A public screening of “An Inconvenient Truth” last Monday at the Michigan League presented attendees with a more accessible version of what scientists have been asserting for years – global warming is real and the world has to take action now to slow its progression. But it was the panel discussion following the viewing that was most enlightening, revealing what is missing from the movement for environmental reform. The discussion between students and faculty showed there’s a lot happening on campus to promote energy conservation and alternative energy, but each effort remains independent from the others. In order to maximize the impact of so many groups’ efforts, greater coordination is needed to enable them to pool their ideas and resources.

Sarah Royce

That panelists on Monday included faculty from across the University – professors from the Ross School of Business, the School of Public Policy, the School of Natural Resources and the College of Engineering – demonstrates the many facets of conservation and alterative energy. The assortment of University initiatives and student groups is equally diverse, with each organization taking a different approach to roughly the same goal. The College of Engineering has reinvented the Phoenix Project, an effort launched after World War II to find peaceful uses for atomic energy. Now it’s the Phoenix Energy Institute, aimed at uniting engineering organizations behind the common goal of developing alternative energy sources. On the other end of campus, the Business School and the School of Natural Resources have teamed up to develop a joint degree program in global sustainable enterprise. Business models and public policy applications are as important now to the effort as innovation and design, because only through business savvy and political clout will clean energy sources become attractive to those who can invest in such projects.

But what is largely missing is any coordination between these encouraging initiatives. The University can enable better communication between different projects around the campus. In the same way the Phoenix Institute is meant to unite engineering projects, a campuswide endeavor could unite the many different elements of the environmentalist cause, strengthening its influence.

The same enthusiasm for environmental causes is growing on a state level, but as at the University, politicians have failed to fully seize the opportunity to make Michigan a leader in alternative energy. Cities like Ann Arbor are working to diversify their energy portfolios. Even some Metro Detroit churches have been promoting fossil fuel conservation via solar panels and windmills and educating parishioners about global warming.

It’s not just tree-huggers who are going green: Alternative energy is attracting supporters from every field for its potential benefits to Michigan’s economic growth and national security. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have paid tribute to the wonders of alternative energy, but the government has remained sluggish in taking concrete action beyond a few subsidies and tax breaks that fail to offset the help the government gives oil companies. Any politician who truly picks up this cause as his own would not only strengthen his own poll ratings but would also help the country by giving alternate energies political clout. With public support and political power, as well as constantly improving technology, clean energy will be transformed from a hippie’s dream to a practical solution to many of our country’s problems.

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