This is OUR Challenge

21 01 2010

Collegiate Times Link: http://www.collegiatetimes.com/stories/14794/this-is-our-challenge

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

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