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Energy Week inspires climate change discussion

| Friday, September 15, 2023

On Wednesday, the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism hosted four panelists at their “Confronting the Climate Crisis Across the Disciplines” event. As part of Notre Dame’s 17th annual Energy Week, the event aimed to encourage conversation about sustainable energy and climate change from an Arts and Letters perspective.

“We really want to raise awareness of important energy issues and especially make people aware of the fact that they’re interdisciplinary, that they’re not just for people in engineering and science,” said Anne Berges Pillai, who works for education and outreach at ND Energy. “Some of it is [engineering and science], and it’s important, but we need people from every major to get involved and know what the issues are and start thinking about these things.”

The panelists featured at the event all work in separate departments at Notre Dame: history, English, law and sustainable energy. Panelist Bruce Huber, who is a member of the law faculty, shared a view similar to Pillai’s.

Grace Tadajweski | The Observer

“What we need in terms of citizenship right now is people who are capable of thinking clearly across disciplines,” Huber said. “It means that you shouldn’t just think about fulfilling your distribution requirement in science as just sort of a throw-away. Your capability to think and understand the basic science is a requirement for basic citizenship in America today.”

Panelist Emily Grubert, who is an associate professor of sustainable energy, said she grew up in an energy-oriented family which contributed to her interest in the topic.

“I just observed [the energy discussion] a lot as a kid and realized that this was something really, really significant,” Grubert said. “As I had particularly started to recognize the climate crisis as a much more dominant factor than it has been historically, it became really clear that there’s a lot of different things that we need to do here.”

When called to consider how to move forward in relation to environmental issues, panelist Roy Scranton said that there are no easy answers. Scranton explained that with these questions, one must first answer what the desired endpoint is.

“Is the goal to sustain this unethical system and keep progressing wherever we’re going, to keep chasing this idea of technology and policy and democracy all somehow creating a utopia here on Earth?” Scranton said. “Or do we ask really deep-hearted questions about how we organize society as a whole, questions that may not be able to be solved in a room like this or in a seminar? They will be solved in very messy and unpleasant ways over a long period of time, but they are questions that need to be asked nonetheless.”

ND Energy will be holding another sustainably-minded event Friday “SustainaStyle: Unthreading Fast Fashion.” The event is hosted by student government and Strike Magazine and will offer students points towards the Sustainability Cup for attending.

“I think students need to pay attention to the news and to events on campus,” Pillai said. “I know the news is depressing, but we can’t fix things if we don’t know what’s broken and why it’s broken … If students continue to ignore it, especially Notre Dame students who are future leaders, I don’t think we stand a chance, right? If people here can get excited and work together, then I think it’s very hopeful, the future is very hopeful. But if we can’t even get Notre Dame students to care about this stuff, then I worry.”

Notre Dame offers an Energy Studies minor which, according to ND Energy, works to create leaders to move toward a “sustainable energy future.” Senior Annie Lang has a minor in Energy Studies.

“For me, climate change is a huge issue and just protecting the world we live in and the environment for future generations,” Lang said. “So, learning about clean energy, renewable energy, I think, is very important to make people aware of so that its more normalized and that people consider finding careers in those [fields], and we can find new energy sources.”

The minor requires students to complete 16 credits of coursework. Classes in the minor focus not only on energy, but also policy and economics related to energy.

“The climate crisis is obviously a pressing issue for our future, and I think it’s important that I frame my academic experience around confronting issues of climate change,” freshman Katherine Lieberth said. “It’s going to be an important part of what our society will face in the years that I will be working.”

In 2021, Notre Dame committed to achieving a carbon neutral campus by 2050. To do this, the University will focus on growing geothermal energy use, becoming more energy efficient, and utilizing solar projects.

“I would say [the climate crisis] is definitely relevant,” freshman Timothy Barloon, who lives in Dillon Hall, said. “I would like to see more of an emphasis on like recycling, because, honestly, I don’t really know how the recycling in my dorm works or if there is any.”

Sophomore Kate Healey said that she noticed a heavy use of single plastics at Notre Dame, especially in the dining halls. Healey noted that her high school heavily discussed the environmental crisis across all subjects, and she has not noticed the same emphasis at Notre Dame.

“It’s not the forefront of what I’m studying, so it’s definitely not something that I talk about on a daily basis, but I also just feel like it’s not heavily discussed here,” Healey said.

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