Friday, May 13, 2011

Pushing UVA Beyond Coal

Written by Event Organizer and University of Virginia Student Kenneth Hawes

The University of Virginia is one of about 60 colleges nationwide that operate coal-fired power plants on their campuses. The UVA power plant, which is located adjacent to the university hospital (a “clean air zone”), provides the majority of the university's heating needs. Electricity comes from the grid, which means it comes from about half coal power. While the University has a history of widely publicized sustainability efforts, it is the single largest electricity consumer in the city of Charlottesville and its power plant is the most threatening source of pollution in the community. The students recognize that the devastation that coal causes throughout its life cycle is inconsistent with Thomas Jefferson’s vision of stewardship of the earth and service to the community, but often feel helpless when faced with the bureaucracy of the administration.

Thankfully, the newly formed UVA Beyond Coal campaign is changing that sentiment. In one of their largest events of the year, Beyond Coal invited Larry Gibson and Adam Hall to speak at the university on Earth Day, April 22. Larry called out the university for flagrantly violating its fundamental ideals, and gave a firsthand account of the death, destruction, and suffering that results from the use of coal. He also energized the student body and instructed them not to become discouraged, saying, “You got more people at this college than you do administrators here.” He emphasized the power that students and communities members have over the President and how important it is that students not give up fighting.

While Larry brought “facts and figures” with him, Adam Hall gave some personal stories that were, in many ways, even more inspiring. He told of the pride of the people of Appalachia, of the history, culture, and natural beauty that he loves so much, then he described why this issue is such an urgent one. “When you turn on that light switch, you’re blowing up mountains. When you turn on that light switch, you’re destroying communities.” After hearing Larry and Adam speak, the students are more fired up than they ever have been, and more determined than ever to move UVA onto clean, renewable energy. After the event, students from Beyond Coal went with Larry and Adam to President Teresa Sullivan’s office, where they personally delivered a letter outlining the goals of the campaign. After just one year, and with the help of Larry Gibson, Adam Hall, the Sierra Club, and countless other allies, the Beyond Coal campaign has the administration’s ear, and doesn’t intend to let go until UVA starts truly living up to its ideals.