Penn State

Penn State students rally for renewable energy

Emma Tilton, a faculty coordinator of the Climate Reality Campus Corps, spoke on Old Main lawn of Penn State on November 17, 2016.
Emma Tilton, a faculty coordinator of the Climate Reality Campus Corps, spoke on Old Main lawn of Penn State on November 17, 2016. For the CDT

Half a dozen Penn State student representatives of Climate Reality Campus Corp gathered on Old Main lawn Thursday. It is part of their campaign to see all of University Park campus’s electricity come from renewable sources.  

Emma Tilton, a faculty coordinator of the Climate Reality Campus Corps, said the campaign presented its proposal for Penn State to switch to renewable electricity to President Eric Barron last Friday.

“We are the first generation to experience the effects of climate change, which is why we need to be the generation to take bold action to stop it,” Tilton said.

Tilton said the campaign’s next steps would be getting the word out and earning faculty endorsement to push this movement forward.

Raymond Najjar, an oceanography professor from the Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science, also spoke at the event.

“Pennsylvania is getting warmer and seeing more flooding. These are implications of how we are living in climate change,” Najjar said.

Last month, Centre County was hit with flooding that affected more than 400 homes and businesses. Gov. Tom Wolf officially declared the flooding in Centre, Bradford, Lycoming and Sullivan counties a disaster Wednesday.

Najjar also said the opposition of this campaign comes from those who have a stake in fossil fuels.

That includes Penn State itself, with multiple programs focusing on the studies of energy and fuels. In May, Penn State won a University Coalition for Fossil Energy Research from the federal government.

Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences is almost as old as the university itself, which isn’t surprising in a state where oil was first drilled and where coal was a major industry for decades. Barron, whose career at Penn State started when he was an EMS professor, has a goal of seeing the university become the leading energy school in the country, with focus on traditional areas such as fossil fuels as well as more cutting edge alternatives.

“That’s not to say fossil fuels are bad. It gives us the world we live in and much progress we owe, but they’ve essentially outlived their utility,” said Najjar. “Renewable is the more sensible choice.”

Tilton acknowledged that it might take longer than they’d hope for the plan to be implemented.

“Right now, we have 23 faculty endorsements of the project,” Tilton said.

Michael Mann, a well-known climatologist and geophysicist and the director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center, is one of the endorsers of the campaign.

Najjar also expressed concerns about the incoming federal administration and its policies on energy. President-elect Donald Trump’s transition website announced a platform to encourage fossil fuel production and revoking the suspension for coal mining lease.

“The president-elect calling climate change a hoax and his plan to appoint a climate change denier to be the head of EPA are scary indications,” Najjar said. He said this calls for more scientists to communicate their studies with the public.

However, both Tilton and Najjar were still optimistic of their goal. Tilton said she has hopes that these narratives would inspire more people to get involved with the fight against climate change.

“Environmental groups do see an uptick in membership and participation,” Najjar said, “maybe that’s a silver lining.”

Min Xian is a journalism student at Penn State.