April 20, 2012

After Congress bid, Lodato talks energy

One month after conceding defeat in his primary bid for Woodlawn Representative Bobby Rush’s (D-IL) congressional seat, University lecturer Ray Lodato waded back into academia for a panel discussion last night on climate change and the potential for progress in the clean energy industry.

Joining Lodato were Sabina Shaikh, a University lecturer on environmental economics, Tom Dinwoodie, an executive at solar panel manufacturer SunPower Corp, and Christine Nannicelli, a community organizer for the Sierra Club currently advocating for the closure of coal-fired power plants.

The discussion drifted from the difficulties of passing environmental reform in Congress to the feasibility of specific forms of clean energy, although the panelists quickly agreed on their first point: Individuals need to educate themselves in science and politics in order to impact the process.

“If you understand how political systems work, you have the tools to make climate change solutions happen,” Lodato said.

Asked what sort of obstacles lie in the path toward a greener future, Dinwoodie pointed to the “level of misinformation” around the country, especially about the stakes of global warming. Melting polar ice caps could raise ocean levels by 250 feet and drown coastal cities, for example.

“We are not paying for that at the pump,” he said.

The panelists agreed that the chances of federal policy countering climate change in the next few years seem bleak.

Nannicelli stressed the importance of education in science and politics, and emphasized the need for activism. “There are 20 oil lobbyists per Congress person,” she said. “It’s shaping our federal policy.”

Still, they all were optimistic about the power of local engagement.

Pointing out that people drive the market, Shaikh said that consumer demand for green energy can give utility companies an incentive to explore wind, solar, and geothermal power. Asked whether nuclear power is a viable option as well, Lodato flatly rejected the idea.

“There are two paths that you can take: One is raising consciousness,” Lodato said. “The second is creating a society that promotes green practices in the absence of effective politics.”

The UChicago Climate Action Network (UCAN) organized the panel.