Documentary, panel explore alternative energy

by Jenn Summers ’13, Contributing Writer

Topics ranged from nuclear energy to natural gas and solar panels Wednesday night when a documentary film on energy alternatives Switch was shown to a packed Burgiss Theater. The film was followed by a powerhouse panel of related speakers including Bob Inglis, former South Carolina congressman and current director of the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, Doug Webster from the city of Greenville’s Green Ribbon Advisory Committee, and James Brown, senior director of engineering, from construction and engineering firm giant Fluor Corp.

The film, released in 2011, is the brainchild of a geologist investigating a range of energy alternatives to oil and gas (as well as oil and gas themselves) in terms of cost to produce and how much power they give. The end question to be answered? When can the US make “the switch” from fossil fuels to more “green” energy.

The film concluded with the premise that based on growth trends, a combination of natural gas, wind, solar, hydroelectric, and nuclear power will probably surpass oil and gas use in approximately fifty years. But the main emphasis of the conclusion was on the “fifth fuel” of environmental efficiency—where the population has to reduce energy usage in order to make more sustainable energy a reality.

Sponsored by the Bartram Society and the Environmental Action Group, the post-film discussion centered on what students and community members could do and what South Carolina, in particular, was doing to make a difference.

“We have a long way to go in South Carolina but we’re getting there,” said Webster, who cited multiple initiatives by the city of Greenville to encourage greening of downtown buildings and other mini-projects. Furman’s Shi Center for Sustainability and Post-Graduate Program in Corporate Sustainability received accolades for their contributions to these greening efforts. Each speaker stressed that students should be politically aware and active.

“We hope this event will be the beginning of a dialogue and looking past misconceptions of different polarized groups to create a solution, ” said Environmental Action Group president Hayley Cunningham.

The film, widely hailed by the audience as a balanced, non-partisan look at energy alternatives, was donated to the Furman library by the sponsoring organizations. To learn more, see the switchenergyproject.com.