Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Pamela Matson, dean of the School of Earth Sciences at Stanford University addresses the topic of sustainability at the 15th annual Wallace Stenger Center Symposium Friday at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — The opportunity to share ideas about sustainability attracted more than 300 speakers and guests from around the nation to Salt Lake City.

The 15th annual Wallace Stegner Center Symposium, held Friday at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, addressed the topic through a series of speakers and panels. The event continues today.

"(Sustainability) is without a doubt one of the greatest challenges of our time," said Hiram Chodosh, dean of the S.J. Quinney College of Law, as he introduced this year's theme.

Pamela Matson, dean of the School of Earth Sciences at Stanford University, addressed the topic of sustainability over the long term and the challenges involved in finding a solution.

"Most of the definitions have the common thread of being concerned about future generations, not just our own," said Matson, the keynote speaker Friday morning.

The challenge of sustainability is to meet the needs, such as food, energy, education and employment, of people today and in the future, while at the same time protecting and sustaining the life-support systems of the planet, she said.

That is a struggle, Matson said, because social needs are not being met, and life-support systems are being degraded.

Matson also discussed popular topics, such as climate change, and emphasized the need to examine data over longer periods of time — not just on a year-to-year basis — to see trends. She also noted that climate changes are not evenly distributed around the planet.

Matson proposed a transition to sustainability, because it's not something that can be accomplished overnight, she said.

"I think some of the things that are required are new knowledge, new tools, new approaches," Matson said. "It's going to take educating leaders, including educating the public."

Tracie Kirkham, a water resources scientist for the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities, has attended the symposium for years.

"I come to the Wallace Stegner Center because it broadens my knowledge of various topics," Kirkham said. "It's thought-provoking."

Amy Wildermuth, a professor at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, worked with Lincoln Davies, an associate professor of law, to develop the theme of this year's symposium.

"This theme has been suggested to us for a number of years," Wildermuth said. "We thought it was time to one do on sustainability."

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Davies said event organizers plan to follow up the symposium with lectures and discussions on the topic of sustainability. A green bag lunch lecture series is offered regularly at the Stegner Center and is open to the public.

"We're really excited that we have this many people interested in this topic," Wildermuth said. "It probably shows what an important topic this is."

Today's speakers, who will focus on sustainability in Utah and the Western U.S., include local author Chip Ward, Stanford University's Buzz Thompson and Florida State University's Robin Craig.