University of Iowa administrators discuss sustainability goals, ending coal in power plant


University of Iowa power plant, by Dave Smith, flickr

Tyler Chalfant | October 31st, 2019

University of Iowa administrators met Thursday to discuss the school’s sustainability goals. This meeting followed months of protests from Iowa City students and community members, including a visit from international climate activist Greta Thunberg. The strikers have called on the university to create a Town-Gown Climate Accord with the city and to end coal burning at the university’s power plant. 

None of the strikers were invited to participate in Thursday’s meeting. Stratis Giannakouros, the director of the UI Office of Sustainability and the Environment, said that this sort of meeting addressing the university’s climate goals is fairly routine. 

The university has committed to ending the burning of coal by 2025, although the strikers are demanding that this change happen much sooner than that, and that the power plant transitions to 100% renewable sources by 2030. 

The university plans on entering into a public-private partnership, or P3, to operate its utilities system. University President Bruce Harreld has stated that the partnership will not alter the plan to stop burning coal by 2025, although some bidders are interested in stopping even earlier, by 2023. 

Senior Vice President of UI Finance and Operations Rod Lehnertz told the Daily Iowan that he thought that deadline was realistic, and that many of the finalists for the P3 were drawn to the university specifically because of the desire to get rid of coal. “All of them have said that the first thing they want to do is explore our plans for 2025, and how we can expedite that,” Lehnertz said.

Crowd of 3,000 heard Greta Thunberg speak in Iowa City


Photo by Joe Bolkcom

Tyler Chalfant | October 8th, 2019

Iowa City high school and middle school students were joined by thousands of Iowans at a climate strike on Friday, along with Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. 

The students, who were inspired by Thunberg, have been striking since March to demand that governmental leaders at all levels take action to address climate change. Some of the strikers led the crowd in chants calling out specific leaders and listing their goals, including that the University of Iowa power plant “end coal now.”

The University of Iowa currently aims to fully transition from coal by 2025, with 40% of campus energy coming from renewable sources by 2020. Although the power plant has reduced its use of coal considerably since 2008, it released the equivalent of more than 50,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide in greenhouse gases last year from the burning of coal alone. 

The power plant has replaced coal in part through the increased burning of biomass, it has also increased its use of natural gas by 61% since 2014. Natural gas is cleaner than coal, and releases significantly fewer greenhouse gases than other fossil fuels, but still contributes to global warming through the release of carbon dioxide as well as methane leaks occurring during its extraction and transportation. 

Attendants of the rally spoke of the need for larger, structural changes, in addition to individual action, to address climate change. “Obviously there are things that individuals can do,” Melina Hegelheimer, a first year student studying Ethics and Public Policy at the university said, “but the biggest things that can contribute are coal, farming, and more ethical and more environmentally friendly practices for those types of things.”

A UI senior studying Geographical and Environmental Sustainability Cayla Baldus added that Thunberg’s speech inspired her as a climate activist and geographer. “You don’t fail and stop,” she said, paraphrasing Thunberg, “You fail and you keep going, and that’s kind of what I needed to hear in this political climate.”

Activist Greta Thunberg to join Iowa City climate strikers


Massimo Biggers speaks at the Iowa City Climate Strike on September 20th, 2019

Tyler Chalfant | October 3rd, 2019

16-year old climate activist Greta Thunberg announced Wednesday on Twitter that she will be joining Iowa City students in their strike this Friday. This spring, it was Thunberg who inspired Massimo Biggers, an Iowa City middle school student, to begin striking.

Since the local movement began, both the Iowa City School Board and City Council have passed climate plans, and this September, hundreds of students and community members joined Biggers and the other strikers in a march on City Hall and the University of Iowa campus. 

“Greta coming to Iowa City means that people have paid attention to our climate strikes and we have been heard,” Biggers told the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Thunberg gained international attention for protesting outside the Swedish parliament last year. After taking a sailboat across the Atlantic Ocean to speak at the U.N. Climate Action Summit, also spoke before Congress and has become a focal point for both supporters and critics of addressing climate change. 

“We are honored and inspired and emboldened by Greta’s campaign,” Biggers said, “and we hope her visit brings together our town and the university to join together for a real climate plan, end coal and the power plant, and put Iowa City in the forefront for climate emergency action in the nation.”