UK students demand new energy solutions and an end of "business as usual"
It wasn't just another quiet day at the office at the Joe Craft Center at the University of Kentucky on September 13. The early afternoon clicking of keyboards and polite hallway helloes was banished by the bursting of pro-democracy, clean energy chants.
Students targeted the center, named for a prominent university donor and coal executive, to highlight the university's relationship with the coal industry. They dropped off messages of the harmful health effects of coal in empty inhaler containers at the office of athletics director Mitch Barnhart. These students, faculty, and community members wanted UK to move beyond coal.
The university quietly opened the Wildcat Coal Lodge this summer, after national outrage and negative publicity marred its original funding in the spring of 2010. "We wanted to make sure the university couldn't get away with opening it quietly. We wanted people to know that UK is doing things not for the best interest of the commonwealth, but for their own monetary gain," said Patrick Johnson, a UK student and organizer of the march and rally.
The preceding rally and march marked the kick-off of a larger, student-led campaign to not only change the culture of coal at the university but retire the four massive coal boilers the university currently employs. While other similar campaigns to replace coal boilers have transitioned easily to natural gas boilers, the students at UK have refused to do so.
"Our role as student activists is to hold the administrators accountable for how their decisions are affecting the climate, and to accelerate the transition toward not contributing to climate change," said Sammi Meador, another event organizer. "Bob Wiseman said in an interview after the event that they plan to use more natural gas in the future. If we ask them to transition away from coal without specifying a new source, they can just continue with business as usual, and our efforts would have been wasted."
The students have spent time developing criteria for new energy solutions to present in good faith to the administration. The group meets every Thursday in the UK Student Center in Room 359.