It’s time for the University to take climate change more seriously

The University of Iowa has done some good work when it comes to combating climate change, but needs to take the next step when it comes to sustainability.

When Greta Thunberg came to Iowa City on Oct. 4, one of the subjects she spoke about was the University of Iowa’s coal power plant. She challenged the University to stop using coal power and to begin moving towards using only renewable energy. This seems like a fantastic idea, and a big step for the University to take in combating climate change, but so far the future of said coal plant seems very murky.

Let’s begin with the facts. The University currently uses roughly 37,000 pounds of coal a year, down 60% from a decade ago. The University plans to be coal-free and burn only plant biomass by 2025. The city council and school board have challenged all other city operations to reach zero emissions by 2050. 

Using an astounding 192% more renewable energy than they did four years ago”

— Jack Harris '22

In 2008 the University made lofty goals to combat climate change, but because of how dramatically the threat of climate change has increased in the past decades, those goals are no longer enough and need to be reevaluated next year. Even though these goals are, in hindsight, too conservative, most of the goals seem to have been met. This includes reducing University related-travel emissions by 10%, renovating and rebuilding buildings to be more eco-friendly, and using 40% renewable energy, modernizing their buildings. Even though the renewable energy goal isn’t as ambitious as one would want, the University has gone above and beyond to reach said goal, such as using an astounding 192% more renewable energy than they did four years ago. In 2016, the University reported that it used 50% renewable energy during the average week, so they certainly seem to have surpassed that goal. Unfortunately their goal to divert 60% of their waste has been a total flop, as their latest statistics report that they are only at 38% waste diversion.  

If either party decides that these sustainability goals could get in the way of profitability, the coal-free plan could burn out”

— Jack Harris '22

Despite the various highs and lows of the University’s 2020 goals, the hulking cloud cast by the coal plant is difficult to ignore. Right now the coal plant provides about 25% of the University’s electricity and, as stated earlier in the article, plans to be coal free no later than Jan. 1, 2025. There’s one aspect of this whole process that could be concerning. The University plans to lease the power plant to a private company. Currently the public has no clue as to who this private company could be or if any private company has approached the University. It has been made clear by the University that they want said private company to agree to sustainability goals. The problem with this is that private companies exist specifically to make money, and the University is only leasing out the coal plant because they are trying to make money. If either party decides that these sustainability goals could get in the way of profitability, the coal-free plan could burn out.

The University made lofty goals to combat climate change, [but] those goals are no longer enough and need to be reevaluated”

— Jack Harris '22

Right now both the world and the University of Iowa are at a fork in the road when it comes to climate change and how they address it. Time is running out and decisions need to be made regarding how we are going to face the future. In recent months the University has been holding closed door meetings to reevaluate their sustainability goals. One can only speculate what they might be discussing in these meetings, but we do know this: The new goals must be ambitious enough to help combat the earth-shaking crisis that is climate change.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email