Today, students with the environmental group Eco-Action teamed up with Greenpeace to call on President Obama and University officials to get real and invest in truly clean, renewable energy like wind and solar. Hundreds of students and Penn State community members braved the cold winds, freezing rain, and slippery sidewalks to visit Greenpeace’s solar vehicle, the Rolling Sunlight. They came out to enjoy solar-powered hot chocolate and coffee, and to learn about clean energy solutions like wind and solar. Penn State's Vice President of Student Affairs, Damon Sims, and Sustainability Director, Erik Foley, were among a few notable attendees joining the crowds today.
This ray of sunlight shines on the eve of President Obama’s visit to Penn State to tour campus research facilities and speak about innovation, clean energy, and “winning the future” by investing in renewable energy. His visit follows a State of the Union address that plugged real renewable energy solutions like wind and solar, and false solutions like carbon capture and sequestration, natural gas, and nuclear.
Penn State is also missing the mark when it comes to renewable energy. Just weeks ago, the University made a major decision to switch its on-campus steam plant from coal to natural gas, missing a huge opportunity to transition to 100 percent renewable energy. Students and community members are frustrated, and some outraged, by the University’s decision. Many are asking questions about Penn State’s connections to the natural gas industry, because several key decision makers and researchers on campus have either worked for or receive funding from natural gas companies. Penn State is intimately tied to the natural gas industry. In fact, the University just received its single largest donation from a Pennsylvania natural gas industry tycoon.
The Rolling Sunlight was a source of inspiration and hope for those concerned about Penn State and America's clean energy future.
Eco-Action officer and Greenpeace campus coordinator Braden Crooks took the stage to lead a rally where several inspirational speakers addressed the crowd. Braden read a statement from Cindy Kalbach, a community member in the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania who could not attend because of inclement weather. Cindy said that natural gas well drilling has "destroyed environment, infrastructure, health and quality of life" in her community. She has a chronic cough from breathing in dust from as many as 50 trucks passing by her house each hour. Her drinking water has methane levels that register at a "highly explosive level" so that she can literally light her water on fire. Cindy has supported Penn State in the past, and is disappointed that the University is not speaking out against the destructive method of harvesting shale gas, a process known as fracking. She has also called on the Obama administration to help her, but her cries for help are not being answered.
The crowd heard similar messages from Ben Ketchum, Outreach Coordinator for the anti-fracking group Gas Truth; Steve Hvozdovich with Clean Water Action; and Robert Gardner, Greenpeace's Climate and Energy Campaigner.
They all raised some serious questions for Penn State and President Obama, which are touting natural gas as a clean energy source. Following the rally, Braden expressed his hopes and expectations to get some answers when he attends President Obama's speech on campus tomorrow. He told me that "today Eco-Action and Greenpeace showed Penn State and President Obama what real renewable energy looks like, and it has nothing to do with natural gas.”
Let's hope that we see real leadership from both Penn State and President Obama. We need 100 percent renewable energy like wind and solar, not dirty energy that endangers our communities, human life, and our climate.
Tomorrow the excitement at Penn State continues! Several Eco-Action members will attend President Obama’s speech, while many students and community members will demonstrate outside calling on Penn State and President Obama to do thing right thing: invest in truly clean, renewable sources of energy. Will they answer the call of a generation in desperate need of real clean energy solutions?
Stay tuned to find out. Many more updates to come from the front lines at Penn State.
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