Climate Change Strike

Climate change protesters march across campus, Sept. 20, 2019.

Virginia Tech students and members of the local community took part in the Global Climate Strike Friday, Sept. 20, to raise concerns about the environment protection within the Virginia Tech community.

Virginia Tech students and faculty, and locals of the New River Valley, all gathered on the Drillfield at noon to address climate change happening in the New River Valley. The protest resulted in a list of demands created by Virginia Tech students in response to various policies toward climate change happening both on-campus and around the Blacksburg area.

Heidi Hahn, a sophomore studying environmental policy and planning, was one of the many passionate students involved with hosting the strike and compiling a list of demands for the university.

“We are asking for a few different things,” Hahn said. “(That) they divest from fossil fuels (and) get more renewables at Virginia Tech.”

The march path circled campus starting from the Pylons and continued down toward the steam plant and downtown Blacksburg.

Speakers and participants expressed their pressing concern for the Mountain Valley Pipeline Project and how it has affected those living in southwest Virginia. Emily Satterwhite, associate professor and director of Appalachian studies at Virginia Tech, notes that she believes there is an “incredible movement of people in the area right now against the Mountain Valley Pipeline; there is an incredible upsurge in awareness about climate change in this area.”

Moreover, divestment from fossil fuels with companies like Dominion Energy was at the forefront of the protest.

Speaker Anthony Flaccavento expressed his thoughts on climate change, emphasizing the connection between politics and energy companies tied together monetarily making the “situation so dire.”

Other speakers included Blacksburg High School students who marched out of classrooms prior to the strike’s beginning in front of the Pylons. A middle school student spoke about raising awareness of air pollution and wildfires following his personal experience. Lastly, Jason Chavez, a graduate student studying political science, addressed the crowd reminding the audience to “look for the wisdom of indigenous people,” and avoid a “colonial world view,” when extracting Earth’s natural resources.

Chants echoed across campus demanding “climate justice,” and “no more coal, no more oil, keep your carbon in the soil.”

Other policies demanded by students included using 100% renewable energy by 2030, having President Sands sign the Global Climate Emergency Letter and updating the Virginia Tech Climate Action Agreement (VTCAC) created in 2009.

VTCAC was one of the university’s first green endeavors. The 14-point document sets standards like reducing campus greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80% below the 1990 emission level by 2050 and created the Office of Sustainability at Virginia Tech (OSVT).

Updates to VTCAC in 2013 have been approved for the original document; however, its enactment date is still pending. The effective date is listed as, “upon approval by the president” following publication.

The Office of Sustainability made headway in waste management and student engagement through the primarily Request for Proposal for Sustainability Initiative by Student Organizations (Green RFP). According to the latest Sustainability Annual Report, the university reached a recycling rate of 39% in 2017.

Additionally, OTF is primarily responsible for recording Virginia Tech consumption. OSVT submits annual Sustainability Tracking, Assesment, and Rating System (STARS) reports detailing energy consumption levels and overall environmental progress. In most recent STARS, Virginia Tech received a gold-rating, between the highest at platinum and middle at silver, and self-reported that 61.60% of coal was used for electricity consumption and 19.89% derived from natural gas.

The students’ list of demands were handed to Virginia Tech’s Executive Vice President and Provost Cyril Clarke in front of Burruss Hall. Clarke and students agreed upon a meeting with President Tim Sands this coming week to further discuss Virginia Tech’s environmental policies.