By James Evans and Victor Porcelli
On Oct. 18 in the Gambet Auditorium, Mr. Robert Barkanic gave a stirring presentation on the importance of sustainability education. The lecture, which encompassed multiple facets of sustainability, focused on the need for both lasting economic and environmental goals in management.
Barkanic, a senior energy executive at American Energy Partners Inc., brings over 35 years of experience in the fields of nuclear energy, environmental science and management. He has also served as the Assistant Director to former Governor Tom Ridge and his 21st Center Environment Commission.
Sustainability is defined as meeting society’s needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. Depending on whether one looks at sustainability environmentally, economically or socially, it means different things. In his presentation, Barkanic laid out the need for sustainability in the modern world and of each type of sustainability in detail and how each is measured.
Environmental sustainability is mainly focusing on preserving the environment by reducing pollution and preventing the waste of resources.
Social sustainability is largely having to do with unfair labor practices and human rights issues.
Economic sustainability is fairly simple and encompasses the ability to support a defined level of productivity indefinitely.
It costs more to be environmentally sustainable, while to be economically sustainable sacrifices things like environment. However, this is not always the case. Local farm to table food is better for the environment, with less transportation and more environmentally sustainable methods used by local farmers. It can also cost less, with transportation costs playing a big factor.
Energy is another focus, as fossil fuel based energy is bad for the environment and also unsustainable. A transition to renewables is being seen, with solar and wind energy on the rise, but these sources are not always reliable. Gas will continue to be the main source of energy until a battery can be developed that would efficiently support larger systems.
Barkanic also detailed that nonrenewable resources, like crude oil and coal, have lasting effects on the global ecosystem, derailing many sustainability efforts. Further developments in technology, along with legislative policy, will need to fit the growing needs of all people, especially with the current depletion of fossil fuels.
In an interview after the presentation, Barkanic spoke on one of the most controversial topics in U.S. environmental politics: fracking.
According to a BBC 2011 report, fracking is defined as “the process of drilling down into the earth [while] a high pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside.”
In Pennsylvania, this drilling is predominantly used on the rich amounts of shale in the state. However, this process has been met with tremendous amounts of controversy, with publications like The New York Times and Huffington Post detailing the damage to the affected ecosystems.
This alleged damage is centered on the environment near the Marcellus Shale Formation and the Delaware River Basin, where most local fracking takes place. According to a 2016 Bloomberg report, these types of gas deposits provided around two-thirds of the U.S. gas supply in 2016. A large amount of this supply comes from western and northern Pennsylvania.
“The DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) has meticulously put regulations in place with fracking, and that is our safeguard. The DEP understands the process and will continue to monitor [fracking] in years to come,” Barkanic stated. “The legislature will appropriately match the needs and desires of the individual state’s citizens, as our knowledge deepens on the topic.”
In the question and answer segment following the presentation, students and faculty alike engaged in varied exchanges with Barkanic on sustainability’s relationship with numerous current events.
Dr. Tahereh Hojjat, a professor and the chair of economics at DeSales, expressed her concern that many businesses in America are so focused on short term success that they often do not realize the long-term consequences of their actions. Other students commented on the growing presence of sustainability at DeSales, the effects of the Trump Administration rolling back several environmental regulations and ways to promote local sustainability.
Barkanic concluded his presentation with a message centered on activism. Swapping to an electric vehicle, using mass transit, biking or walking instead of driving are some ways to help the environment. Using reusable water bottles is another major way as the amount of plastic Americans produce as waste is astronomical. Yet, the biggest thing any one person can do is vote. Barkanic urged students to get involved, understand the issues and become informed. Know what a politician’s policy is when it comes to economic sustainability and use the power of a voter to support those who support the environment.