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In light of recent national and international events, REED magazine invited alumni, faculty members, and students to share their thoughts about the future.

Cultivating a sense of place
By Jennifer Ferenstein ’88

Tucked in the sandstone of Bullet Canyon, Utah, is an ancient rock-walled kiva. Directly above hovers a pale moon-shaped image flecked with robin’s egg blue and geranium red. For eight days I walked this red rock canyon through rain, snow, and sun. I thought that being here away from the pressures of phones and computers would make it easier for me to identify the major environmental challenges of the future. I was wrong. Instead, the arrowheads and grinding stones of the Anasazi culture brought the past into sharper focus while the future faded away like the far distant peaks of the Henry Mountains.

It wasn’t until my return home to Missoula, Montana, when I tuned into President Bush’s State of the Union address, that I focused again on the future. At Reed, the role of history, philosophy, and scientific method figured prominently in my worldview. In contrast, President Bush’s words were devoid of any reference to history. He offered up no inspiration through the words or deeds of past leaders, no historical perspective, and really no hopes for a better future. It was a speech for the rootless by a man who seems to fail to grasp the relationship between world events and human existence.

Overcoming this lack of connectedness between place, people, and society is the greatest challenge we face. Globalization, loss of biodiversity, unsustainable population growth, and climate change reflect this failure. I offer one significant example currently being debated in Congress that will affect our environment and future generations: energy.

President Bush has repeatedly called on the Senate to approve an energy bill that would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling; provide $33 billion in subsidies to the oil, coal, and nuclear industries; and increase global warming pollution. Drilling the ANWR will not meet our energy needs, but it will forever destroy one of our nation’s great wildlands. Nobody knows exactly how much oil lies under the ANWR, but government estimates indicate there is less than a six months’ supply. Even the oil industry admits it would take 10 years to make it to U.S. markets.

We cannot drill ourselves to energy independence. Our nation consumes 25 percent of the world’s oil, and yet we sit on less than 3 percent of the world’s known oil reserves. The challenge is to create an energy plan that creates a strong framework for a safer, cleaner, and more secure energy future. A recent Union of Concerned Scientists study reports that we can get 20 percent of our energy from renewable sources by 2020. The Senate should adopt a 20 percent renewable portfolio standard that uses market-based mechanisms to require utilities to increase the portion of electricity produced from renewable resources such as wind, biomass, geothermal, and solar energy.

Cars, SUVs, and light trucks guzzle eight million barrels of oil every day, and the average fuel economy of new vehicles now stands at a 21-year low. By increasing our auto fuel efficiency to an average 40 miles per gallon over the next 10 years we will save nearly 2 million barrels of oil per day by 2012. Of all the energy measures under consideration in the Senate, none will be more effective at reducing our nation’s oil dependence than raising fuel economy standards to this standard. This would save consumers billions of dollars at the gas pump and reduce carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming.

There are myriad environmental issues but one key challenge: to acknowledge that the planet’s health depends upon the active participation of each of us. Apathy is the enemy, and our best defense is cultivating a sense of place and a commitment to protecting our air, water, and land. small bullet

Jennifer Ferenstein ’88 is president of the Sierra Club, America’s oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization. She is the youngest woman to serve in this role since the Sierra Club was founded in 1892.


Making flying the skies friendly (again)
By Michael E. Levine ’62

The first decade of the 21st century will be a time of exceptional challenge and continuing evolution in an industry that already has been changed radically by deregulation and world events in the last 25 years. To understand where we are today, we need to look back briefly from where we came.

Until 1978, the federal government regulated where airlines could fly and how much they could charge. This system protected them from competition, change, and bankruptcy. Costs, including high labor costs, were automatically passed on to customers. Then came deregulation. New airlines were permitted to compete, incumbent airlines were free to change routes, and fares were freed from the formula. Prices dropped radically as new low-cost competitors emerged. Some big airlines (Eastern, Pan Am, and later TWA) died.

The big airlines built hub-and-spoke networks designed to get travelers frequently and conveniently to and from almost any city in America. At the same time, airlines learned to charge business customers for convenience and then fill the leftover seats with bargain fares. Average fares dropped by more than half, and traffic grew spectacularly. In 1970, only about a quarter of Americans had flown. By 1985, almost three-quarters had done so.

The boom years of the late 1990s set the airlines up for a new shock. Seduced by a lack of resistance from business customers, network airlines raised their “walk-up” fares to new highs. Airline unions bargained for still higher wages and fewer work hours, forcing the airlines to raise fares yet more.

The shock came in the past year’s double whammy of recession and terrorist attack. As the recession hit, businesses simply refused to pay network airlines’ higher prices, and discount airlines’ slice of the market grew rapidly. September 11 made travel initially frightening and later inconvenient. Demand dropped dramatically, and airlines were forced to offer much lower fares to keep people flying.

This was not a major problem for discount airlines, but high fixed costs, unproductive labor arrangements, and the need to maintain connecting flights made it very difficult for the network airlines to cope. They demanded and got federal aid to avoid an industrywide wave of bankruptcies. Increased security made air service both less convenient and more costly.

The next decade will require network airlines to dramatically revise their pricing model, so that business customers can take advantage of convenience at prices they regard as reasonable value. Contractual obstacles, most seriously in labor productivity, will make lowering their costs very difficult. Network airlines that adapt will be much better able to compete with discount airlines, offering convenient, frequent service. Those that don’t. . . .

That’s the cost side. Demand is also a problem. Airlines and government must find a way to preserve the convenience of the system while making it secure, despite the rigidities and politicization that federalizing airport security has brought. To meet this challenge will require technology and ingenuity. One use of technology to reduce screening workload is likely to be voluntary, “trusted traveler” cards biometrically encoded to prevent forgery and linked to databases that will verify that their holders are unlikely to present a threat to security.

The almost unbelievable accessibility of air transportation since deregulation has fueled a breadth of experience for the many once reserved only to the elite. The optimist in me believes that this is too valuable to give up. The challenge will be in finding the way forward. small bullet

A Reed board member since 1984, Michael E. Levine ’62 has been involved with airlines and airline deregulation as an academic at U.S.C., Caltech, and Yale (where he was dean of the School of Management), as well as a leading architect of airline deregulation and as an airline senior executive at Continental and Northwest, and CEO of New York Air. He now teaches law at Harvard and is chairman of Rohn Industries.

Speaking and acting together
By Linda Howard ’70

I work at 100 Church Street in New York, one block north of the World Trade Center. I’m on the executive staff of the New York City Law Department and on September 11 was looking forward to spending the day training 54 newly graduated attorneys. That morning, everything changed.

In the days following, I felt what most New Yorkers felt: the grievous loss of life, the frightening loss of security, sudden dislocation, the loss of home and livelihood for many, and powerlessness. A new word crept into my speaking. Attack. “I haven’t returned to my office since the . . . attack.” That word changed my reality. I began to use euphemisms, like “the recent events” and “the day everything changed.” My reality was changing in ways I did not like.

People around me had more immediate roles. Within hours, our contract lawyers arranged for contractors to move rubble from the site. Within days, our legal counsel attorneys had drafted emergency declarations, providing for the expenditure of millions of dollars and answering questions like, “How does a family obtain a death certificate when there is no body”? An extraordinary group of lawyers began the tearful process of recording family members’ statements to prove that their loved ones had perished. My brother, Roscoe, was sworn in as the new U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and began to set up a terrorism unit in his office. I thought, “How am I going to stop this war all by myself?”

I wanted to do something, but nothing seemed to be enough. When I was asked to give a speech at a women’s conference I leapt at the opportunity. I found a way to contribute to the effort; I could contribute words.

It is more important now than ever, I told the audience, for each of us to speak what we believe and to align actions with words.I challenged them to find fellow believers and begin to create a city and a world in which our higher purposes govern. This is a call, not to arms, but a call to words.

Among the principles of our democracy, the most important is the freedom of speech. This is one of those exceptional moments when ordinary people have the opportunity and the responsibility to exercise the ultimate power of words, which is to invent their reality and create the world in which they live.

I told them that the impact of September 11 on New Yorkers had been intensely personal. However, the ultimate results could be global and transforming. We have that power. Speaking and acting together we can inspire one another to take small actions that lead to great actions. We can realize the world that we hope in our hearts is possible. If we work together, generosity, love, and understanding can supplant greed, hatred, misunderstanding, and destruction. small bullet

Linda G. Howard ’70 is an attorney on the executive staff of the New York City Law Department and a former White House Fellow. She has been a member of the Reed College board of trustees since 1988.

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