On the first sunny weekend in April, leaders in geology, energy policy, and sustainable development joined over 250 delegates for Principia College’s 61st Public Affairs Conference, which was titled The End of Oil? Energy Challenges in the 21st Century.

More than 230 on-campus Principia students, faculty, and staff joined 23 off-campus delegates, which included Principia alumni and parents, as well as students from Ball State University, Beloit College, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and Lewis and Clark Community College. Many of the off-campus delegates gave positive feedback about the conference, and the PAC Executive Board hopes that next year’s conference will attract even more.

Attendees heard from speakers including former CIA director James Woolsey, journalist and author of The End of Oil Paul Roberts, Deputy Executive Director of the International Energy Agency Richard H. Jones, and Executive Director of the American Petroleum Institute of Illinois Dr. David Sykuta. The talks and panel discussions covered subjects ranging from current regional impacts of the oil industry to what the future of energy will look like in the United States and the world.

Each day of the conference saw speakers take the question “End of Oil?” in a new direction, which pleased conference faculty adviser and history professor Dr. David Winder: “Perhaps most encouragingly, the conference was not agenda-driven, hence the question, End of Oil?,  … [and this] motivated the audience to seek viable solutions.” Senior Kenny D’Evelyn, who co-directed the conference with junior Laura Buchanan, said of the title in his opening comments on Thursday night, “The question mark was intentional.”

This years PAC logo

When choosing a topic, Buchanan and D’Evelyn saw that the issue of oil would be timely and would hold significance for many academic fields. “It is extremely relevant to our generation and is the foundation of so many other challenges,” said D’Evelyn. “If we can solve energy, so many other things will fall into line.”

Biology professor Mike Rechlin, Interim Director of the Principia Center for Sustainability, said that he came to the conference not expecting to hear that the end of oil may still be some way in the future. “What surprised me was learning that there is a lot of oil out there,” said Rechlin. “What I still wonder is, what’s the price going to be?”

The solar car, Ra 7, was parked on the chapel green Saturday and served as a symbol of Principia’s commitment to clean energy. Principia has already switched to buying its electricity from producers using entirely renewable energy sources, as announced at graduation last year. However, the switch may not have significantly reduced Principia’s oil consumption. Woolsey pointed out that the primary gas-guzzler is transportation, while oil provides only one percent of the energy used to produce electricity in the United States. Rechlin said, “Principia has taken large steps to buy clean power … but as we found out, it hasn’t done much to move us away from oil.”

Buchanan felt the conference was helpful in outlining the issue. “We have more oil and the end of oil is not imminent, but we need to be more responsible with what we have left,” she said.

D’Evelyn said he hoped attendees came away with the thought that “we as individuals, communities, citizens, can make a difference on local and national levels. That’s the purpose of PAC – to empower the individual to enact change.”

Many of the speakers mentioned their appreciation for Principia and the conference.  “I’ve been to a lot of schools, and it really feels like I’ve been invited back home here – and I’ve never been here before,” said Roberts in his closing speech. “I sense this is a community that cares about community.”  Said another speaker, “I’ve never been to a conference this well organized.”

Next year’s PAC, co-directed by juniors Amanda Dunlap and Kristen Rosen, is titled Solving Transnational Crime: A Solutions-Based Examination of Human and Drug Trafficking. Students considering applying for board positions should reference the recent all-campus e-mail and keep an eye on the PAC bulletin board in the concourse. Applications are due by the end of Week 4.

and, as a separate box on the page, if it will fit:

End of Oil? Sound bites from the speakers

“The end of oil keeps being pushed into the future.” – Francisco Gonzales, Associate Professor of Latin American Studies at The John Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)

“It’s not all about geology.” – Molly Williamson, former Senior Foreign Policy Advisor to the Secretary of Energy

“Peak oil is largely a political term.” – Dr. David Sykuta, Executive Director of the American Petroleum Institute in Illinois

“The predictions of global warming are being overtaken by the actual global warming.” – Richard H. Jones, Deputy Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA)

“The United States is a Saudi Arabia of renewable energy.” – Ms. Jeramy Shays, American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE)

“Now is the time to invest in sustainable energy. If we don’t, the need for that energy will increase and cost more. The alternative is rising unemployment. We need development, and for that we need energy. But we can change the sources.” – Richard H. Jones, Deputy Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA)

“Talking with students, I always feel bad telling them, ‘This is what my generation has left for you,’ – but they always give me hope.” – Paul Roberts, journalist and author of The End of Oil and The End of Food

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