The Collegian
Tuesday, May 28, 2024

OPINION | The sustainability standoff

<p>Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian</p>

Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian

Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian. 

As a student at the University of Richmond, I find myself grappling with a sense of disappointment and frustration over our school's decision to pursue funding for a fossil fuel-powered steam plant. 

This decision not only contradicts our university's purported commitment to sustainability but also undermines the values and principles that we, as students, want from our institution.

Walking across campus, I can't help but feel conflicted. 

On the one hand, UR boasts of its dedication to environmental stewardship, with initiatives like the Sustainability Plan and a mission statement emphasizing responsible leadership. 

On the other hand, the school is actively seeking millions in funding for a project that continues its reliance on harmful fossil fuels. The burning of fuel creates exhaust gasses and other air pollutants, including carbon dioxide. 

The use of water to make steam requires large quantities of water from nearby rivers or lakes, or from local underground water aquifers. This not only contributes to air pollution but also places strain on local water resources. 

This contradiction is emphasized further when I look beyond our campus borders. Initiatives such as the College of William and Mary's successful transition to geothermal energy stand as an example of what can be achieved when institutions prioritize sustainability. 

It begs the question: Why aren't we following suit? Why aren't we seizing the opportunity to lead by example and embrace renewable energy alternatives on our campus? 

Moreover, as I witness the passionate community activism against Dominion Energy's proposed peaker plant, I can't help but wonder why UR isn't standing in solidarity with these efforts. Climate activists, including members of our own community, are demanding accountability and advocating for a greener, more equitable future. 

Here we are, seemingly turning a blind eye to their calls for action. This not only contradicts our university's supposed values but also undermines our credibility as an institution dedicated to fostering positive change regarding sustainability efforts.

Despite the momentum of the global youth climate movement, it appears that some students on our campus may be hesitant to speak out against UR. I know there are plenty of students who feel the same way as I do. We must come together, united in our conviction, and not be afraid to voice our concerns and advocate for change within our university. 

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Among the remarkable efforts made by youth activists, cases like Juliana v. United States and Layla H. v. Commonwealth of Virginia stand out as powerful demonstrations of young people's determination to hold our government accountable for its environmental actions. These cases are a reminder of the impact that citizens, especially young activists, can have in driving real change. 

The Layla H. v. Commonwealth case hits particularly close to home, as it challenges Virginia's responsibilities in protecting its citizens, especially younger generations, from the detrimental impacts of climate change. The parties appeared for oral argument to appeal the previously dismissed decision in Richmond, Virginia on March 12, 2024, and now await a decision from the Virginia Court of Appeals that could put the case back on the path to trial. To support the cause, check out the wall of support here

Our campus, community and future will be directly impacted by this decision. These cases, along with other youth-led movements, provide us with an opportunity to unite, engage meaningfully, and take action.

It's time for us, as members of the UR community, to hold ourselves and the university itself accountable. We cannot continue to proclaim values of sustainability and social responsibility while allowing our university to invest in projects that contradict those very principles at the same time. We must demand better from our university and ourselves. 

So, where do we go from here? It's time for us, as students, to step up and demand accountability. It starts with amplifying our voices and demanding transparency from the leadership at UR. 

Let's not just talk the talk; let's walk the walk. Our future, and the future of generations to come, depends on collective action and leadership. Together, let's amplify our voices, demand transparency from the leadership at UR, and work towards a sustainable and equitable future.

Contact contributing writer Taylor McKie at

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