There has been a tug of war going on between students at the University of Kentucky and coal lately. Well, actually it's more one-sided, with the students tugging and tugging and the coal never giving way.
Coal is a heavy hitter, weighing in at 10 tons. (According to the U.S. Geological Survey, that's the amount of coal used per person per year!) But still students fight. Amidst claims that it supports Kentucky's economy (yes, it does, but so did tobacco at one point in time) students fight every day for the dismissal of electrical sources on campus that rely solely on coal. The long-standing battle came to yet another turning point on Tuesday when a group of students representing UK Beyond Coal stood silently, advocating their cause only through signs, to passersby.
I have to admit, this type of fighting isn't dirty. It isn't filled with hateful words and claims of ignorance or socialism on any part. What it does do is perfectly highlight the ingenuity of anti-coal advocates. Whether it be from the active destruction of mining equipment advocated by environmental forerunner Edward Abbey, the sit-ins and sit-ons used by anti-coal lobbyists, or the simple, silent stand UK's students took on Tuesday, they have proven time and time again that they will never stop fighting.
UK Beyond Coal, a collaborative between the Sierra Club and UK students, is the university's latest student organization devoted to the dismissal of the black stuff. Their creative efforts on Tuesday provided a calm atmosphere where in times past, such a thing could not exist. Students passing the signs on their way to class were confronted with Kentucky coal statistics that ranged from announcing the record 1.5 billion tons of coal mined in 2007 to representing the recent studies done that indicate increased instances of mercury-based birth defects. All this in a simple attempt to provoke thought.
The group members' goal is simple. They just want to meet with UK's president, Lee Todd, in order to identify a feasible alternative energy source to be implemented by 2015. This isn't asking much, but I'm afraid the administration is looking upon these pleas as a death sentence for an already economically troubled university. Yet despite these hard times, the university must look ahead to the example it sets for the state as a whole. If an institution of higher learning — "liberal thinkers" by many standards — cannot step out of the jaded past of coal mining, then who will?
This is a fight that has been raging for decades, and it is one with slimmer chances than when David fought Goliath. But that isn't the goal of UK Beyond Coal. At this point, their goals strive for education. Through knowledge of what the coal industry actually does to our state in the long run they hope to change the face of coal from within. It starts here, where the black rocks tear apart mountains and families. It starts with those who see the damage in small towns and small streams. It starts with a single "no."