Coal-Free UNC Campaign Gathers Steam
Climate scientist James Hansen joined student activists, local residents, and faculty at the University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill the first week of February in urging the university to eliminate coal power on campus. UNC-Chapel Hill now operates its own coal-fired cogeneration (heat & power) plant.
Hansen, above center, was on campus at the invitation of Coal-Free UNC, part of the Sierra Club's Campuses Beyond Coal campaign. That's UNC freshman and Coal-Free UNC coordinator Stewart Boss at right, above.
"As a proud Tar Heel, I want to see my university maintain its status as an environmental leader by moving beyond coal and making UNC a greener, more sustainable campus," Boss told an assembed crowd of activists who gathered despite the inclement weather.
One of Coal-Free UNC's top priorities has been pushing the university to create an Energy Task Force to address energy use on campus, and Boss praised UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp's recent decision to do so. "This is a great first step in the right direction," Boss said, "and the best way for the task force to address energy use is to get UNC off coal as quickly as possible."
Since forming last September, Coal-Free UNC has collected more than 1,900 petition signatures calling on the university to end its coal use by 2015.
Dr. Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute and adjunct professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, underscored Boss's remarks. "Coal is the dirtiest fuel on the planet," he said. "If we phase out coal over the next 20 years, we can solve the [climate] problem. The universities should be taking the lead."
Also speaking at the press conference were UNC Geological Sciences professor Dr. Jose Rial, at left below, and Chapel Hill resident Pat Leighten.
"We are running out of time to curb greenhouse gas emissions," said Rial. "If we stop burning coal on campus we will set a great example for the state and the country that will help globally to address the impacts of climate change, and regionally to stop the environmental degradation that coal mining is causing, especially in Appalachia."
Leighten, who lives three blocks from the UNC coal plant, pointed to the plant's underutilized capacity for natural gas, which they can be exploited immediately. "Using natural gas as a bridge fuel in the short term," she said, "UNC could switch 50 percent of the coal they now burn to natural gas during a transition period to biomass, solar, wind, and geothermal energy. I have faith that here in the Research Triangle we have the minds and the resources to figure out how to leave dirty coal behind and forge ahead into a clean energy era."