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A banner showcasing Energy Week at Penn, located in the Engineering Quadrangle, on Mar. 26. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Penn’s Kleinman Center for Energy Policy and the Vagelos Institute for Energy Science and Technology hosted their third annual Energy Week from March 20-24, consisting of 24 events across seven of Penn’s 12 schools.

Mark Alan Hughes, faculty director for the Kleinman Center, told The Daily Pennsylvanian that the program started in 2019 in an effort to generate awareness about student and faculty work relating to energy, science, technology, and policy at Penn.

“We thought, ‘We really need to better integrate, and really, frankly, introduce the work of faculty and students going on across the schools and departments,’” Hughes said.

This year’s events covered a range of topics including decarbonization, extreme heat, sustainable energy, and climate justice. Penn faculty also hosted seminars in relevant academic areas, as well as opportunities for students and faculty to engage with one another on their common interests.

Hughes said that the week’s cosponsors also made an effort to expand discussion of “equity concerns that are embedded in the energy transition.”

Events included a panel discussion hosted by Penn’s Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics, which featured four experts who spoke about how climate change impacted the inequitable health emergencies experienced by different communities as a result of natural disasters.

The webinar, titled “Climate Change, Disruption, and Health Equity,” included professors Sue Anne Bell from the University of Michigan School of Nursing, Elizabeth Fussell from Brown University, and Sacoby Wilson from the University of Maryland College Park School of Public Health, as well as Penn’s own professor and Director of Penn Center for Science, Sustainability, and the Media, Michael Mann.

Fussell said during the event that in conversations surrounding community resilience in the face of natural disasters, thinking should be centered less around the disaster itself and more around the gaps in infrastructure to respond.

“The disaster really is in the failure of society to cope with the natural hazard,” Fussell said.

Mann said that people should not accept the idea that it may soon be "too late" to address climate issues, adding that the public should not be discouraged from seeking climate action. 

“There is urgency, but there is agency,” Mann said.

In a statement to the DP, Mann wrote, “We need to have broad, interdisciplinary conversations about energy and sustainability if we are to solve the climate crisis.”

Mann, along with Bell and Hughes, said the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act and other bipartisan infrastructure legislation are a cause for hope, calling the act the “boldest” climate bill to have passed Congress.

“[This legislation has] created the conditions for a much better possible future,” Hughes said.

Hughes said that the Energy Week programming has gained significant traction since its inception in 2019. This year’s sponsors included the Penn Institute for Urban Research, VIPER @ Penn, and Drexel University’s Environmental Collaboratory, among others.

“We're really trying to kind of develop and improve the outreach that we do in the lead up to Energy Week to make sure that everybody who's got a story to tell related to energy science, technology, or policy is aware and invited in,” Hughes said.

He added that the student and faculty engagement that he has seen over the last several years has encouraged his hope for the sustainability of the program, noting the “enormous organizational capacity” required to successfully hold the events.

“We've invested in building a capacity that can make sure that as many students as possible are involved, that faculty have the resources they need to pursue both research and the translation of that research into change in the world,” Hughes said.

In the context of Energy Week, Hughes said that he believed the events were "translational," adding that "there was so much hopeful, forward-looking work discussed in this week.”