The Student Sierra Coalition has been working to retire the Charlottesville smokestack over the past two years as part of their “Beyond Coal” campaign and on the weekend of September 30th they took their efforts further by attending Virginia Power Shift in Blacksburg, VA.
Power Shift is a series of events where students gather at various locations throughout the country in order to rally in support of environmental protection. This year’s Virginia Power Shift focused on moving away from unclean coal energy.
“Throughout Power Shift, it was inspiring to see students from different universities across Virginia gather together to express their desire for clean energy,” said Stephanie Allen, first-year. “I was immersed in a welcoming atmosphere and surrounded by individuals who were also passionate about moving their campus beyond coal.”
One of the reasons Power Shift is such a unique movement is that it focuses on youth activism and involvement.
“I attended Virginia Power Shift to take part in a campaign for cleaner energy created by students for students,” said Isabel Greenberg, first-year. “It’s so inspiring to be around people who share your own beliefs, especially young people like myself. “
The event itself gave students an opportunity not only to surround themselves with passionate peers, but also to learn about ways to have an impact. Allen said, “The seminars I attended offered lots of opportunities to get involved in environmental activism and connected me with other students fighting to move their campus towards clean energy.”
The UVA students who attended Virginia Power Shift are hoping to bring what they learned back to Charlottesville in order to take more steps towards retiring the local coal plant.
“The long-term goal is to get the earliest possible commitment from President Sullivan and from the Board of Visitors to retire the coal plant,” said Chris Linsmayer, Sierra Club campus organizer. “We want to push the university eventually onto 100% clean and renewable energy.”
Part of moving beyond coal also requires finding alternative sources of energy. Currently, the University gets electricity from Dominion Power, which uses coal plants. One of Linsmayer’s goals is eventually “working with Dominion Power to get them to invest heavily into renewables like wind and solar so that… we’re purchasing clean energy and not coal generated energy.”
“This is something that students really care about… but many [students] don’t even know that UVA has a coal plant so a lot of [the campaign] it is just getting the message out there and letting people know what’s going on,” said Kenneth Hawes, president of the Sierra Student Coalition at UVA.
The club has been working on multiple events to try to get the word out to students. So far they have been petitioning around the school, chalking sidewalks, and writing letters to different news organizations, but larger scale events are also being planned.
“The first [major event] is the hundred actions for clean energy,” Linsmayer said. “We’re going to do a Sleep-in with Smokestacks, which is going to be camping out on the amphitheater for a night and a showing of Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax.”
Beyond Coal also seeks to connect with the Charlottesville community, which is equally impacted by the negative effects of the coal plant. Recently, members of the Student Sierra Coalition went to Vegetarian Festival in Charlottesville to try to get support for their campaign.
“I was surprised at how great of a response we got from the community,” said Linsmayer. “We were able to collect a lot of petitions. We were only there for about four hours, [but] we got 550 [signatures] and there was a lot of good energy from the Charlottesville community.”
The club’s efforts have the potential to make a lasting impact on Charlottesville and would be an important step for the national Beyond Coal campaign.
Hawes said, “I just think that, for anybody who considers themselves to be an environmentalist in the least bit, this is an opportunity to take action and make a real, concrete difference in the protection of the environment.”
In order to get involved in the campaign or here more about it, sign up for the Sierra Student Coalition mailing list server email@example.com or contact Chris Linsmayer (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Kenneth Hawes (email@example.com).