Evanston residents gather to discuss environmental policy

Amanda Laabs

With pints of Guinness in hand, about 30 members of the Evanston community gathered at the Celtic Knot on Wednesday night to discuss political solutions the United States could use to deal with the overuse of non-renewable energy.

A partnership between One Book, One Northwestern and the Northwestern-run Science Cafe Evanston series brought sociology Prof. Monica Prasad to the pub, 626 Church St., to speak about her research on U.S. options for cutting down its fuel consumption and carbon emission. The informal setting lent itself to a discussion, and audience members contributed almost as much as Prasad.

In her most recent study, Prasad analyzed the advantages and disadvantages of implementing either a carbon tax or setting a cap on the amount of carbon dioxide a country can produce by studying countries that have implemented both measures. She said she was surprised to find countries have taken political action have had differential rates of success, with some countries even seeing an increase in emissions.

“My general conclusion has been that the policy really doesn’t matter,” said Prasad, a faculty fellow at NU’s Institute for Policy Research. “Neither will work in the absence of alternative sources of energy – that’s what really matters.”

At one point the discussion turned to the cap-and-trade bill that is currently cycling through Congress. The compromises the bill has to make in order to be “politically palatable” has also made it a weak solution to the problem, Prasad said.

“Though it seems that there isn’t a political solution to the problem, I believe that the implementation of policies that tap increasing citizen awareness of the problem is key,” Prasad said. “We need programs that will lead to the take-up of alternative energy – if this happens, it doesn’t matter whether or not we have a carbon tax or cap.”

Attendees then discussed the validity of several types of alternative power for the United States, including wind and nuclear power.

Prasad said she was “very impressed” by the audience’s level of knowledge of the subject matter.

John Buchanan, an Evanston resident and retired science department chair at Evanston Township High School, said he has been attending Science Cafe events since they started a few years ago. He said he’s concerned about energy consumption issues, especially the use of fossil fuels.

“If people don’t start thinking about it in other ways, it will cause serious problems,” he said. “I’m 70 years old, and in 20 years, I don’t know where we’re going to be. That’s scary.”

While people like Buchanan may have a deep personal interest in the subject matter, the Science Cafes are also advertised to Northwestern students on Plan-It Purple. But Suzanne Auburn, coordinator for the Cafes, said few students attend.

“The focus of Science Cafes is on the Evanston community,” she said. “If I’ve seen anything, it’s a grad student. I’ve never seen an undergrad.”

Auburn added that One Book, One Northwestern representatives reached out to her with the idea of a Science Cafe revolving around Thomas Friedman’s book “Hot, Flat and Crowded” in order to get the Evanston community engaged in a dialogue already happening on campus.

Auburn said the Science Cafe events are a great way for Evanston residents and students alike to find out about cutting edge research and talk with experts.

“It’s a way to get a flavor for scientific research that’s going on in a way that’s more personal and informal,” she said. “The atmosphere is very relaxed, and there’s no pretense that you have to be a science nut in order to attend.”

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