As the Middle East continues to convulse with violence, Sierra Club President Jennifer Ferenstein spoke to the Yale Political Union about reducing U.S. dependence on foreign fossil fuels, many of which come from the troubled region.
Ferenstein drew cheers from the left and hisses from the right as she spoke in front of about 75 people in Davies Auditorium in a talk co-sponsored by the Yale Student Environmental Coalition and the Yale School of Forestry.
The biologist spoke on the topic “Resolved, That National Security Depends On Reducing Our Reliance On Fossil Fuels,” and said that U.S. national security would be improved by more extensive use of alternative energy sources.
“[Reducing fossil fuel use] is patriotic and it is the right thing to do morally and environmentally and economically,” Ferenstein said.
After her speech Rafael Vasquez ’03 argued in the negative, saying that the proposed resolution sounded like it was advocating isolationism, which he said has previously failed as a foreign policy.
During Ferenstein’s speech, she said that the United States’ consumption of oil is greatly out of proportion compared to how much oil the country produces, forcing the nation to become heavily involved in notoriously unstable Middle Eastern politics.ÊShe cited statistics saying that one third of U.S. oil comes from the Middle East, a region that, according to a January New York Times op-ed piece written by Thomas Friedman from which she quoted extensively, hasn’t had a good century for 700 years.
Ferenstein also spoke of the vulnerability of U.S. nuclear power plants to terrorist attacks and bemoaned the Bush administration’s energy policy.
“We are running backward back to the dirty and polluting fuels of the 20th century,” she said, citing President George W. Bush’s ties with oil companies and the practice of giving subsidies to energy companies.
Ferenstein objected to what she said are the backroom energy policies of the Bush administration, which “hamper that American ingenuity” to find new solutions to problems such as overreliance on fossil fuels.
She said she would support increased energy efficiency standards like those proposed under the Clinton administration.
“Often times environmentalists are Luddites. We would like to encourage these new technologies,” Ferenstein said.
She emphasized throughout the talk that she hoped to encourage bipartisanship on environmental issues.
But the clapping and hissing in the room seemed to indicate that the room was largely divided between the Party of the Right and the Conservatives and the other four parties.
All the parties had strong attendance, and approximately 30 non-members joined their ranks to hear Ferenstein speak.
“I just don’t think it’s healthy for us to be so reliant on them [Middle Eastern countries],” said Matthew Nickson ’03, who spoke in the affirmative and said the United States buys some oil from Saudi Arabia. “The Saudi Arabian government does fund terrorism.”
Several audience members asked Ferenstein’s opinion of research on fission, fusion, ethanol, electric-powered cars and other alternative forms of energy. She did not promote any specific type of research, but said that finding a renewable source of energy was important because of accelerating global climate change and other environmental repercussions of fossil fuel use.
With environmental-friendly policy and research, the United States can form a “just, clean, safe and sustainable future,” Ferenstein said.
Ferenstein was elected to the Sierra Club board of directors in May of 2001 and is from Missoula, Montana. Previously, she worked on a project that helped to pass the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act and was involved in the Missoula Food Bank project.