Student Blog: Top 5 Moments from Winter Forum 2017

Posted On:

Friday, Mar 10, 2017 - 3:26 pm

A January ice storm forced the rescheduling of the 2017 Winter Forum, a 2.5-day immersive educational experience for Duke students sponsored annually by the Office of Undergraduate Education. This year’s Forum—planned in coordination with the Duke University Energy Initiative, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, and Cook Center on Social Equity—was an abbreviated event that took place on Sunday, March 5. The event's theme: Power to the people—Tackling energy inequality through clean energy solutions.  Read about Duke junior Dillon Fernando's top five takeaways from Duke's Winter Forum on Sunday, March 5, 2017. You can also read about the event in Duke Today.  

Here my top five moments from this year’s abbreviated forum:

1. “We take for granted the access to energy that we have.”

Brian Murray, Interim Director of the Duke University Energy Initiative, kicked off the evening with a brief introduction on the theme of the forum—tackling energy inequality through clean energy solutions. Murray reminded us that in many parts of the world, people use energy sources that are often inefficient and harmful to human health (e.g., the use of biofuels like dung). Energy may seem ubiquitous in our own lives, but disparities in energy accessibility are prevalent, not just in a far off land, but in our very own Durham community.  

2. “We must empower all people of a population to fully be engaged with the social, political, educational, and resources [like energy] that we see.”

Jay Pearson, Assistant Professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy, spoke with students about how factors like socioeconomic status can marginalize a large proportion of people of color in their access to resources like healthcare, education and energy. According to Pearson, this can lead to an asymmetry of power between certain races. This sheds light on how inequality and inequity continue to implicitly affect Americans in their everyday lives.

Professor Pearson's lecture highlighted how factors relating to social inequity and inequality can lead to disparities in energy accessibility.

3. Students found valuable information through these energy discussions that can be applied to several different majors and career paths.

Being a science major at Duke, I sometimes forget that the concepts and ideas you learn in class can be applied to issues that affect every single person on the planet—like energy. During our dinner break, I chatted with a few students about their experiences so far that evening.

Especially, during this forum, students were introduced to how intersections of policy, research, and current technology can impact people and c.ommunities First-year Alanna Robinson, who’s majoring in electrical and computer engineering and plans on going into medicine, chatted with me about how this forum helped her view energy issues through a more socioeconomic and racial lens. She also remarked that this forum might get her thinking about how she could integrate an energy focus in her research or the organizations she joins during her time at Duke.

Students enjoy a delicious catered dinner between activities. 

First year Dustin Zhu, who is planning on majoring in economics, talked to me about why he found this forum engaging and highly applicable to his major. Zhu channeled most students’ reason for coming to the forum:

“Energy is everywhere nowadays and is kind of dictating society. This [information] is going to be applicable for any field that I want to go into."

4. “Energy access is a complex problem that involves infrastructure, but also issues surrounding housing, environment, poverty, and public health.”—Libbie Weimer’s documentary Domestic Energy Access Stories

Libbie Weimer’s documentary Domestic Energy Access Stories (developed specifically for the Winter Forum) gave additional context for the concepts of energy inequity and inequality—and put a face to those affected by energy disparities in our community.

5. “What should we demand from our energy providers to remedy the disparities in energy access?”  

The last portion of the evening was a panel discussion entitled “Energy inequality around the corner.” The panel featured Conor Harrison, USC assistant professor of geography; Al Ripley, Director, Consumer and Housing Project, NC Justice Center; and  Libbie Weimer, independent filmmaker and urban planner. It was moderated by Tanja Vujic, instructor for Duke University Global Inequality Research Initiative.

The energy panel engaged in stimulating discussion about energy inequality in Durham. 

Midway through discussion, our panel answered a question that really epitomized the whole purpose of this forum: how do can we reduce disparities in energy accessibility?

Panelist Al Ripley had a very salient point: many energy organizations are working towards energy efficiency, but few of these improvements in technology are being implemented in low-income communities, at least in America. Why? Because the cost to retrofit in these existing communities would be too great and communities themselves don’t have enough funds to support the venture either. Most of the replacements advancing more renewable and clean energy are happening at the level of suburbs.

We need to demand that energy companies invest in these new technologies for low-income communities. In the long run, retrofitting these communities will reduce the burden energy costs have on working families in these areas. To make this happen, we need to rally both our energy companies and local legislators to get on board. The panel suggested using bipartisan strategies that show companies and politicians how these energy solutions can also bring jobs and other economic benefits to cities. 

Posted By:

Dillon Fernando