Elon forum shines
new light on issues

 

Story and photos by Bettina Johnson

Elon University's Center for Environmental Studies hosted "Roadmap to the Future: Tomorrow by Design," Oct. 8. The all-day workshop was the fourth annual environmental forum hosted by the university and was open to all members of the Elon community.

Offering a mix of speeches from environmental professionals, the tasting of organic foods, test-driving of hybrid cars and the opportunity to examine solar and wind energy, Elon University educated its students and community about environmental issues and alternatives facing our planet. Keynote speakers included Dr. David Orr, professor and chair of the Environmental Studies Program at Oberlin College, and Dr. Stuart Hart, the Samuel C. Johnson Professor of Sustainable Global Enterprise at Cornell University.

Orr spoke about the critically important issue of saving our environment for the future. He explained that global warming caused by pollutants in the Earth's biosphere is making the planet suffer the same way as a person "sitting in a parked car with the windows rolled up in a suburban parking lot on a July day."

"It is not an issue of conservatives versus liberals," said Orr, as he tackled the idea some put forth that environmentalism is only espoused by liberals. "I believe they are both flip sides of the same coin. The issue is what kind of world we will leave behind for future generations."

Orr went on to say that Americans are the most wasteful people on Earth. He said government agencies have reported that the largest security issue facing the American public today is not terrorism but climate change because of our mutilation of the planet.

One of the alternative energy methods he described, the wind, is plentiful right here in our own country. "There is more wind potential in the Dakotas than there is oil in Saudi Arabia," said Orr, adding that benefits of efficiency and alternative power sources include employment opportunities while also saving the environment.

According to Orr, the problem with today's leaders is that they talk down to their citizens. "We are being dumbed down in an election year," said Orr. "We're being talked to as if the environment doesn't matter, as if we're in third or fourth grade." Orr urges citizens to rise up and care about our common wealth.

Melding capitalism with a plan for a sustainable world

Hart is an expert on fusing the business and sustainability agendas to create sustainable value. He explained how the world of commerce is the leverage to a sustainable world. When speaking about the term "sustainability," Hart said, "All of us, at a high level, understand it, but when reduced to practice, it gets sticky." He said the term means so much that no one knows quite how to operate it. And there is no "one-size-fits-all" solution.

He pointed out that poor people in developing countries are generally badly served by capitalism, and said they can be the key to building a better world. "We need to learn more about sustainable living from those at the base of the pyramid," he said.

Hart said he believes technology such as windmills, hybrid cars and LED lighting will leapfrog us to the future; companies need to switch to more sustainable methods in order to be successful. "This is the only way to get to the future and create a more secure world," said Hart.

Local activists show their concern

Dr. John Sullivan, a philosophy professor at Elon University and a co-planner of the environmental forum, said he was pleased with the turnout for the event. "The talks were really eye-opening. I thought they fit together very well," he said.

Duane Bryant, a CERES volunteer and representative, stood beside a display board filled with accomplishments and newspaper clippings about his environment-friendly organization. CERES is Alamance County's Coalition for Environmental Responsibility and Education through Synergy. "This group brought smaller groups together to fight for the environment," said Bryant. He said he hopes the coalition will inform politicians, students and average citizens to make better choices that can make a difference in nature.

Hybrid, biodiesel on view

An automotive show featuring vehicles that use alternative fuels was swarmed by interested students and members of the community. The cars, on display in the Moselely Center parking log, were sponsored by Elon Campus Safety and Police.

"They fire up quiet nicely," said Jack Martin, owner of a Golf TDI VolksWagen that uses vegetable oil in combination with diesel gas. "That's the beauty of these high-compression engines." Martin suggested that drivers start out with biodiesel, and then pour in the vegetable oil once the car has warmed up.

Biodiesel fuel uses natural, renewable resources such as vegetable oils and recycled greases that can be chemically transformed into clean-burning energy. It can be made from many oils and fats such as soy, canola, tallow, mustard and restaurant greases. "It turns into a beautiful fuel," Martin said.

Also on display were two Toyota Priuses, available for test drives. When driven, the gas/electric hybrid machines seemed to float over the asphalt with no sound. The price starts at around $21,000 and includes a federal tax deduction for all new Prius buyers. This gas/electric hybrid offers amazing fuel economy, all with the performance of a conventional car.

Solar and wind power on display

Scattered in the grass, absorbing full sunshine was an array of solar panels being demonstrated and explained by Chris Carter of Solar Village Independent Renewable Power, a purveyor of solar and wind-powered energy systems.

"I've been self-sustained for 14 years as my own power company," said Carter, who spent much of the day wearing a Chinese-styled cardboard hat he made himself to shield his face from the sun when he's out on the job installing his solar units.

"Those other power companies steal the environment from us," he said, "and then expect us to pay for their lousy electricity."

Carter said solar energy panels are the most reliable energy sources ever created, with no moving parts.

Installation prices for complete home heating/cooling systems range from $15,000 to $20,000 for wind and $25,000 to $35,000 for solar, but he said these systems work in a clean fashion, using renewable resources, and make it so a homeowner should never have electricity bills to pay.

Organic foods, Faces of the Future part of forum

Moving toward lunchtime, one of Elon's Harden dining hall featured a "Battle of the Chefs" using locally grown and organic foods, in keeping with the sustainability theme of the day.

Aramark food service chefs James and Menna competed using locally produced organic foods supplied through the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. Elon students on the meal plan could enjoy the organic meal without an additional fee. Other event participants paid $6.50 per person for lunch.

A wall in the student union building, Moseley Center, was dedicated to an exhibit featuring the "Faces of the Future. As conference attendees arrived and signed in, they were asked to think of children who are family members and/or friends or even children yet to be born and write their names down to be posted on a wall dedicated to the future.

Some people also brought photos of children to be posted on the wall prior to and during the conference as a reminder that what we do today will be the legacy that we leave to those who follow.

Afternoon breakout sessions at the environmental forum included three choices of discussions complete with guest panels:

"Food by Design"was moderated by Rett Davis, Alamance County Agricultural Extension agent. This session discussed sustainable agriculture including panelists such as Tony Kleese, executive director of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, and Linda Niedziela, assistant professor of biology at Elon.

"Communities and Business by Design" was another breakout session focused on sustainable practices as a guiding principle. Facilitated by Paul Kron, regional planner with the Piedmont Triad Council of Governments, the panel included Anne Tazewell of Triangle Clean Cities; Rodney Swink, director of the N.C. Office of Urban Development; and Nate Bowman of Bowman Development Corporation.

The third breakout session, "Academia by Design," was moderated by Orr and Ralph Kirschner. This group featured representatives from local universities with "green" initiatives and was cosponsored by the Elon Student Sierra Coalition.

 

 

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Last Modified:  10/08/04
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