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Public officials address oil dependence

U.S. Senators Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., told a crowd of students, professors and community members that oil dependency poses a threat to national security, health and the economy in Smith-Buonanno 106 Friday night. The speeches were part of the "Get Off Oil" forum hosted by Brown emPower and Environment Rhode Island.

Oil dependency has "turned Washington, D.C., and specifically the Capitol Building, into one of the two or three last places on earth where climate change is still denied," Whitehouse told the crowd. "This is an industry that is comprised mostly of international corporations who owe no allegiance to any flag or nation. The idea that we would allow them to control the debate in our country as to what direction our energy future will go is a very poor idea," he said.

Following the senators' presentations, a panel addressed the environmental and health risks of using oil as an energy source before opening the discussion to questions and comments from the audience.

Stephen Porder, assistant professor of biology and one of the panelists, said many people tend to ignore extreme climate change models. But "even middle of the road scenarios mean big changes," he said, listing ecosystem failure and an increase in the number of extreme weather events as consequences of unsustainable oil use.

"It essentially means moving the climate of Atlanta up to Rhode Island," Porder said.

Molly Clark, manager of health promotion and public policy at the American Lung Association in Rhode Island, discussed  the decrease in air quality caused by oil emissions.

Catherine Lutz, chair of the Department of Anthropology, compared society's dependence on cars with its dependence on oil. Due to suburbanization, the failing of public transportation systems and flashy car marketing techniques, car and oil use has increased dramatically in past decades, Lutz said. She also focused on "some positive but fragile trends," such as the move toward more fuel-efficient and hybrid vehicles.

Following a brief question and answer session, a second panel took the stage to discuss ways of decreasing oil use.

Jim Malloy of Malloy Biodiesel and Mike Bailey, assistant production manager of Newport Biodiesel, spoke about their work to increase the production and sale of biodiesel as an alternative energy source. During his presentation, Malloy challenged Lutz' labeling of such increases as "fragile trends," noting that his company celebrated the sale of its one millionth gallon this past summer.

Albert Dahlberg, Brown's director of state and community relations and the founder of Project Get Ready Rhode Island, emphasized the need to adopt plug-in electric vehicles as oil availability continues to decrease.

"The era of cheap oil is over," Dahlberg said. "It will never come back. It is a physical impossibility."

During the second question and answer session, audience and panel members debated the merits of increasing the cost of oil to make sustainable energy more appealing and discussed whether to emphasize the environmental or economic impacts of oil dependency.

"I loved everything that's going on tonight," said Danielle Fournier, a student at the University of Rhode Island.

"I thought it was ... very informative," said Anthony Baro, co-founder of Efficient Energy Solutions, an organization dedicated to developing alternative energy sources. "It is a great initiative to start from the ground roots."


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