Washington & Jefferson College to offer stage for energy discussions

| Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 8:26 p.m.

When Diana Stares thinks about the challenge of trying to make Americans deal with energy issues, she knows she faces a difficult audience.

“We're a tough crew,” said the director of the Center of Energy Policy and Management at Washington & Jefferson College. Discussing energy awareness is a hard task with a public that doesn't think twice about turning up heat at home or jumping in a car for what could be a needless trip, she said.

Yet she and college President Tori Haring-Smith believe energy policy will be one of the major issues of international relations for decades to come.

They believe discussion of those issues should start on campuses such as W&J.

“The role of the small, liberal arts college is to be a resource for comment,” Haring-Smith said.

She said schools such as the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University look at energy issues through architecture or engineering programs. But she wants W&J to provide a site for “discussion, which is something you see much less.”

Stares points to the need for effective communication in dealing with these matters. For example, she said, climate change discussion has been wrapped in the term “global warming,” which means much more than elevated temperatures. Global warming affects such issues as ground and ocean water levels and shifting weather patterns.

To foster wiser discussion, Stares said, the center is:

• Measuring U.S. energy independence through an energy index, which compares the amount of domestically produced energy to the amount of foreign energy bought for this country. It uses a scale of 1 to 100 to reflect independence. The higher the number, the more energy independent the nation. The United States is at 74, according to the index,

• Analyzing municipal behavior in the boom-bust cycle of economic growth. Stares said history shows communities deal with declining tax bases and populations when industries such as steel or glass works fade. She and Haring-Smith said they want this study to help municipalities determine how to handle such issues.

• Sponsoring speakers and events. The center hosted an energy summit in April and will have another this spring.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

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