College Survival Guide: Really? Another coal plant?

Jason Hersey/Sun Star Columnist
Nov. 25, 2013

(Left to Right) Previous UAF exchange student's Freya Casier and Varpu Lotvonen, myself, and UAF Master's student Cecilie Ebsen pose with wicker people art installation and banners after estimates claim around 100,000 people marched in the streets of Copenhagen, Denmark demanding climate justic at the 15th annual Conferece of the Parties to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change.  December 12, 2009.  Photo by Jason Hersey

(Left to Right) Previous UAF exchange student’s Freya Casier and Varpu Lotvonen, myself and UAF Master’s student Cecilie Ebsen pose with wicker people art installation and banners after estimates claim around 100,000 people marched in the streets of Copenhagen, Denmark demanding climate justic at the 15th annual Conferece of the Parties to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change. December 12, 2009. Photo by Jason Hersey/Sun Star

It has been four years since some friends and I, and an estimated 100,000 others, took to the streets in Copenhagen, Denmark to demand climate justice at the 15th annual Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. I’m not sure how many of us were tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed or jailed for waving our climate banners–I think mine read, “Let’s be nice to our Arctic ice.”

On Friday, Nov. 22 the 19 Conference of the Parties (COP 19) officially wrapped up its two week conference in Warsaw, Poland. COP 19 has left world leaders, activists, non-governmental organizations, journalists and world citizens shaking their heads at the large, industrialized world powers like the United States, which refuse to sign the binding agreements to lower carbon emissions in order to combat climate change.

Developing nations, affected most by climate change, have demanded at this COP that rich, industrialized nations, those that have historically emitted the most carbon emissions, set up a climate disaster fund to aid poorer nations that have a hard time recuperating from such disasters. Consider what we are seeing in the Philippines, which has more than 5,000 official deaths due to the one of the largest typhoons in history, according to the Huffington Post. Critics are saying that the devastating typhoon was caused by climate change.

These hopeful demands for setting up a climate disaster fund from developing nations are of course met with the attitude demonstrated by Todd Stern, the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change. While addressing a question posed by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now at COP 19 he said, “We don’t regard climate action as a matter of compensation or reparations or anything of the kind.”

Not only do industrialized countries such as the U.S., Australia, Japan, Canada, Russia and many countries in the European Union stall for agreements to aid climate affected areas of the world, but they do not heed the urgency of the thousands of scientists that form the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, established by the United Nations. The IPCC states that in order for the planet to undergo only a 2 to 2.4 degree Celsius average temperature increase, carbon emissions must peak by 2015 and start to decrease.

So here we are in Fairbanks, Alaska. We rank number seven of the ten most air-polluted cities in the U.S. by Time magazine in 2011. Meanwhile, UAF is pushing for a new coal plant to replace the old one. I’m not sure if it is a lack of creativity or if it’s the echoing ideals of the U.S. Government to avoid taking climate change seriously that promotes the idea that we need yet another coal plant on this planet.

KUAC reporter Mike Ellis reported on Nov. 1 that coal is cheap and there’s plenty of it. However, he also linked a report from the National Research Council, which discusses hidden costs due to coal burning that are not reflected in the market price. For example, health problems associated with breathing the emissions, climate change damage and harm to ecosystems. The report also states, “Coal-fired plants are the single largest source of greenhouse gases in the U.S.”

Fairbanks, along with the rest of the U.S., has some serious problems when it comes to managing responsible pollution mitigation; focusing energy strategies to burn more coal lacks moral, environmental and long term economical responsibility.

The Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce will ask the state to put $195 million towards the new plant in 2014, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. I would rather see my tax dollars be applied to insulating the drafty, outdated dorms, further development of sustainable programs on campus and real considerations to long-term, alternative energy approaches that would distinguish UAF as a truly sustainable campus of the north.

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