By Sarah Hodgdon, Conservation Director Sierra Club
For anyone like me who joined the environmental movement after Earth Day 1990 (and is about to turn 40 this year!), I have a recommendation for energizing your activism: Join forces with the youth climate movement.
I spent last weekend at Power Shift 2011, the Energy Action Coalition's 10,000 person climate conference for youth activists (also heavily supported by our own Sierra Student Coalition), and I haven't felt this excited in years.
In a full circle moment, I got to spend some time talking with Lauren Kastner, the head of Indiana University's Beyond Coal campaign. I started as an activist working to convince Indiana University (IU) during my time there not to sell land to an incinerator company. The campaign had such a major impact on me that I'm still an activist today.
As a fourth generation IU alumna, I also care deeply about the university. And it's about time to get that coal plant off campus. IU has a coal plant right in the middle of campus called the Central Heating Plant that burns 68,000 tons of coal every year. The school also purchases coal-generated electricity from the grid from Duke Energy.
Thankfully, Lauren and a great group of other IU students are working on this.
"Coal Free IU started in the fall of 2009 as one of the original Campuses Beyond Coal campaigns and we've been gaining momentum since then," said Kastner. "We have been successful in meeting with the IU VP of Facilities and Capital Projects twice now, but we've come away with no public promise of moving IU beyond coal.
"However, we have had a huge success in actually bringing clean energy to IU ourselves if the University won't. We won a $12,000 grant to install a two-kilowatt photovoltaic system on the roof of the student union and those are actually going up this week!"
Unfortunately, now IU is beginning a clean coal research project. The students of Coal Free IU are aghast.
"It is unacceptable for IU to buy into this rhetoric when we know that at no step of the way is coal clean," said Kastner. "From the mining to the burning to the disposal of toxic coal ash, coal is destructive to the environment, public health, and the economy. If IU wants to live up to its progressive and sustainable reputation, it must rethink its association with 'clean coal' research and invest in real 100% clean and renewable energy."
Kastner said she and other Coal Free IU students came back from Power Shift 2011 even more inspired to help make the Hoosiers coal-free - and she met other students from around Indiana committed to cleaning up the state's energy sources.
"It is incredibly important for Indiana to be vocal in this movement because we are a state with incredibly low environmental quality," she explained. "Students from all over Indiana attended Power Shift and are coming back with new skills and a sense of empowerment that will hold state lawmakers and corporations accountable."
Both Kastner and I strongly recommend Power Shift and the Sierra Student Coalition's Campuses Beyond Coal campaign to any young people looking to make a difference and connect with others striving to do the same.
"Power Shift 2011 was an incredible time for young people in the environmental movement to show their strength in numbers and prove to legislators, elected officials, and corporations that we are rising up against the continued destruction of the environment while also showing support for those who are protecting our public health."
Together we secure a clean energy future for our country.