Leyla Uysal, a design school student from Harvard University with an urban planning background, center, speaks during a course concerning the conflicts that arise in the siting process of renewable energy projects, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Friday, Sept. 15, 2023, in Cambridge, Mass. Mike Giovanniello, left, and Kailin Graham listen to the discussion.”It’s going to be difficult, but I will educate myself not to take sides,” Uysal said.
MIT is offering a first-of-its-kind course that trains students to be mediators in conflicts over clean energy projects. Supervised by a professional mediator, students work directly with developers, local officials and community members. Students get academic credit and hands-on experience addressing real-world dilemmas, while the community and developer get free help resolving conflict.
There has been debate in Washington D.C. and elsewhere around the country about how to speed up project reviews. Most has focused on streamlining permitting processes, such as limiting the time local officials can spend on reviews and giving state and federal governments power to overrule local authorities. New York and California recently passed such laws and these could become models for the whole country. headtopics.com
In one recent Friday afternoon class, students debated everything from environmental justice concerns to misinformation to oil companies. Ultimately, several students said they will need to put their own opinions aside to assume the role of mediator.
He hopes to create a similar national consortium of universities serving communities and projects in their respective regions regarding clean energy. One foundational challenge Susskind faces is potential lack of trust from community members skeptical of outsiders. headtopics.com
“For students who are new to this kind of engagement with communities, it can be hard to develop empathy unless you start having conversations,” Chaudhuri says. “And it can be hard to have empathy if everyone angrily hangs up on you.”