St. Louis has long been corporate ground zero for dirty energy. Over the past two years, these corporations have become increasingly close with Washington University: Arch Coal, Peabody Energy, and the dirty energy utility Ameren UE helped found the Consortium for C!#@n Coal Utilization, the CEOs of Arch Coal and Peabody were appointed to WashU’s Board of Trustees, and WashU’s chancellor was the vice chair of a National Research Council report on America’s energy future that advocated for the continued use of coal.
This weekend, Arch, Peabody and Ameren are sponsoring the Symposium on the Global Energy Future, an international event bringing scientists from around the world to St. Louis. While the Symposium has a laudable goal of creating a cooperative vision for our global energy future, the Symposium has been corrupted by corporate greed and a desire for political expediency. The Symposium espouses a belief that true change to our energy system is impossible, and gives coal a prominent place in the world’s energy future.
Yesterday, the CEO of Peabody Energy, Greg Boyce, gave a keynote speech on “The Future of Fossil Fuels.” Before the speech, WashU student Matt Blum summed up students’ frustrations: “Greg Boyce places his company’s coal-dependent profits above our health and the future of our planet. We will take a stand as he speaks at this supposedly-scientific conference. My generation knows coal is over.”
So students took a stand, literally. During Boyce’s speech, about thirty people stood at intervals, revealed yellow Beyond Coal shirts and held signs debunking Boyce’s lies. CEO Boyce did not acknowledge the students, but the 300 international attendees sure did, murmuring and taking pictures of the protesting students. Through discussion questions, students then pressed Boyce on climate change and human impact of coal. They triumphantly exited the talk and directed symposium attendees to view the Beehive Design Collective’s “True Cost of Coal” banner, which was displayed outside the building. Meanwhile, students at the Southeast Student Renewable Energy Conference in Georgia made a video in solidarity with students at WashU.
The action comes as part of the Stop Ignoring! 2010 Weekend of Action, a community and student-generated direct response to the Global Energy Future Symposium. The Weekend of Action is based around the four-day Climate Solutions Forum, which promotes the kind of just, safe and inclusive energy future we want – the future our people and our planet desperately need.
On Friday night, students and community members demonstrated outside the Ritz-Carlton hotel where John Holdren, Obama’s science advisor, spoke at the Global Energy Future Symposium’s opening gala. The protesters brandished signs calling for “Clean Energy for All” and demanded climate justice and community-based, renewable energy from the big wigs sitting inside the gala dinner. The action sent a message to the Obama administration, the WashU administration, and dirty energy companies that corporate corruption of our energy future is unacceptable.
“Dirty energy corporations are strangling our communities with their rate hikes and pollution, and if their greed is not stopped their practices will lead to utterly devastating changes in our planet’s climate,” said Adam Hasz, a WashU student present at the action. “No longer will we wait for our politicians and these corporations to act. We are creating just, inclusive, renewable energy solutions today!”
In St. Louis and throughout Missouri, resistance to corporate directed dirty energy is building. The Labadie Environmental Organization is kicking ash even as the utility Ameren threatens to place a new coal ash landfill in the Missouri River floodplain. Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment is pressuring Ameren to invest in renewable energy and stop hiking rates for low-income populations. And here on campus, WashU students are moving our campus and our country beyond coal. Through our collaborations, we are building a movement that will transform our country and bring about a just and sustainable future. Our time is now; with perseverance, we will create a world powered by inclusive, renewable energy.