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"Energy and Environment" was the subject of a luncheon policy discussion held during the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration Naming Celebration on Tuesday, February 26.
The theme was timely to many in attendance given renewed urgency within public discourse about environmental sustainability concerns that are adversely affecting human well-being.
The Biden School's distinctive Ph.D. and M.S. programs in the combined fields of Energy and Environmental Policy benefit from decades of academic study and applied research at the University of Delaware to address contemporary and future challenges linked to energy and environmental sustainability. The naming celebration's luncheon policy discussion provided an important platform for deliberating some of these key issues. The overall format of the discussion was through a round-table dialogue where three recently-appointed Biden School faculty members shared highlights of their research while research partners and students provided accompanying insights and commentary.partners and students
Dr. Greg Dobler, an assistant professor at the Biden School, explained his academic journey that saw him transition from a largely astrophysics role to a focus on how to leverage information provided by machine learning and data science in the planning and function of more sustainable cities and urban environments. Important insights ensued from the conversation.
Mr. David Ellis, director at Energy Policy Futures, noted the need to be cognizant of the tension between actionable science and politics, especially when it comes to climate change. Mr. Ellis also observed how the need for more focus on data analysis skills will be especially key given the fact that currently the amount of data generated doubles every year. Other ideas discussed in relation to Dr. Dobler's presentation were related to the need for leveraging private sector-led innovations in energy and environmental sustainability, the role of politics in determining the direction and role of science in shaping public policy and the concerns surrounding big-data initiatives on personal privacy and security. One key opportunity identified was the role pilot initiatives can play, particularly in serving as platforms for research and as public demonstration of suitable solutions to the urban sustainability challenge.
Rural America's importance to the sustainable well-being of urban populations and as a repository of important biological and ecological assets was a core argument of Biden School Assistant Professor Dr. Casey Taylor. Dr. Taylor argued that more than a third of global land-area is currently being used for agriculture and much of this is rural. She emphasized the need to integrate a people-centric approach to science, including addressing embedded social and ecological injustices, power and political dynamics associated with science and technological advancement. Additionally, Dr. Taylor noted the need to consider how science and technology can better inform public policy in an effort to realize how people can more sustainably utilize natural resources.
Policy luncheon attendee W. Michael McCabe, former deputy administrator for the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), observed that occasionally during his time at the agency science had to await the proper development of regulatory policies before it could be advanced yet at the same time remain a basis for decision-making.
Dr. Kalim Shah, an assistant professor at the Biden School, expanded the range of the discussion by providing insights from his work on environmental governance, particularly climate change affecting coastal communities around the world. Dr. Shah noted the importance of creating opportunities for learning in other countries, as well as employing lessons from the U.S. to inform strategies for the international community.
To this end, Dr. Saleem Ali, the University of Delaware's Blue and Gold Distinguished Professor of Energy and Environment, observed that it is important to consider some specific academic and research priorities within which the Biden School can become a global center of excellence. Dr. Ali noted that energy and environment policy provides a unique opportunity for such an endeavor.
Dr. Andrea Sarzynski, an associate professor at the Biden School and moderator of the lunch session, provided a passionate personal drawing from her experience in the White House and reiterated the importance of balancing science, ethics, stakeholder values, and political realities in any given policy context.
Stef Feldman, policy director at the Biden Institute, reminded the audience not to become too discouraged about the current political environment, and to prepare ourselves and our policy proposals now so that we can act when the opportunity arises.
Dr. Sarzynski concluded the meeting by reminding participants of the Biden School's mission, which is to ensure that all students have a good grasp of the nature, values and realities of policy and decision-making to enable them to become effective agents of change for better public policy and administration in private, public, non-profit sectors and wherever their careers will lead.
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