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VT Students Call for Climate Justice

Russell Chisholm

The Global climate strike is galvanizing college campuses all over the country to work for climate justice. A new group at Virginia Tech recently presented a list of six demands to university officials for action.

The group called Virginia Tech for Climate Justice is asking for changes to the university’s Climate Action Commitment, enacted in 2009, saying Tech must do more to reduce the school’s carbon footprint, to oppose fracking, support renewable energy, and more.

“We are asking that Virginia Tech complies with our six demands, or at least give students a voice in what happens with the new ‘Climate Action Commitment.’

Heidi Hahn is a sophomore studying environmental policy and planning. She points out, the group is made up of people from a variety of majors, and speaks to faculty, local residents and beyond.

“The climate action commitment is basically, what the next plan is for the next five years or so, to make Virginia tech sustainable. So, we're trying to get as many participants from all walks of life involved and give everybody a voice. 

Representatives from the group met with University President Tim Sands, who agreed to a re-write of the Climate Action Plan to be completed by May of 2020, for approval next Fall. But, a coalition of student groups passed resolutions calling on the university to move faster on that, saying, ‘We don’t have the luxury of a year’s delay.’   

Here is what VTCJ is asking the university to do to address the climate crisis:

Dear President Sands and Virginia Tech Administration,

In order to become a global leader in responsible technological innovation, Virginia Tech needs to meet the following demands as a first step to addressing the climate emergency as a responsible institution of higher learning. The following demands align with the motto Ut Prosim (that I may serve) and Virginia Tech’s Beyond Boundaries vision, including its Tech for Humanity initiative, which calls for technology innovation to be guided by values such as equity, ethics, and sustainability.

We Demand: 

Demand #1: Climate Emergency Advocacy

President Sands make a public announcement stating that we are in a climate emergency, and that he will act as an advocate for immediate climate action to include denouncing the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which damages our regional ecologies and would double the Commonwealth’s fixed-source greenhouse gas emissions.

UPDATE 11/8/19: President Sands described "urgency" but not emergency in his statement on updating the Climate Action Commitment.

Demand #2: Divest from Fossil Fuels

That the Virginia Tech Foundation divest from all publicly-traded companies that hold coal, oil, or gas reserves or pipelines or other fossil-fuel-related enterprises and intend to use or sell them for the purpose of combustion, and from all financial products that include such companies. 

UPDATE 11/6/19: John Dooley will take our request to the Foundation's January 2020 meeting.

Divestment memo

Demand #3: Decrease Energy Consumption and Transition to Renewable Sources

That the VT Climate Action Commitment committee mandate a cap on GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions across all VT facilities, including upstream GHG from energy sources like natural gas. 

That Virginia Tech’s total energy consumption, including with the campus expansion envisioned in the 2047 Master Plan, be capped below the current energy intensity levels, and that the Climate Action Commitment include an annual rate of energy reduction informed by leading peer institutions like UNC-Chapel Hill and ongoing UN Climate Action Summits. 

That Virginia Tech’s electric and heating supply to all VT facilities be generated from 100% renewable sources by 2030. 

That Virginia Tech Electric Service, which serves the Blacksburg campus and 6,000 residential and commercial customers in Blacksburg, provide 100% of its electric supply from renewable sources by 2030. 

That these transitions be guided by principles of energy democracy, which align with the “Tech for Humanity” Initiative, and by climate justice locally and globally. 

Demand #4: Minimize Energy Consumption by Campus Facilities 

That the university enact comprehensive energy efficiency programming at existing and planned campus facilities informed by strategies from the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2018 Zero Energy University Campuses Progress Update.

That the university formalize a commitment to prioritize the renovation of existing buildings before demolition and new construction

That all new construction meet net-zero energy ready standards by achieving a source energy use intensity (EUI) of 75 kBtu/ft2yr or less in third party energy simulations with verification through post-occupancy evaluations.

Further, that all new construction adhere to U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) standards and incorporate best practices in green building techniques including, but not limited to, requirements and strategies from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) WaterSense and Indoor Air Plus programs, the U.S. Green Building Council’s  (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program and Sustainable Sites Initiative, and the International Living Future Institute’s (ILFI) Living Building and Living Community Challenges, and the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure’s (ISI) Envision framework. 

Demand #5: Ensure Appropriate Student Representation

That Virginia Tech appoint student representatives--selected by well-informed members of established student-led environmental organizations--as voting members on all bodies that make decisions concerning Virginia Tech’s energy use, the university’s currently outdated Climate Action Commitment, and all university issues with climate justice implications.

Demand #6: Renewable energy production and energy efficiency in Southwest Virginia

That Virginia Tech initiate a comprehensive research initiative focused on distributed renewable energy development and energy efficiency. 

That Virginia Tech expand its funding for Cooperative Extension to include community training programs and resources for weatherization, energy efficiency, and renewable energy adoption in homes and small businesses throughout Southwest Virginia and the Commonwealth. 

***Editor's Note: Radio IQ is a service of Virginia Tech.

Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.