Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Nix the Quick Fix

Focusing on New Technologies and New Habits in Energy

Tuesday, October 28th marked the final community forum event in the Georgia Deliberations 2008 program series. Once again we tackled the topic, “The Energy Problem: Choices for an Uncertain Future” this time in our home base, the auditorium of the Russell Library at UGA. Fifteen attendees -- a mixture of students, retired faculty, and members of the community – gathered on this chilly fall evening. A team of dedicated UGA student volunteers helped to lead the discussion: Kristen Tullos (moderator), Jessica Van Parys (moderator), and Ashley Bartlett (recorder).

The deliberation got off to an interesting start, as participants tackled all three approaches at once! But the crowd was quick to pick favorites, and Approach 1 (Reducing our Dependence on Foreign Energy) proved the least popular. Many spoke out about the limited supply of untapped oil in the US and the repercussions of moving to an isolated approach – namely, even if the US could stop buying oil from other countries what would those other countries stop buying from the US? In the end, most agreed that drilling for oil domestically is a temporary fix at best. Interestingly, few people focused on the possible damage to our environment inherent in this approach.

Approach 2, which suggests a focus on moving away from use of fossil fuels through investing in alternative sources of energy, received positive if skeptical reviews. While most of the crowd agreed that the research, development, and adoption of other renewable energy sources is an essential step, they also realized that this is an option that will take time. Can we last another 50 years living on oil and coal? Can average Americans afford expensive new technologies? One participant revisited Approach 1 during this conversation, suggesting that tapping US resources now might provide a crutch for Americans to bear down on while other options are investigated and implemented on a large scale. Only one participant seemed to take issue with the adoption of nuclear power as a viable and safe option for the future.

Nearly the entire group favored Approach 3 (Reduce our demand for energy), with a mixture of elements from Approach 2. Everyone recognized the wasteful nature of American culture and that until we find a way to change the habits of individuals, there isn’t much hope for solving the energy problem. Although slight mention was made of using government regulation to curb energy use, more people seemed to believe that the increasing price of gas and other commodities will force people to re-evaluate the way they live. Several older participants in the crowd, who made great contributions to the discussion, repeatedly suggested that solving the energy crisis is the responsibility of younger generations. Younger participants in this group seemed ready to take on this challenge, but also urged their elders to keep pushing for change as well – because it’s the future of their children and grandchildren that is at stake.

The turnout for this forum was solid and the discussion thought provoking – especially some shocking statistics about the size of the carbon footprint created by meat and dairy production alone. A good ending to our fall forum series – and hopefully, we’ll have some returning participants on the next go-round. Stay tuned for updates on other forums from the Russell by visiting our home page or joining our facebook group.

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