails from a university in England that appear to suggest some researchers of climate change conspired to hide data that didn't support conclusions that global warming was occurring.

Regardless of the political debate, McKasson said the subject is worth discussing.

"We're just trying to raise the visibility of this issue. Preserving our climate and life on Earth, I'd say, is the most important issue, but it keeps getting buried by wars, the economy and health care," McKasson said. "This is the biggest issue of the century, and we really need to pay attention."

Severe snow and ice storms, heavy wind and above-average rainfall seen in Southern Illinois in the last two years are signs of man-made climate change, McKasson contends, adding despite the signs local leaders, such as those in Carbondale, are slow to act.

Carbondale Mayor Brad Cole said he's taken measures to reduce the city's energy consumption for both economic and environmental reasons and will be announcing more initiatives toward such goals in the near future. In addition, Cole said he's asking citizens for help.

"I've named a sustainability commission. We're probably the only city in the region that has one. It's their job to bring us ideas we can implement citywide," Cole said. "We need these groups to bring us suggestions that are reasonable and realistic. Pointing the finger, it doesn't bring change."

Cole signed the Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement, which was endorsed by the 73rd annual U.S. Conference of Mayors in 2005, to create a vision for innovation and planning to help combat the effects of global warming.

Justin Schoof, a climatologist at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, said it's tough to say extreme events, such as recent ice storms and the May 8 derecho, are direct effects of climate change, but the long-term data on temperatures is clear - the average Earth temperature has warmed by a little more than a degree in the last century, he said.

"We know the Earth is getting warmer, and we are highly confident that man is responsible for that," Schoof said.

The recent controversy over the e-mails between climate change researchers isn't enough to debunk global warming as a fraud, Schoof said. While he thinks the scientists' messages were in poor taste, their actions should not be considered evidence of a mass conspiracy, he said.

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