Friday, January 29, 2010

The Movement and Beyond Coal

In an hour I’m going to be on the road to Washington D.C. to have an interview with Green Corps. In the half decade I’ve been an active environmentalist I’ve learned that this essential movement is terribly complicated. You have differences in strategies from direct collaboration with community leaders to aggressive direct action. Within these strategies you have the idea of utilizing a step-by-step approach of outreach and cooperation which, if unyielding, may lead to aggressive direct action protests against leadership. Others idealize a tool-box method in which cooperation and aggressive direct action can be employed at the same time.

Then you have the movement itself producing friction between grassroot approaches and top-down induction of campaigns. Professional organizers, as we’ve been known to call them, come in with regional or national efforts and resources to get people involved locally with their issues. I’ve had experience in which professional organizing has been done what I would consider a right way, and a wrong way.

Last fall Green Corps partnered with the Sierra Club to kick off the Beyond Coal Campaign where dozens of universities across the nation with coal power plants are being asked to commit to transitioning away from coal to cleaner resources. Here at Virginia Tech a Green Corps member came in and helped seed a campaign that we’ve long been interested in. We’ve asked our administration to stop using mountain top removal coal within one year, commission a study of how we can do it (how about we actually start living up to our slogan "Invent the Future" for a change?) and be off coal by the year 2020. Between biofuels and natural gas for short term and as it becomes more feasible wind, solar and geothermal technologies, we aren’t having to reinvent the wheel here.

So far all of my experiences with Green Corps have related to it being done the right way of top-down organizing by empowering a local movement. The two organizers who I have worked with are nothing short of inspirational to me and motivated me to apply to Green Corps. Between my experiences of years of organizing and even a bid for Town Council, I’m cautiously optimistic for this interview.

I’ll leave this conversation here for now. Below is my letter to the editor to the Collegiate Times, with the original article here.

This is OUR challenge

Two years ago I had the opportunity to be a part of a student delegation that met with President Steger that led to the creation and passage of the Virginia Tech Climate Action Commitment and Sustainability Plan (VTCACSP). Since that meeting then, I’ve seen countless community members have a devoted part in the research and planning associated with establishing that commitment, and I am extremely proud of our university taking a step in the right direction towards a sustainable future.

Last week I had the honor to be present at another meeting with members of the university administration with Virginia Tech Beyond Coal; a campus group with a campaign that asks for our university to 1) stop burning coal from mountain top removal sites within one year, 2) begin co-firing as much sustainably sourced biomass without major retooling of our power plant’s boilers by 2015, and 3) to end our use of coal in the central steam plant by 2020, five years ahead of the planned boiler replacement. While administrators acknowledged that “[the university does] want to work towards that ultimate goal”, they said that this plan “aggressively evolves” the VTCACSP and goes against the work of those that were involved with it. Administrators claimed they would only continue this conversation if we, as students, work on changing our behavior regarding energy consumption.

Now, not only do I respectfully disagree with what was said of working against those involved with the planning of the VTCACSP, I also am disappointed with the fact that our administration, with the defined motto of Ut Prosim and slogan “Invent the Future,” have to rely on the students themselves to put forth such a challenge to our university community. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

We’re currently faced with enormous challenges in the world, and as a leading research institution I feel it is our duty to step up to these challenges and take them head on. West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, a long advocate for the coal industry, said in a recent speech: “To be part of any solution, one must first acknowledge a problem. To deny the mounting science of climate change is to stick our heads in the sand and say ‘deal me out’… The greatest threats to the future of coal do not come from possible constraints on mountaintop removal mining or other environmental regulations, but rather from rigid mindsets, depleting coal reserves, and the declining demand for coal…”

I have been heavily involved in the environmental movement and have seen it grow exponentially in the last several years. I know solutions aren’t as simple as flicking a switch, but Appalachia has already passed peak coal, meaning regional coal supplies will likely dwindle to nothing in the next few decades as costs continue to skyrocket. As companies begin to abandon already struggling communities, I find it the duty of our university community to advance alternative energies to create new green jobs, preserve the values of our land and work with communities as we pursue a carbon neutral and sustainable future.

President John F. Kennedy challenged our country to reach the moon in a decade, something deemed impossible. We did it. Now we are faced with another challenge with the same deadline, and we don’t have to go to the moon to achieve it. This is our challenge, and as a community let’s have newfound collaboration in our pursuing creative solutions. Let’s Invent the RIGHT Future. Let’s work together and move beyond coal.

Bryce Carter
Class of 2010
Humanities, Science, and Environment

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Revitalizing the Website

Now that it has been a few months after the election I figure I need to stretch out my blogging skills. As you can see, I’ve been working on redeveloping my website to match my life as a community organizer and keep better track of all the activities I’m involved in. Check out the issues page to get an idea of where I'm headed with the design:

I'll do my best to provide regular updates my final semester, especially with Earth Hour, Virginia Tech Move Beyond Coal campaign and the Wise County Project. This week I presented the Virginia Tech Energy and Sustainability Committee and the Blacksburg Town Council with a letter presenting Earth Hour. I've copied my letter to Town Council below:

To the members of Blacksburg Town Council,

As you know, climate change is happening all around us and its pace is accelerating. From melting glaciers to increasingly intense weather patterns, climate change is already impacting life across the globe.

To make a bold symbolic statement of collective concern for our planet, the World Wildlife Fund sponsored an event in 2007 in which active citizens in Sydney, Australia turned off their lights for one hour—Earth Hour. By 2009, Earth Hour became the largest event of its kind in the world with nearly one billion people from 4,100 cities in 87 countries turned out their lights, as well as international landmarks including the Golden Gate Bridge, Empire State Building, Eiffel Tower and Great Pyramids, and the city skylines of Las Vegas, Hong Kong, and Tel Aviv.

Saturday, March 27, 2010 at 8:30p.m. the world will send a powerful message that climate change is a priority that must be dealt with now. By turning off non-essential lighting during Earth Hour, hundreds of millions of people across the globe will show their support for lasting action to protect Earth’s natural resources, environment and climate, now and into the future. Earth Hour reminds us that by working together, we all have a working role to solve one of the most critical issues of our time. Earth Hour also provides an excellent forum for citizens to hold meaningful conversations about the ways in which all of us can act to be part of the solution.

With the Town of Blacksburg already demonstrating extraordinary leadership by signing the Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement, joining the ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability Program, and establishing the Mayor’s Task Force on Climate Protection and Sustainability, Earth Hour provides a new opportunity for the diverse communities of Blacksburg and Virginia Tech to come together to show support for action to save our planet for future generations. In potential partnership with Virginia Tech, our joint participation will show that we care as a community and send a powerful message to the world that the United States is a leader in the movement to address climate change.

As planning continues, it is our hope to utilize either the Drillfield on Virginia Tech’s campus and turn off the lights at Burruss Hall or utilize the newly renovated Market Square Park as a community gathering place for citizens and students to enjoy each others’ company in candlelight. With the assistance of Virginia Tech Electric, our electricity demand both on and off campus will be monitored during Earth Hour and the savings will be shared with the public.

With the assistance of Town Council, we hope that the Town of Blacksburg will choose to partner with the Student Government Association Sustainability Committee and participate in Earth Hour 2010. We look forward to your response.

For more information about Earth Hour, check out or watch the video below.