A balanced forum would help students understand energy challenges

Recently, conversations about America’s energy future have consumed Wash. U. From Green Action’s flash mob protest two weeks ago to Student Union’s resolution in opposition to the University’s use of the marketing term “clean coal”; from the appointment of the CEOs of Peabody, Arch Coal and Ameren to the University’s board of trustees to the incipient broadcast of a campus-wide “plan for sustainability,” energy and the environment are on the minds of many on this campus.

We noticed, while watching students deliberate about these issues last week, that campus-wide understanding of issues pertaining to future energy usage is largely lacking. For students who study the humanities, and even those entrenched in the study of hard science, it is often difficult to understand the real challenges that our nation faces as we move into a new era of energy production and consumption, making it hard to take a feasible position on future sources of energy.

Environmental activists on this campus say that it is key that we take a stance against the priority that the University seems to accord to a future that employs coal-derived energy sources—that this prioritization is ill-considered and unjust. But many students—even those who deliberated on the SU resolution two Wednesdays ago—have trouble weighing the real facts of America’s future energy use. To turn to Wikipedia articles on carbon capture and storage in an attempt to understand what is termed “clean coal” is a measure that we should not have to take.

Because we, as students, should understand the real implications of the stances on future energy use that the University and the student body take, we find it imperative that the administration, Green Action and SU sponsor some sort of forum to help us understand the real facts and proposed solutions regarding the challenges of future energy production.

An ideal forum, in our opinion, should present established facts about climate change and population growth, confronting these facts with differing perspectives on questions of usage and efficiency. We know that those on the side of coal use say that efficiency should come before alternative fuel sources; we know that those who stand vehemently against fossil fuels feel that the development of new sources of energy should be the primary interest of any research done on energy.

The University hosted a similar forum last March to address questions surrounding its sponsorship of the Consortium on Clean Coal Utilization. We feel that another forum is in order—one that enables us to hear the real options present for future energy usage, and one that accords alternative solutions as much face time as coal.

At the end of the day, future energy use is not merely a political issue; many of us cannot engage in debate surrounding energy the way we can deliberate about abortion policy and tax structures, because we lack the knowledge necessary to understand the challenges it presents. In order to form educated opinions on energy usage—something that we, as representative members of an institution with a clearly defined stance on energy, ought to do—we must first understand the scientific facts that will shape future energy research and policy. A forum that explains these issues to the student body would be a good start.

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