Internationally known climatologist James Hansen, head of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies and a professor at Columbia University, calls coal-fired power plants "the single greatest threat to civilization and life on our planet."
Coal burning is responsible for 40 percent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions each year. And Hansen says all of the country's more than 500 coal plants must be shut down by 2030 to avoid the worst effects of global climate change.
Coal-dependent Indiana is seventh among the states in CO2 emissions, having released 8,950 megatons between 1960 and 2005, according to a recently released Greenpeace report, America's Share of the Climate Crisis: A State-By-State Carbon Footprint. The study used data from the Carbon Analysis Indicators Tool maintained by the World Resources Institute.
With a population of 6.1 million, Indiana produced 1,472 tons of CO2 per citizen.
To give some perspective to these figures, Texas, the No. 1 source of CO2, emitted 25,191 megatons during that same period, according to Greenpeace. Texas's population is over three times Indiana's, yet the per capita emissions were 1,298 tons, lower than Indiana's.
The least polluting state is Vermont, at 421 tons per person. Only a few states emit more CO2 per capita than Indiana: Louisiana, West Virginia, North Dakota, Wyoming and Nevada. Only in Illinois and New York State, with populations double and triple those of Indiana, respectively, are total emissions higher.
Indiana depends on coal for 96 percent of its electricity.
The Coal-Free Campus Campaign
According to a Sierra Club report, Moving Campuses Beyond Coal: Breaking Coal's Grip on Our Future, released on Sept. 16, college and university campuses need to end their dependence on coal by switching to clean, renewable energy as soon as possible.
"Colleges and universities," the Sierra Club report notes, "have the potential, capacity and responsibility to lead the nation when it comes to making the right choices. They are the centers of research and innovation that develop the models, ideas and young people who will transform our world, lead to better living standards, and create a more secure nation and a healthier society."
More than 60 U.S. campuses of higher learning use coal-fired power plants. And the Sierra Club is doing something about their contributions to global warming. The club's Coal-Free Campus Campaign has targeted 11 universities for their carbon dioxide emissions, among them Indiana University-Bloomington.
IU's coal-fired steam plant burns coal, natural gas and fuel oil and burned 68,000 tons of coal in 2006 alone.
The Campaign's goal is realistic, as Ball State University (BSU) has demonstrated. In addition to installing geothermal power, BSU recently completed a campus greenhouse gas emissions inventory and requires all new building construction and renovations to meet the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification.
BSU officials say they were motivated by market forces, the signing of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment and the university's Council on the Environment, which they call the "longest standing green committee in Indiana higher education."
The IU Coal-Free Campus Campaign, based at the Caldwell Eco-Center, kicked off with the Sept. 16 release of the report Breaking Coal's Grip on Our Future: Moving Campuses Beyond Coal. After a press conference in front of the coal-fired steam plant, the student group presented IU Vice President and Provost Karen Hanson and Sustainability Director Bill Brown with a copy of the official report, which specifically highlights IU.
On Sept. 28, the Campaign's initial campus-wide meeting attracted 80 students. Plans for this semester entail a petition drive, film screenings, an art show and more. Committees have been set up to maintain the campaign's Web site, communicate with the media and carry out actions.
Copenhagen and the International Day of Climate Action
Representatives of nations around the world will meet this December in Copenhagen to negotiate a new international climate treaty to improve upon the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The Bloomington organization 350.org, with its most well-known spokesperson Bill McKibben, is calling for a global day of climate action on Oct. 24. Already citizens' groups in more than 100 countries have committed themselves to action on that day.
The 350 organization (so named because Hansen says keeping the atmospheric carbon dioxide at or under 350 parts per million will avert climate disaster) which formed in response to the global day of climate action on the 24th, is planning 350 hours of activities for that week.
With the UN climate talks taking place this December, it's important to keep the pressure on public officials the world over. As Greenpeace puts it, "We need President Obama and the rest of the world's leaders to attend the talks and personally lead the world towards a bold plan for tackling climate change. But powerful industries are lobbying for business as usual. That means everyone needs to get involved and make their voices heard."
Linda Green can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information
Bloomington's Oct. 24 activities:
Michael Besckiewicz email@example.com