Fossil-Free Penn State Keeps (Mostly) Calm and Carries On

100_3473 Here’s a summary of the goals identified by participants at the (sometimes) rowdy, occasionally puppet-moderated December 7 meeting.

Stakeholders represented: community activists, Penn State professors, Penn State graduate students.

Skill sets held by group: public speaking, writing, petitioning, sign-making and distribution, meeting coordination, advocacy phone calls, interviews with local media, energy and engineering technical analysis, regulatory research and analysis, document analysis, personal meetings with stakeholders, social and political analysis, petitioning, filing legal interventions, mechanical and architectural engineering, solar installation.

Goals Identified:

  1. Bring together Penn State professors and community members in a joint, long-term energy planning process with metric milestones; help change Penn State’s defensive position regarding poor past record in transparency, constructive collaboration with community leaders. See, for reference: The Fall of the Faculty
  2. Strengthen grassroots organizing at Penn State to create momentum from the general population that influences upper administrators to act (in contrast to top-down change).
  3. Develop and support a non-adversarial tone; reduce polarization
  4. Improve organization of community-based activists, ensure that activists and supporting neighbors are taking responsibility, as a group, for funding projects that advance group goals and benefit community members.
  5. Connect with the American Association for University Professors and create a 100_3467working group on Energy Policy within the Penn State branch; build on work done by AAUP during health care controversy around Penn State cultural problems with limited transparency, misrepresentations/lying, top-down authoritarian decision-making; failure to access and use faculty expertise.
  6. Organize a faculty petition campaign through the Faculty Senate, to have faculty members draft and sign a letter urging Board of Trustees to limit on and off-campus growth of building stock and adopt a fossil-free strategy.
  7. Coordinate rotating schedule of letters to the editor to continue educating the general public about climate change and energy issues.
  8. Help Penn State students start a club focused on making the transition to a fossil-free campus.
  9. Push for more conservation programs within the University
  10. Keep communication channels open with Penn State to seize any opportunity to install renewable energy systems at any scale; one retrofitted building could create a foothold and working model for further retrofits.
  11. Use tools such as zoning changes and updates to local clean air regulations under the federal Clean Air Act to pressure Penn State to improve the West Campus Steam Plant project, especially before Penn State submits a formal permit application for the Combustion Turbine/Heat Recovery Steam Generation unit.
  12. Lobby Borough government to become an advocate for Penn State students and faculty who live in the Borough but have inadequate power to influence Penn State policy (addressing the “company town” dynamic).
  13. Lobby DEP consider local air quality impacts in addition to area-wide/regional air quality impacts
  14. Create community-based energy cooperatives
  15. Lobby for a Fairness in Energy Act (legislative)
  16. Inform Penn State students about gas explosion risks, fracking damage and methane climate impacts to counter the many pro-drilling, pro-gas advertisements on television and radio.
  17. Find a way to “grab onto the Penn State beast;” get past the large size and Penn State administrators’ historic refusal to take responsibility for institutional decisions.
  18. Pursue Reinvention Fund proposals
  19. Maintain and expand the poly-culture of social change strategies (confrontation, collaboration, public speaking, technical expertise, writing, street theater…)
  20. Find more ways to decouple essential community goods and services from outdated growth-based “economic development” models.
  21. Recognize OPP’s current inability to understand energy issues; offer technical assistance to better educate them about geothermal, capital v. operating costs, etc. and how other university physical plant professionals are approaching energy issues (i.e. Ball State conference reports)
  22. Recognize OPP’s lack of maneuvering space; expand OPP’s range of action through joint faculty-student-community group intervention.
  23. Find ways to address the isolating power distribution between Penn State staff and Board of Trustees, and between Borough staff and Borough Council: governing bodies rely heavily on staff-generated, staff-provided information and decisions, to the exclusion of other relevant information and decision-making models
  24. Move Penn State onto a two-decade path toward climate neutrality and full-spectrum resiliency, including food and energy systems.
  25. Position Penn State to respond effectively to contractions and collapses with economic, energy, medical and other community necessities; position Penn State to not be a burden to the community in those scenarios.
  26. Move Penn State Board of Trustees toward no-growth or de-growth policies, including investment in conservation and renewables, and divestment from fossil fuels.
  27. Recognize technical and psychological limitations of Penn State undergraduates; help them understand systems and the implications of climate change, economic contraction and energy limits for their lives so they can invest their energy in effective strategies for resilience and connect with student movements on other campuses for climate justice, indigenous sovereignty and related campaigns.
  28. Reach out in person to Penn State students one-on-one to engage them in the process; attend meetings of Eco-Action, Student Sustainability Advisory Council etc., to present information about the West Campus Steam Plant project, Fossil Free Penn State, etc.
  29. Organize more hands-on, practical training for people who want to convert their State College area homes for solar and other renewables; organize installation crews; install solar arrays to increase visibility within the community.
  30. Educate the public about European home-scale energy systems that run on multiple fuels: Micro Combined Heat and Power (Micro CHP) – with up to 90% efficiency.
  31. Push Penn State to convert one building to renewables; Hammond would be a good one.
  32. Promote mixed-use zoning to facilitate creation of workplaces offering sustainable goods and services in or near residential areas; develop sustainable home and neighborhood-based businesses.
  33. Organize regular demonstrations of alternative energy infrastructure at the College Avenue gates, to engage pedestrians on the issues.
  34. Organize events like a zero-energy music festival, street puppet theater.
  35. Organize more frequent solar tours and green home tours
  36. Maintain convenient, reliable, timely, public access to accurate, detailed, credible information about local energy system planning components: people, goals, strategies, organizing tools, energy data, events, etc.
  37. Learn more about worker-owned cooperatives doing transition-related activities and how to replicate their successes (i.e. Mondragon)

Many of those goals relate to the overarching predicament: even if Penn State plans to use natural gas a “bridge” fuel on the way to a resilient, fossil-free energy system, they need to be simultaneously building the land at the other side of of that bridge, so there’s something there when we get across.

*    *    *

Three of us will be going to Williamsport on Friday January 3 for a document review session from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., looking at Penn State’s air quality records going back to January 1, 2007.

UPDATE 12.15.13 – Meeting cancelled. Next Fossil-Free Penn State meeting is Saturday, January 4 at my house, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

*    *    *

The U.S. Energy Independence Story: Will anyone be punished if it turns out to be wrong, by Kurt Cobb

“…a lot of people stand to get hurt by the energy independence/abundance story – which is, in effect, a forecast – if the story turns out to be wrong. This is because governments, businesses and households will not have prepared themselves for a negative surprise – all because they were assured that the United States and even the world had nothing to worry about when it comes to oil supplies.

So, the short answer to the above question is that no one will get hurt except those who believe the story and act on it…

The record of history recommends extraordinary proof in the face of extraordinary claims. Given that oil is finite, given that we are now consuming it at the highest rate in history, given that oil continues to hover at its highest average daily price ever (even after adjusting for inflation), and given that the risks of climate change are so great that they could wipe out our civilization as we know it – the burden of extraordinary proof lies with those who claim that oil abundance for the long run is an actual fact and that that fact won’t somehow destroy civilization as we know it.

So far, all they’ve given us are disjointed, ambitious and deceptive claims about supply that are at odds with independent assessments. And, they’ve given us absolutely nothing about how this supposed new abundance doesn’t bring a climate disaster closer…”


One thought on “Fossil-Free Penn State Keeps (Mostly) Calm and Carries On

  1. Pingback: Bad Faith | Steady State College

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