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.
Class of 2010
Humanities, Science, and Environment