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First C4E Environmental Forum Takes on Offshore Wind Power

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C4e forum stage
Collaborative for the Earth Director Heather Lynch (left) addresses the first annual Global Environmental Forum. At the dais (from left): Rami Aboukhater, Mohtadi Mahim, Charles Clarkson, Ali Khosronejad, Retha Fernandez, Carl Safina and Jun Shepard. Photos by John Griffin.

Spurred by its selection as the anchor institution for The New York Climate Exchange, Stony Brook University is uniquely positioned to lead in developing solutions to existential global threats.

Launched in August 2023, the Collaborative for the Earth (C4E), an “action tank” for facilitating university-wide research and education, builds upon Stony Brook’s robust academic tradition and strengths in environmental scholarship and guides conversations on how to maximize our potential in defining and implementing solutions to global environmental challenges.

As part of this initiative, two student debaters and five panelists took to the Charles B. Wang Center auditorium stage on April 12 for the first annual Global Environmental Forum to weigh the benefits and risks of offshore wind in the eastern United States. The event marked the start of the university’s annual Earthstock celebration.

“We’ve worked to integrate offshore wind into a number of classroom activities and student events,” said Heather Lynch, C4E’s inaugural director, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution and the first Endowed Chair for Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook’s Institute for Advanced Computational Science. “This debate is the highlight of the year for us.”

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Sophomore Rami Aboukhater took the position arguing that the benefits of offshore wind outweight the risks.

The motion debated was “the benefits of offshore wind off the eastern United States outweigh the risks.” Rami Aboukhater ‘26, a sophomore double majoring in business management and political science, argued to affirm the motion; Mohtadi Mahim ’25, a junior computer science major, argued to oppose.

Aboukhater spoke first, noting that according to the United Nations, fossil fuels account for more than 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions.

“These greenhouse gas emissions blanket the earth and trap the sun’s heat, leading to all the effects of global warming and climate change that we’re seeing today and will continue to see in a more severe manner in the future,” he said. “From severe storms to increased droughts to rising ocean levels, to loss of species to reaching the hottest temperatures ever recorded, the harm that greenhouse gases are causing to our planet is evident and the need to move away from and find a replacement for fossil fuels has never been more urgent.”

Aboukhater cited the reliability of wind turbines and the availability of consistent, strong and stable wind offshore.

“Having the wind turbines offshore means that there are no wind disruptions from trees or buildings, which allows for more consistent and stable energy generation,” he said. “Having offshore wind farms could prove to be vital when considering a future with 100-percent clean energy.”

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Junior Mohtadi Mahim delivered the counter-argument and identified the risks concerning offshore wind power.

Mohtadi then offered a counter-argument.

“One of the big ideas that people are excited about is that offshore wind farms are in the ocean and there’s a lot of wind out there and they will produce a ton of electricity without using dirty fuels like oil and coal,” he said. “But just because something sounds perfect doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any negative impacts.”

Mohtadi said that one of the most important environmental considerations of offshore wind energy deployment is its potential to adversely affect the marine ecosystem, as the construction of offshore wind turbines disrupts the delicate balance of marine habitats. He also mentioned an installation process that requires seabed drilling and pile driving, which generate significant underwater noise and vibrations.

“These disturbances have huge impacts on marine species, especially those who rely on sonar like whales and dolphins that use sonar for navigation communication,” he said. “Moreover, the electromagnetic fields generated by the transmission cables that carry electricity from the turbines to the shore could potentially affect the migratory patterns of fish and other marine organisms.”

Mohtadi added that the physical presence of the turbines themselves and the associated infrastructure can alter marine environments, leading to changes in water flow and sediment transport.

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Retha Fernandez from National Grid Ventures (left) and S0MAS Endowed Research Chair for Nature and Humanity Carl Safina were among the panelists at the debate.

“Such changes might impact the availability of nutrients and light, which are crucial for the photosynthetic processes of seabed vegetation and phytoplankton, which are key components of marine food webs,” he said. “So the question that we should be asking ourselves is, ‘is offshore wind the best clean energy source in the region?’”

Five expert panelists addressed the issues that had been raised, providing context from several angles. Panelists included: Carl Safina, Endowed Research Chair for Nature and Humanity in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences; Ali Khosronejad, associate professor in the Department of Civil Engineering; Charles Clarkson of the Audubon Society of Rhode Island; Retha Fernandez from National Grid Ventures, and Jun Shepard from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Panelists discussed the need for a comprehensive understanding of avian mortality, balancing novelty with urgency, and prioritizing a diverse portfolio of clean energy sources.

Looking forward, Safina said it’s imperative that Stony Brook shape the conversation for the future.

“Our way of life, civilization as we conduct it, depends on the destruction of natural systems. We have to do things differently,” he said. “Since I was 15 years old I’ve been hearing about the need to get off of fossil fuels. Yet we have done nothing. Now we’re stuck with an emergency that we have made and that we continue to allow. And I don’t think that we can just ‘grow’ our way out of it. We need a different conversation and Stony Brook’s role is to be an intellectual center and come up with the new ideas that will facilitate that important conversation.”

Lynch called it a thrill to see students and faculty come together on such an important issue, with a strong turnout from the surrounding community as well.

“Our student debaters were excellent, and our panel provided a terrific range of perspectives for the audience to consider,” she said. “I spoke to a number of attendees that changed their minds about the issue, which is a great sign that the audience came with an open mind. This debate series will be an annual event, and I hope to use this series to promote vigorous, but always respectful, debate on some of the real sticking points facing the environmental movement.”

Robert Emproto

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