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Student Campaign Helps Convince University to Cancel Construction of Gas Plant

Mat Roberts was the editor-in-chief of College Green Magazine. If he’s not lost in a good book (“Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn) or a good vegetarian meal, then Mat enjoys writing or tending to his lush garden. Gracie Umana was the multimedia editor for College Green Magazine. Gracie graduated from Ohio University this past May with a B.S. in Visual Communications and is currently living in Athens, OH. She loves warm puppies and great local food.

Small victories may be small, but they sure are sweet.

A little over a month ago, I walked across the stage wearing a red patch across my chest that symbolizes a movement for student power. My last year of college was not spent plastered to the awe of graduation, but rather spent fighting a systematic force of higher education that is connected to economic and environmental hardship. In that same breath I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, was blinded by a bright flash initiated from a camera, and was handed a warm note welcoming me into a prestigious clan of Ohio University alumni. I was relieved to be done, but not proud to be a Bobcat.

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The only reason I had my qualms was the lack of effort I saw coming from the administration to address climate change and provide positive learning experiences for students as they enter a world in which we all must understand and be able to apply sustainability and climate resilience for the rest of our lives. It was not fair for a handful of dedicated souls to step up to the plate, yet the only thing that has ever made great change in the face of adversity is just that.

With the added efforts of Ohio University environmentalists pushing for clean energy and a new progressive Student Senate taking the helm next fall semester, the Ohio University Board of Trustees have decided to discontinue the construction of a $75-100,000,000 gas plant on the Athens Main Campus. This co-generational gas plant would have locked the school into a 50-year contract with the gas industry, ensuring our dependence on fossil fuels and combustive energy all the way up until 2075.

Maybe our collective activism only helped the decision a little, but the front-line people I know in this rowdy group made sure their peers and colleagues were aware of the consequences of fossil-fuel infrastructure as it relates to larger social issues. I'm proud to say the spark of these efforts started in Columbus, OH, during Bill McKibben's "Do The Math" tour in November, 2012.

Since then, the wave of passionate students and community members pushing a progressive stance to address global issues and environmental awareness in Athens, OH, and at Ohio University is gaining power. The moments I was proud to be a Bobcat were seeing passionate students stand up to raise awareness on fossil-fuel divestment, rape culture, tuition hikes and unraveling a complex landscape of interconnected inequalities:

In our first talks with Ohio University administration, we tried to explain why the shale gas boom will be short-lived and unpredictable in price (remember your gas bill this winter?), how renewable investments now will work towards Ohio University’s Climate Action Plan and save money long-term, and how dedication to diversifying the energy portfolio of the university, by investing in geothermal or solar-thermal for the heating and cooling needs, can be a great opportunity to be known for educational heroism. (We were told the construction of the gas plant was set in stone).

There were many students, teachers and community members behind the opposition of the gas plant. Each individual played a key role in sparking this paradigm shift. Caitlyn McDaniel, recently elected VP of Student Senate and former president of Ohio University Sierra Student Coalition, stated in her "official message" that the Bobcats Beyond Gas community will continue leading the conversation  and begin working with the University to move off all fossil fuel energy sources in the future:

While the Ohio University Sierra Student Coalition and its affiliate organizations within the Athens community are proud of the decision that our university has made in regards to this investment, we must continue to maintain our position on methane gas: as we face the dire results of climate change, we cannot approve any combustive energy source, especially one that is only slightly less pollutive than coal.

As long as we are dependent on fossil fuels, methane gas will be a mere band-aid on an open wound. Despite all of the best intentions and warmest wishes, it is a product that will continue to contribute to the death of entire ecosystems, the permanent extinction of species and their habitats, and an ever-changing landscape that will forever alter our social and economic ways of life.

The late nights preparing for presentations and class raps, long rides on the bus to protest the Keystone XL pipeline (twice!), making new relationships and taking new power on student government, educating our peers about critical environmental issues, and staying humble enough to listen to our elders have all been worth the victory.

I believe I speak for all who have been a part of this revolutionary initiative when I say the real change is just beginning. The opportunity to create a sustainable future, without compromising the Bobcat experience, is far from unrealistic. We are proud to see our Ohio University leaders make the right choice. Sure we will be running on gas for a little while, but at least we have some flexibility to explore clean energy options right here on campus ... Our door is always open when you are ready to talk.

"It’s time to take off our shackles and break free from this system that stifles our voice and our power," said Gracie Umana. “We outnumber the administration by a crazy amount. We give way more money to this institution than one donor could possibly amount for. Students eager to learn are what make higher education possible, not the amount of money flowing into [OU President Rodrick] McDavis’ pockets, and I want that eagerness back."

 

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