Energy: Panelists discuss future, impact of resources

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Lycoming College freshman Zach Staver of South Williamsport asks a question of the panel during the first of the Center for Energy and the Future's panel discussion at the Welch Honors Hall Wednesday.

Lycoming College educators from a number of academic disciplines took turns considering the topic of energy during a panel discussion Wednesday.

Free of rancor and debate, the six panelists instead provided different perspectives on the issue.

Dr. Michael Kurtz, assistant professor of economics, might have given the most telling commentary early on in the discussion when he said, “Everything has a cost.”

It was a statement that the panelists seemed to agree upon.

All energy sources, whether fossil fuels or renewables, can mean different impacts not only to the environment but to societies and economies.

“It’s difficult to know all the ramifications of everything,” said Dr. Charles Mahler, assistant professor of chemistry.

Charles Doersam, who holds a master’s degree in physics from Kent State University, noted that through time the nation has embraced various energy resources.

“Nuclear energy was seen as a savior,” he said. “Then we looked at the consequences of waste disposal.”

That, in turn, led to the use of more coal for energy and, finally, natural gas.

“We have screwed up, to this point,” he said.

Dr. Robert Smith, assistant professor of biology, said the more that is learned about unseen costs, the more easily decisions can be made.

Dr. Ryan Adams, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, said an important point to consider is why the U.S. consumes such a great amount of energy.

“Most nations don’t use the energy we use,” he said. “There is something unique about our society.”

Yet another point to consider, he said, is why Americans are so radical in finding a solution to the energy problem.

Dr. Laura Seddelmeyer, assistant professor of history, said there is a need to seek balanced views over the question. As an historian, she considers issues by looking at the past and studying patterns over time.

A good question with regard to energy, she said, is how a society defines security.

At one point, the panelists were asked about rising energy costs consumers face.

“If prices become too high, we consume something else,” Kurtz said.

Prices, he said, are driven by demand.

Panelists also were asked whether the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should be eliminated.

Dr. Jonathan Williamson, associate professor of political science and moderator of the panel discussion, said it certainly doesn’t represent the last environmental battle.

Smith said the threat to eliminate the agency likely is more symbolic than anything.

“As an agency, it’s doing a majority of good,” he said. “What level of risk are we willing to take on in environmental impacts?”

Kurtz said government often provides services that are “super inefficient.”