Gas prices keep going up, and don’t kid yourself that they’re going to go down again anytime soon either (enjoy those profits, ExxonMobil shareholders…). Some places in the US are looking down the road at $5/gallon, and of course Europeans have been paying vastly more than that for years. The news is rife with stories of police departments worrying about going broke because gas is too expensive, and schools that can’t afford the food they cook to give kids lunch at school because food costs are going up too much (which of course hits the poor kids more than the rich kids – yeah, that seems fair).
And yet, outside of asking for a larger mileage reimbursement for personal vehicle use, academia doesn’t seem to be having discussions about how we will continue to educate the public and do important research as gas prices continue to rise, and global warming continues to get more severe.
For example, I’m on my way to a conference in Switzerland where 90% of the papers are being given by people from the US. So we are all carting ourselves over to Europe, using a huge amount of gas and making a huge amount of carbon dioxide, to have a conversation with mostly Americans. This seems to be a silly idea.
So let me ask the question: what will academia need to do to get itself ready for the end of cheap energy? How will we have to change our patterns of teaching, research and service to have a smaller carbon footprint?
Here are some thoughts to get us started:
- Conferences will be local, or webbased. Registration will be lower for local folks, or for people who travel using more sustainable travel methods (train, carpool, bike). People will stay with local hosts.
- Publications will be web-based also, as printing prices and mail costs will be too pricey.
- New university buildings will be built to be platinum-LEED certified, with no griping about the increased upfront cost. Older buildings will be refurbished rather than demolished and built over.
- Students will be able to get class credit for working in the university communal gardens, and the veggies they tend will be used in the university kitchens.
- Campus towns will go car-free, with improved public transportation and bike access.
- More international research collaborations will have to develop to get access to field samples, as it will be too expensive for local researchers to fly halfway across the world to collect them themselves.
- More and more classes will be taught online, with faculty members and students at home and using personal computers.
- Universities will lead communities in hosting comprehensive reusing and recycling systems, including computer recycling and secure data disposal.
- Exurbs, or bedroom communities will become ghost-towns as people will no longer want to commute in every day. Universities will start building faculty housing on campus again.
Some of these ideas are rather pedestrian (ha ha). What are some other, probably more out-of-the-box ideas?