Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Environmental Semester

This spring at University of Tennessee has been a semester with a theme: the Environmental Semester. The semester was a success, with the university hosting an array of exciting (and high profile) speakers and staging a variety of events, many of which were well-attended and discussion/thought provoking. Here's a short list of environmentally-themed happenings around campus this semester:
  • Agnes Denes lecture & exhibition
  • Michael Klare & David Hill on oil
  • Southeast Student Renewable Energy Conference
  • Solar & Wind Power Exhibit
  • Clean Air Conference (featuring Howard Baker & Al Gore)
  • Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. lecture
  • E. O. Wilson lecture
  • Holmes Rolston III lecture
  • Lisa Newton lecture on sustainable business
  • Documentary series in the library
  • Jonathan Weiner lecture
  • Future of Natural Resource Management seminar series
  • Paul Winter Consort performance
  • Various weekly seminars on environmental issues
Knoxville Area Transit (KAT) has been doing its part to lessen the impact of mobile pollution sources, providing bus service around campus and to various locations along the periphery to encourage more use of mass transit and less reliance on personal automobiles. KAT's buses use clean fuels (propane, electric hybrid, or biodiesel). Incidentally, KAT offers free bus service on red & orange air quality alert days-- on the last orange alert day (4/19/05) , 1,000 additional passengers took advantage of the offer.

Despite this emphasis, UT remains "dirty," mainly due to its primary heat source-- a coal-burning steam plant on campus. While the plant is compliant with current standards, it remains one of the largest stationary sources of nitrogen and volatile organic compound emissions in Knox County, according to Steve McDaniel. An increase in cost of natural gas has caused the plant to rely more heavily on coal as an energy source in recent years. How much coal? More than 26,000 tons per year.

Personally, I'd also like to see the university phase out use of internal combustion engine (gasoline) powered leaf blowers around campus.

If UT truly wants to be an environmental leader among its peer institutions, it has some major catching up to do: UNC Chapel Hill, University of South Carolina, and University of Florida are all ahead of UT in environmental stewardship. Surely the Environmental Semester has been more than a "theme," more than lip service or a nod to fashionable political trend. Ah, if only the local flora and fauna were orange and football-shaped . . . But seriously, this semester's theme clearly made a big impact on campus and the Knoxville area. Here's hoping UT policy continues to reflect the values it promoted so well this Spring.

You can read more about this end-of-semester appraisal of UT's environmental track record at the Daily Beacon Online.

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