Energy Ethics in Science and Engineering Education

2012-2013 Ethics Video Challenge Winners

The NAE’s Center for Engineering, Ethics, and Society held an Ethics Video Challenge in the fall of 2012 on the ethics of energy choices and energy research. Students across the country submitted 18 videos on topics ranging from fracking to wind farms, from nuclear waste disposal to smart grids, and from use of public transportation to the energy costs of the meat industry.

Prizes were awarded for Best Video and Best in Theme areas.

Congratulations to the three winning teams!


Best Video
Best in the Theme: Directions for Energy Policy - Issues of Fairness and Sustainability


 “Transnational Nuclear Waste Site Selection”

by Stephanie Annessi, Monique Blake, Xinyi Liu, and Rajiha Mehdi from Smith College

Advisor: Donna Riley, associate professor of engineering at Smith College


Description: The video explores issues of fairness in directions for energy policy in terms of nuclear waste siting, with consideration of the intricacies and power dynamics involved in choosing a nuclear waste dumping site. Nuclear waste can persist as a danger to health and environment for thousands of years so site selection is a high-stakes decision.

Fair negotiations are necessary to balance today’s needs with those of future generations, and the needs of communities near the waste site with those of the communities that consume nuclear energy. The video conveys different perspectives and aims to preserve audience autonomy for making value judgments.


Best in the Themes:
Responsible Energy Consumption and Responsible Energy Innovations


“Traveling Forward: Addressing Low Ridership in American Public Transportation”

by Alison Grady, Ednah Louie (Mount Holyoke College), Catherine Campbell-Orrock, and Charlotte Sappo from Smith College

Advisor: Donna Riley, associate professor of engineering at Smith College


Description: This video aims to explain the ethical importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It proposes increasing ridership of public transportation as an effective potential solution that also has ethical benefits, such as an improved quality of life for city dwellers. The video addresses the ethical issue of global warming through a consequentialist perspective, warning of the drastic environmental problems that will arise from continued use of fossil fuels without reducing carbon emissions and promoting increased use of public transportation in US cities.

The video also addresses ethical problems with current public transit options in American cities, from negative consequences of using a car to obstacles that prevent increased access to public transportation, especially for people who have limited mobility. As a contrast, the video examines the ethical benefits of the public transportation system in Curitiba, Brazil, which offers efficient and high-capacity public transit, respect for human rights demonstrated by buses that are wheelchair-accessible, and the virtues of a system that is used by both wealthy and low-income people.

The intended audience for this video is the general public and the team members hope that the ethical arguments presented will explain why a better public transportation system is important and inspire people to call for change.


Best in the Theme:
Smart Grid Technology - Advantages and Disadvantages


“Smart Grid Risks & Privacy Design”

by Rumbidzai Vushe, Marissa Munoz-Ruiz, Zhouchangwan Yu, and Jinjin Lu from Smith College

Advisor: Donna Riley, associate professor of engineering at Smith College


Description: The video aims to teach consumers about benefits and risks of smart grid technology and to address privacy concerns in smart grid implementation. The smart grid technology is introduced, followed by its benefits and drawbacks. The video identifies possible sources by which customers’ confidential electricity bills might be disclosed to third parties and explains the potential consequences of that disclosure; for example, private information, such as household schedules, could be revealed, raising privacy concerns.

The importance of consumers’ privacy is emphasized, and a privacy-aware design for a secure smart grid implementation is proposed, together with discussion of the enforcement of this design through government involvement. The team members hope this video can serve as a lead-in to a broader discussion about smart grid privacy.

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A five-person judging panel selected the awards for Best Video and Best in Theme. The panelists were John Ahearne, NAE member and Executive Director Emeritus of Sigma Xi; Stephanie J. Bird, coeditor of Science and Engineering Ethics; Glen Daigger, NAE member and Chief, Wastewater Process Engineering CH2M Hill; Kristin Shrader-Frechette, O’Neill Family Professor, Department of Biological Sciences and Department of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame; and Chris Schairbaum, Director of Energy Technology Strategy at Texas Instruments.

View the additional submitted videos, including the People’s Choice Award (“Thorium Future” by Robert Truppner, Scott Reardon, Frank Coppola and Bryan Vianco from Stevens Institute of Technology) and learn more about the Ethics Video Challenge.

This years challenge was held as part of a NSF funded project on Energy Ethics in Science and Engineering Education.