Brian Black - Spring 2002 Ivy Leaf Magazine

Ivy Leaf - Spring 2002

Brian Black


Penn State Altoona Professor Brian Black is taking his love of education outside the classroom and helping to educate the nation about one of his other passions — the importance of energy conservation.

Black, an assistant professor of history and environmental studies at the College, received a $60,000 fellowship earlier this semester to work with the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Founded in 1989 by Patricia Nelson Limerick, the Center of the American West works to explore, debate, and celebrate the distinctive qualities of the West. The Center also informs Westerners about public policy, thereby enabling them to help shape desirable futures for their communities.

"Because much of the nation's energy supplies are located in Western states near the Rocky Mountains, it's important that we get people to understand the complexities of future energy policies that will affect them," Black said. He notes that this is especially important because of the uncertainty in the Middle East.

"Many of these untapped energy reserves are under federal jurisdiction, and President Bush's energy plan calls for opening these lands for the mining of coal and petroleum. It is vital that Americans know that it is also important to preserve our energy reserves in such times of uncertainty."

As a fellow with the Center, Black has been researching and drafting reports on current energy issues and policies. A number of his written opinion pieces have appeared in national newsmagazines and newspapers, including USA Today and Newsweek.

In addition to the publications, Black is also working to educate the public through a number of public forums and seminars that have been held throughout the western states. The forums bring together the public and educators, who have an opportunity to discuss energy issues and policies and learn about research. Black sees this as an exciting challenge.

"Our continued reliance on petroleum products is a reason for concern. Geologists estimate that the world's petroleum reserves will only fuel our habits for another fifty years. Rising global population indicates our petroleum supply won't even make it that long. It's a challenge to tell people things like this that they'd prefer not to know."

Black first began educating the public of this petroleum shortage two years ago in his book Petrolia: The Landscape of America's First Oil Boom. The book traces the descent of the northwestern Pennsylvania region from farms and forests to environmental hell following the tapping of the first commercial oil well in 1859.

"Development and growth can be socially destructive if they are not managed correctly, and we want the public to understand the impact that such growth will have upon the regions in which they live and their future."

Although not politically affiliated, the Center of the American West works to educate the public about current energy policies so that they can see the merits of changing such policies.

"We hope to get people to see the importance of preserving energy and that we are relying on finite resources. By making even small changes in energy conservation, we can begin to take this problem seriously and help the nation prepare for its future."

Following his fellowship, Black will be working on the release of two new books—both of which focus on the nation's energy resources.

"My second book, which is geared for more of a general reading audience, focuses again on America's dramatic shift in industrial intensity during the Civil War era. To clarify how different these eras were, Harpoon to Derrick contrasts the two primary illuminant industries of the Civil War period, whaling and petroleum mining."

Black's third book studies the 1930s in order to understand the New Deal's impact on the modern environmental movement.