We had an excellent Dialogues event at the Rochester library Tuesday night -- woulda blogged about it but left for a conference the next morning...in the meantime, I received this well-crafted comment from a reader that might interest those of you who've attended Dialogues events. I'd be interested in your comments.
I still hope to post more on the event, but until then, Larry's comment stands...
I think that the PB sponsored community forums are good. I found the recent PB special report and the forum on corn ethanol interesting. However, I had a concern that the article and the forum were formatted as a discussion between a proponent business group and an opponent environmental group. The discussion may make people more generally aware of the subject but it has minimum influence, if any, for closing on a solution. The format can foster more divisiveness and negative emotion.
Much of the discussion was about if there is a water quality risk with corn ethanol, there was an irrelevant and inaccurate discussion about how much water a golf course uses and how much water it takes to produce a Sunday paper, there were technical references to non scientific magazines such as Popular Science, Business Week, National Geographic, and several inaccurate statements and general confusion expressed about bio mass energy. There were also general vague statements about the economic value and the impact to the overall food supply, etc
An unbiased academic component is missing.
Non political, technical and impeccable sources should be used upfront to explain the technologies, define some technical facts and establish ground rules for the discussions. There are several technical sources available. The University of Minnesota has significant funding for exploring this area and has a variety of technical papers available. Another excellent source is the National Academies. They have an impeccable reputation. They have a good article on ethanol at
There are similar technical sources available for an economic analysis, food chain analysis, etc.
Establishing a technical base up front will make the discussion more focused on a potential solution and less emotional. In my opinion, for example, all of the valid technical data on bio mass ethanol indicates that there is a potential threat to water consumption and water quality. However, there are potential approaches (application of selective new patented technologies, water source selection, detailed analysis of the water sources site, constant monitoring, etc.) available to minimize the risk. Therefore, a more meaningful discussion between the two groups would focus on what are the reasonable approaches that are being used or can be used to minimize the risk. Similar discussion based on facts about the economic benefits and food chain supply could also take place.
I am concerned that we will use all of our energy and resources emotionally debating the subject and not make any progress in solving the problems. As we move to other
alternative and renewable energy sources, we will have many more of these situations. In Wisconsin, for example, there are very heated, non factual, emotional debates on the impact of wind power. We need somebody to coordinate, encourage and broker a process that leads to meaningful discussion that is focused on solutions and compromise between the various groups and not just general unstructured arguments. Maybe it is a role that editorial staff or Public Radio or some combination could perform?