Van Jones Helps Miami University Students Push Beyond Coal

Written by Tyler Elliott, Miami University Beyond Coal organizer

Miami University has a dirty secret. Tucked away in the furthest corner of Western Campus is a dirty coal plant, burning 125 tons of the black stuff every single day. Students are starting to take notice, and they’re not happy. Miami University students have launched a Beyond Coal campaign and are preparing to fight against the school’s reliance on dirty, dangerous, and outdated coal power. The student activists are already shaking things up, even to the extent that one Mr. Van Jones gave them a shout out during his visiting address to the campus Thursday night.
MU leaders meet with Van Jones
Encouraging the students to fight on, Mr. Jones acknowledged “It’s hard when your university is burning coal on campus. It’s hard when your own university is going in the wrong direction… but you’re the only generation that has a shot at solving these problems.” Following his speech, Jones met individually with the members of Miami University’s rapidly growing Beyond Coal movement, posing for a photo.

Before leaving Miami University, Van Jones collaborated with 2nd year student Tyler Elliott and Sierra Student Coalition organizer Todd Zimmer to co-author a challenge to the University’s dirty coal dependence:

As Americans, the essential question of our historical moment is not “Can we solve the energy challenge?” but “Will it be America that solves it?” Our country is stocked with the most innovative researchers, the best positioned financiers, and a powerful manufacturing infrastructure ready to take up the abundance of economic activity a green energy revolution would spur. Ultimately, we must rely on government to implement policies ensuring that Americans will enjoy the promise of a truly green energy economy; if our administrators drag their feet on renewable energy, we could very well miss the boat, and find ourselves importing clean energy technology from China, cursing the jobs and benefits we squandered.

A microcosm of America, Miami University is faced with a similar historical moment. It is a university with a significant energy challenge: most of the school is powered by outdated and dangerous coal plants, one of which lurks in a residential region of campus. As in the country more broadly, the problem at Miami is not one of technological know-how. Miami University is internationally known for its brilliant scientists, academics and researchers, many of whom already tackle America’s energy challenge in their classrooms and labs. Nor is the problem one of ignorance, for Miami University teaches its students about the devastating implications of climate change, even as the furnaces on Western Campus burn another ton of coal. Finally, the problem is not a lack of available resources, as a newly installed small-scale geothermal installation in Upham Hall demonstrates.

As in America, the problem at Miami University is one of will. Will the university enact policy enabling the transition away from dirty and outdated coal power? Will Miami University innovate our way to global energy leadership, or will we fall behind our peer institutions who are already committing to 100% clean energy portfolios? Will our unfortunate coal plant continue to pollute the air and keep Miami in the past long after leaders like Cornell have reached their renewable energy goals?

President Hodge, we encourage you to lead Miami University beyond the coal power of 1809 and into the clean energy future of the 21st century. The institution has a long tradition of innovation, of problem solving, and Miami University has a crucial role to play in our country’s larger energy transition. It is time for Miami to put the brilliant research and technical know-how into practice, and to train engineers, scientists, and mathematicians for their roles in the future energy workforce. Miami University must aspire to be an institution powered completely and exclusively by clean, renewable energy. Please act now, so that Miami University, and America, can be global clean energy leaders, not followers.


Tyler Elliott, Miami University Class of 2013

Todd Zimmer, Sierra Student Coalition

Van Jones, author, The Green Collar Economy


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