WUCJA receives award from Sierra Club
The alliance earned the annual award last week for its work educating the Washington University campus about the costs of using coal as fuel and the need for alternative energies, specifically through an event in April called the Great Coal Debate.
The debate, which filled Graham Chapel and was picked up by around 6,000 individual streams, had an estimated 10,000 total viewers. It pitted Fred Palmer, vice president of public relations for Peabody Energy, against Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, and was moderated by Bryan Walsh, TIME magazine’s environmental correspondent.
“Coal is a very contentious issue these days,” said senior Peter Murrey, a member of Green Action. “The debate put two of the leading figures in that debate head-to-head, and really brought out many of the problems and complexities associated with this fuel.”
Five members of WUCJA discussed their work and organizational efforts at a conference in June, sponsored by the Sierra Student Coalition, and the award was presented at a dinner in San Francisco on Saturday.
“I think it’s really exciting,” said junior Arielle Klagsbrun, Green Action co-president. “I think Wash. U. and St. Louis are drawing a lot of attention to the amazing work that is going on here. St. Louis is a corporate ground zero for coal companies, and we’re making sure that those coal companies aren’t involved at Wash. U., and are called out for being involved in St. Louis.”
The WUCJA was only about a year old when it hosted the Great Coal Debate. The initiative started in reaction to the formation of the Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization in December of 2008. Many students disliked the use of the term “clean coal,” which Green Action members say is a deceitful marketing term. The University has touted the importance of clean coal in paving an energy future.
As a response to the University, green groups took action last year. They staged a walk-in protest of the America’s Energy Future Conference to express their views. Student Union also passed a unanimous Senate resolution, calling on the University to change the name of the consortium, and met with the consortium members. According to Murrey, they refused to budge.
“We decided that we really need to raise the issue more and educate everyone we can about this, so more students can know just what is going on,” Murrey said.
The Sierra Club award includes a $500 prize, which WUCJA will use to fund the upcoming Climate Solutions Forum, which kicks off Friday afternoon in Bowles Plaza and will continue through Monday.
“In terms of Wash. U. as a whole, it’s really putting a spotlight on what we do here,” Murrey said of the award. “We can’t say that the world isn’t watching anymore because Missouri and St. Louis are increasingly at the center of the fight against coal and the fight for clean energy.”
The WUCJA hopes to continue on its trajectory of success with the forum this weekend, and also has goals to work more closely with administrators to make eliminating the use of coal energy and finding cleaner solutions into priorities of the University.
“We want to let administrators know that this issue is not going away,” Murrey said. “It’s just going to get more and more contentious. We really want to work with them to help Wash. U. move in a better direction.”