Vermont Law School Celebrates Earth Day

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(Host) Earth Day is coming up next week – and all this week the Vermont Law School has been holding activities relating to the 35th annual event.

VPR’s Steve Zind dropped in to see what was taking place.

(Byer) "You just hit the power button. The car’s on "

(Zind) Dave Byer is about as enthusiastic as anyone could be about a car that can sound like a refrigerator.

The second year student at Vermont Law School stands next to his silver Toyota Prius Hybrid. It’s one of several vehicles on display at an alternative car show on campus. The hood is open, revealing a suitcase-sized space that looks nothing like what’s under the hood of most cars.

(Byer) "And you have these special orange marked things, which are all things you can’t touch, because they’re just technology that could you know "
(Zind) "I’m getting the sense that this is a mystery to you."
(Byer) "It is."

(Zind) What Byer does know is he gets up to 55 miles-a-gallon in his hybrid. With its plastic key, and beeping dashboard screen that displays gas mileage and engine functions, the Prius seems like the car of the future. But Robert Olson says hybrids are only the cars of the immediate – not the long term future.

(Olson) "I think they are a stopgap. But they’re an important one."

(Zind) Olson is with the Institute for Alternative Futures. He says eventually cars will have to be made of ultra-light carbon composites and run on plant-derived biofuels.

Olson spoke at the Law School to conclude a week of Earth Day activities. He says once gas prices reach a certain level – ten dollars a gallon is the figure he throws out – consumers will demand for new technology cars and alternative fuels.

Olson told students about other emerging ideas like nano-technology – a manufacturing process that combines biology and engineering. And he told them about three-dimensional printing that might someday make it possible to do desktop manufacturing. As a so-called "futurist," Olson spends his time thinking about what could be. Does it get frustrating to live in the present?

(Olson) "It does. The most satisfying thing is when you see bits of the future appearing now and then in the present."

(Zind) Olson warned that like old technologies, new ones may have negative impacts we can’t yet predict, but he encouraged students help the country set audacious goals for the future.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in South Royalton.

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