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Profs debate green economy

Molly Madden | Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Two University professors presented differing viewpoints on how environmental and economic issues are affecting the United States at a lecture Monday.

Engineering professor Frank Incropera spoke of taking measures to preserve the environment and the present fuel situation that affect the United States and the global community.

“In my mind, energy is as critical as an issue today as food and shelter,” Incropera said.

Incropera said while mother countries in the world rely on renewable energy resources as a power source, the United States depends on non-renewable sources for 80 percent of its energy needs.

“These are finite resources,” Incropera said. “At some point we are going to reach our peak productivity with each of the resources and then there will be a gradual decline.”

Incropera said even those with an optimistic outlook on the fuel situation predict that oil production will to decline in the year 2030. This makes the development and implementation of alternative energy sources increasingly important.

“At some point in the not-too-distant future, we’re going to have to rely on other sources of energy,” he said.

Incropera said it will be difficult to begin depending on other energy sources because the United States will be starting from such a small scale.

“Right now in this country, solar power accounts for less than one percent of our total energy, and wind power only accounts for about two percent,” he said.

Incropera compared the American views on alternative energy sources to those of other countries.

“European countries that have invested in these alternative fuel technologies are at the cutting edge of this development,” Incropera said. “In terms of economic growth, the United States is incredibly behind. When the time comes and we adapt to these new technologies, we’re going to have to import everything.”

Economics professor Amitava Dutt took a different stance on the issue. Dutt is in favor of continued use of non-renewable resources because it is cheaper.

“There is the view among economists that believes that people should do whatever they think is best for them,” Dutt said. If they feel like using cheap energy sources, then they should do it.”

Dutt is confident in the success of the market system and said it will continue to work even if we run out of fossil fuels.

“If the non-renewable resources begin to run out, the price will go up and get so high that no one will buy them thereby forcing us into investing in alternative fuels,” Dutt said.

Dutt also said that despite the good that can come from alternative fuel technologies, the cost might outweigh the possible positive outcomes that can arise.

“We know that technology can be created that can cut down on pollution, but you have to consider the cost,” he said. “You have to consider the cost to society as a whole as well.”