Hansen Urges UNC to Stop Burning Coal
Today students, faculty, alumni, and community members in support of the Sierra Club Campuses Beyond Coal Campaign at UNC-Chapel Hill turned out by the dozens to the UNC-owned and operated coal-fired steam and power plant. They praised the formation of UNC’s new Energy Task Force that will address energy use on campus and emphasized that the best way for the task force to address energy is to eliminate the use of coal on campus.
Students held signs calling for UNC Chancellor Thorp to “Be a Climate Champ,” and make a commitment to stop burning coal by 2015, at the latest, stating that burning coal was responsible for 63% of campus global warming pollution in 2008. From start to finish coal is the dirtiest energy source the Carolina could possibly use, said students —from coal mining to burning coal to disposing of coal waste coal destroys the environment and jeopardizes public health.
Keynote speaker at the press conference, Dr. James Hansen, a preeminent scientist on climate change, highlighted the urgency of eliminating coal use at UNC. “Globally we must phase out coal emissions by 2030 if we are to have any chance of avoiding the worst effects of global warming. This means that developed nations must be off of coal by 2020, and if Universities like UNC are to take the lead in this pressing issue, they should have replaced coal with other energy sources before then,” said Hansen.
Faculty of Geological Sciences, Dr. José Rial, a glaciologist, reiterated Hansen. “We are running out of time to curb greenhouse gas emissions, if we are not too late already. In my fieldwork I see Greenland’s ice cap melting and breaking apart every year, inducing sea level rise at rates faster than the best models have predicted. If we stop burning coal on campus we will set a great example for the state and the country that will help globally to address the impacts of climate change, and regionally to stop the environmental degradation that coal mining is causing, especially in Appalachia,” Rial said.
Neighbor to the plant, Patricia Leighten, showed her concern for toxic emissions of UNC’s coal plant. “This plant behind us is the single largest source of air pollution here in Orange County. Because it burns coal, it emits toxic chemicals including mercury, arsenic and lead into the air we are breathing right now. This is jeopardizing the health of me and my neighbors and is a major public health issue in the town and county,” Leighten said.
The coal-fired cogeneration plant emits mercury, arsenic and lead, as well as 320,000 tons of greenhouse gases were emitted in 2007, the equivalent of 55,000 standard passenger vehicles’ annual emissions.
Student coordinator of the campaign Felipe Jolles said, “By burning coal here at UNC we are contributing to the devastating impact of coal mining on communities and the environment in Appalachian Virginia; we are jeopardizing the health of the neighbors of the plant because of mercury, arsenic, and lead emissions; and we are putting future generations at risk because of the global warming pollution this plant emits.”
“We believe that UNC can do better than burning coal—a dirty 19th Century fossil fuel. The list of universities going coal-free is growing and we don’t want UNC to be left behind in the dust. The Energy Task Force now has the opportunity to address this very important issue of eliminating coal use at UNC,” Jolles said.
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