2011-01-06 / News

Jamestowner joins world leaders at United Nations conference

By Tim Riel

John Perrotti has been in the news before. During his four years at North Kingstown High School, John was a star on the football field, a standout on the track-and-field squad and a starter on the baseball team.

Now a junior at Ithaca College, John is spending more time studying the planet than the playbook, having just returned from Cancun, Mexico, where he attended the United Nations Framework Climate Change Convention. Along with 191 delegates from 191 nations, John and 15 other Ithaca students attended the recent 16th Council of Parties as observers.

“It was pretty cool,” said John, the son of Jamestown residents John and Bonnie Perrotti. “It was a great opportunity to expand my knowledge of the subject.”

John, who is majoring in business administration with a minor in environmental studies, said that he wasn’t always interested in climate change, but the convention was an eye opener.

“You see a lot of main-stream media like Fox News not covering it,” John said, “and it’s defi- nitely something that should be focused on. More people should be looking into this issue.”

Ithaca students were allowed to attend the conference because the school has non-governmental organization (NGO) status. It has sent observes to the five previous meetings. John said that anyone interested could “basically just fill out the form and apply.” The college paid half of the expenses for the students who were chosen; grants also lent financial support.

Unlike most college students who visit Cancun, there wasn’t much partying going on between John and his colleagues. The group posted entries that tracked their experiences and voiced their opinions onto their blog, www.icciop16.com.

“We behaved ourselves,” John said.

“Our intention is to report and to analyze, to describe our activities and findings, and to place them into the context of the global fight against climate change,” the blog states. “We have our commitments. We would like to see the world reach a meaningful long-term agreement that turns us back from the brink of disaster. Time is pressing. We are worried.”

It wasn’t until after high school that John began to worry about the planet’s future. Before college, John had other priorities: “To be honest, I was just a football player,” he said. In 2008, during his senior year as a NKHS Skipper, John was named Co-MVP of the football team. He was also named First Team All- Division and played in the Rhode Island All-Star Game.

Along with his football success, John starred for the track and field team, a sport he didn’t get involved with until his senior year. He excelled at the long jump, high jump and triple jump, and was a big scorer on the North Kingstown team that won its eighth-consecutive Southern Division title in 2008.

That September, John attended Ithaca with intentions of playing college football, and he did, but only his freshman season. He changed directions his sophomore season.

“I stopped playing to focus on my studies,” he said.

It wasn’t until he started to take certain courses that climate change sparked his interest.

“I didn’t know much about climate change until after I took a couple of classes that focused on it,” he said. “It was different because it was such an issue in college. While in high school, they didn’t necessarily report on it. So I took up an interest.”

In Cancun, John said, he met people with the same environmental interests. He said he spoke with students from Cornell University, the Ivy League school that is also located in Ithaca, N.Y. John also said he made about 10 professional contacts that he wants to stay in touch with. Although John said he hasn’t decided what he will do after graduation, he says, “I am pretty sure that I want to go into the environmental field.”

John said this year’s conference was especially important because the Kyoto Protocol – an international agreement within the United Nations to have countries help reduce greenhouse gas emissions – is expiring in 2012. While the convention promotes and encourages countries to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions, the protocol entrusts them to do so.

“Last year’s Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen was widely viewed as a failure after President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, representing the world’s two largest carbon emitters, failed to reach an agreement on substantive reductions,” said Tom Shevory, a professor of politics who teaches the International Policy Class at Ithaca and also attended the conference. “This year brings a renewed commitment to resolve differences before the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.”

John left the island for Ithaca less than three years ago with football on his mind, and now he isn’t as concerned with the playing fields of today, but the playing fields of the future.

“It is my generation that is going to reverse the impacts caused by industrialization and unsustainable economic growth,” Perrotti said. “Educating myself further will only allow me to educate the next person on the issue, and hopefully this will create a domino effect.”

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