Terra Sigillata

UNC-Duke Coal Wars?

The NCAA basketball season traditionally brings to the Piedmont region of North Carolina the Tobacco Road battles between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University, the private school in Durham about 12 miles to the northwest (actually 10.79 miles from the Dean Dome to Cameron Indoor Stadium).

But what I’m wondering is why a coal war hasn’t erupted between the two institutions.

In the last couple of weeks, much hand-wringing has occurred on the UNC campus regarding the fact that the campus burns coal to generate heat for the university buildings. Rather than burning it in eastern Tennessee or western North Carolina where the mercury and sulfur dioxide can be left unseen with poor Appalachian folk, it came to light the the state’s flagship university burns coal on its campus. Most of the discussion centered on whether or not UNC buys their coal from companies known to use the environmentally-less friendly approach of mountaintop removal. This latest discussion was sparked, as it were, during a recent visit by climate scientist James Hansen and an accompanying rally by local members of the Sierra Club.

It seems to have come as a revelation to some that the university uses coal as an energy source. Yet activists are pushing for a “coal-free UNC.”

Uhhhh, suuure. Let’s put a nuclear power plant in Carrboro. (for those outside NC, think Boulder, Berkeley, Bozeman)

But rather than pointing fingers at one another across the UNC campus, Tar Heels should look in solidarity across town at a common enemy: their archrival, Duke.

Back when I was well enough to go to Duke’s Medical Center library, I would drive up Coal Pile Drive to see if there was any short-term parking. Yes, Coal Pile Drive (map):

Coal Pile Drive David.jpg

Hey, Tar Heels! Duke has a big-ass pile of coal that they burn too! Right across the street from all kinds of research labs from neurobiology to their institute for the environment.

Rather than examine one’s own inevitable need for coal and lack of any plausible alternative, blame Duke.

Does it solve the problem? No.

But doesn’t it just feel better to blame Duke?

Comments

  1. #1 Miguelito
    March 2, 2010

    Well, instead of building a nuke plant, they could convert their power plant to burn natural gas instead and halve their current CO2 emissions. It’s not a zero footprint, but it’s much better.

  2. I have to admit – it does feel better to blame Duke. Coach K and Dean Smith – you have the powers to unite these two campus to make a push for a coal free environment. Who am I kidding – this will have to wait until AFTER march madness.

  3. #3 Liz Ditz
    March 3, 2010

    Do I detect a slight lifting of the siege of Lung Mutiny 2010? Wishing you all good health, anyway.

  4. #4 pinus
    March 3, 2010

    The state has a budget crisis. there is another budget cut for UNC this year (on top of last year’s cut). Where are they supposed to get money to ‘go green’? This should have been done over the past 10 years of ‘good times’, now UNC is just scraping to make it without firing more people.

  5. #5 Florida
    March 3, 2010

    we cannot give importance to something as inappropriate, we have many important things to be treated as health care, cancer, AIDS, chronic diseases, the earthquake in Chile, the tsunami caused by the same, finally I think it is much more important to the pain of those who suffer the daily, which is why in findrxonline indicate that there are thousands of people who suffer from allergies and require governments to help improve health care.

  6. #6 meg
    March 3, 2010

    Michigan State University has also had a swelling of student sentiment against our coal plant. This may be a trend.

  7. #7 Vicki
    March 3, 2010

    Florida–

    If you’re looking for an argument for not worrying about coal, I hope you have a better one than cancer and health care. Or does the health of people in areas that burn a lot of coal, and of the miners, not count?

  8. #8 antipodean
    March 3, 2010

    Is it a hangover from the 70′s oil crisis perhaps?

    The universities decided to become more self-sufficient/save money back then and switched from oil-fired to coal-fired?

  9. #9 Hank Roberts
    March 3, 2010

    Hell, at least they’re not burning tobacco.

    No, coal goes way further back than oil for most places. We had a coal scuttle when I was a kid, and a fireplace grate sized for burning coal, and a coal chute to the basement. Every house did. Our house had been refitted with an oil furnace (burning, of course, high-sulfur diesel like home oil furnaces all still do).

    I remember my college, in the 1960s, on cold clear windless nights, when the smoke from the college coal heating plant rose up about twice the height of the stack, arched over and plummeted back to the ground usually within a block or two of the stack.

    And then of course spread out at ground layer. Small airway disease with your education?

    Old tech was so simple.

    And the coal industry has a crack team of professionals who attend every little town and every little college meeting where they’re discussing what to do with their old coal power and heating plant, to argue for — updating it and running it for another hundred years.

    Ask around. They’ve visited your school or town, if you have a coal burning plant. They’re very slick, very good, very quiet. I just happened to hear via my alumni association about their visit to the town where I went to school, when its century-old plant was up for renewal or replacement (not the same one on campus, but about the same tech.

  10. #10 mike
    March 7, 2010

    Apparently, you have not been to Duke in a while. They have switched to nat gas and the coal pile is being hauled away, probably about 10-12 miles away.

  11. #11 Abel Pharmboy
    March 7, 2010

    Indeed, Mike – this photo is from a graduate student, taken about a year or two ago.

    But now this has really thrown down the gauntlet! Duke is way ahead of UNC in getting rid of coal and using natural gas – highly consistent with the tremendous thrashing UNC took at the hands of Duke men’s basketball last evening.

    But before the Dookies get all smug, natural gas is not the answer either – someday soon, I shall get to a post about the environmental issues associated with natural gas sourced from coal-bed methane harvesting.

  12. #12 saml
    March 10, 2010

    Students are calling for their universities to move away from coal because it is the dirtiest energy source we could possibly be using.

    From start to finish coal destroys the environment and jeopardizes public health–from coal mining which devastates communities in Appalachia and runs water supplies (not to mention is blowing up the mountains), to burning coal, which releases toxic chemicals like mercury, arsenic, and lead into the air we all breath. Burning coal is also a leading source of global warming pollution, which is why leading climatologist James Hansen says the US must phase off of coal by 2020 if we are to have any chance of avoiding the worst effects of climate change. After burning coal, you’re left with coal ash, which is also toxic. UNC-Chapel Hill recycle’s their coal ash by using it as structural fill and as an additive to fertilizer, and there have been incidents with toxic chemicals leaching into groundwater supply from using coal ash in such a manner.

    Other universities like Duke University, Cornell, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and Ball State in Indiana, have made commitments to phase off of coal in the next few years and switch to cleaner fuels like natural gas and biomass.

    UNC is, as you say, a flagship institution, and has a reputation for leading the south in sustainability. In order to maintain its status as a leader, UNC must make a commitment to stop burning coal as soon as possible, by 2015 at the latest.

  13. #13 spor video
    June 3, 2010

    If you’re looking for an argument for not worrying about coal, I hope you have a better one than cancer and health care. Or does the health of people in areas that burn a lot of coal, and of the miners, not count?

  14. #14 kemal sunal filmleri
    June 3, 2010

    The state has a budget crisis. there is another budget cut for UNC this year (on top of last year’s cut). Where are they supposed to get money to ‘go green’? This should have been done over the past 10 years of ‘good times’, now UNC is just scraping to make it without firing more people.

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