SU mulls rebuking WU for its stance on clean coal power
Student Union is debating whether to pass a resolution critical of Washington University’s position on clean coal. The resolution would come in response to a student protest of the America’s Energy Future symposium conference, which was hosted by the University’s International Center for Advanced Renewable Energy and Sustainability on Monday.
The symposium focused on several “green” energy technologies such as clean coal, which some members of the University, including Chancellor Mark Wrighton, have advocated as a practical short-term solution to address energy needs and climate change.
Some students have criticized the University’s position on clean coal. They say the technology promotes the corporate interests of coal companies such as Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, Inc., both of which were represented at the conference, at the expense of sources of renewable energy, such as wind and solar power.
In an effort to express this opinion, about 100 students held a “flash mob,” during which they flooded the symposium reception in the Danforth University Center’s Tisch Commons. When signaled, the protesters held signs saying “Beyond Coal” and wore police tape wristbands stating “Global Warming Crime Scene.” The students also dropped banners from the second floor railings saying “We Need Wind Solar Geothermal” and “Coal is Never Clean.”
The protest was organized by members of Green Action, Engineers Without Borders, Students for Endowment Transparency, Burning Kumquat, Wash. U. Peace Coalition and senior Kady McFadden, student representative to the board of trustees.
Senior Will Fischer, former president of Green Action and current SU executive advisor for sustainability, spoke at the protest using a megaphone.
“We will not stand aside as executives from companies like Arch Coal and Peabody paint a dirty energy future for our school and our nation,” Fischer said, standing above a banner with the message “Power Beyond Coal.” “We believe that America’s real energy future uses socially responsible, renewable energy sources.”
Fischer invited those at the reception to go to “OUR Energy Future symposium,” a student-led conference in which students and faculty discussed non-coal energy sources.
Representatives from Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, Inc. did not attend the symposium. Some executives from Ameren, an electricity provider that sent representatives to the University conference, attended the student-led symposium.
Junior Peter Murrey, president of Green Action, said students at the protest wanted to show that they do not agree with the University’s partnering with coal executives.
“We really want to debunk what we feel is a growing corporate influence on this University,” Murrey said. Murrey noted that two of the new trustees appointed by the University this year are CEOs of Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, Inc.
Wrighton said in an interview at the reception that although the board of trustees relies on the advice of individual trustees, it functions collectively, and individual members do not guide its decisions.
“No single trustee is going to be able to drive the University one way or another,” Wrighton said.
Student Union takes action in response to protest
Student Union passed a resolution Wednesday in support of the students’ activism but tabled further discussion on whether to support the protesters’ position against clean coal until next week.
Next Wednesday, Nov. 11, SU senators will debate a resolution to express SU’s position on the University’s use of the term “clean coal,” particularly as it is used in the name of the I-CARES program Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization. Senators decided to table the resolution until next Wednesday because they wanted to conduct more research on the University’s involvement with clean coal.
Fischer said he hopes that SU will take a more assertive position on clean coal during next week’s meeting.
“Student Union needs to pass a resolution stating that the University is damaging its image by choosing to adopt marketing slogans of a dirty industry,” he said.
The University’s position on clean coal
The University has taken the position that clean coal is a short-term solution that can be used alongside other long-term solutions like solar power.
Wrighton argued that current financial challenges in slowing climate change make it necessary to commit to both the short- and long-term implementation of renewable energy resources like solar power.
“I’m excited about the prospect of doing fundamental research that may open up opportunities on renewables, but I think in the meantime we have to make sure that our economy remains strong, and that’s going to require access to energy in great abundance that can’t at least at the moment be provided from renewables,” Wrighton said in an interview.
Wrighton also presented findings at Monday’s conference from the Committee on America’s Energy Future, which issued a report to Congress on methods of combating climate change.
Martha Schlicher, vice president of biofuels at Monsanto, one of the organizations at the conference, said she feels pressed to implement immediate action against climate change.
“Every day we don’t do something, we are increasing those cumulative greenhouse gases out there in the environment,” Schlicher said. “There has to be a sense of urgency in everything that we do.”
Jennifer Smith, assistant professor of earth and planetary sciences, also attended the conference and said she appreciated hearing a corporate angle on America’s energy issues.
“Honestly, at this point, what I’d like to see is anything,” Smith said. “Anything is better than nothing.”