Kelsey Wingo is the vice president of Coal Free Mizzou, an organization that advocates the use of renewable energy at MU.
What do you picture when you picture an environmentalist?
Most minds wouldn’t picture me.
I participated in green activities in high school. I was secretary for our high school Green Club. We painted recycling bins, turned the school’s compost pile and rotated through a garden-watering schedule. Ironically, I’ve never been very outdoorsy. I hate being barefoot. But knowingly treating the earth poorly — that doesn’t sit well with me.
My best friend, who had been approached by a Coal Free Mizzou member tabling in Speaker’s Circle, dragged me to my first few meetings. I didn’t know much about the group; all I knew was it was an organization that advocated against the use of coal. I need extracurricular activities — so why not take part in a group whose green agenda I was already familiar with?
I thought I knew the extent of what green was before I got to MU and put on that bright yellow Coal Free Mizzou shirt. Green was so much more than recycling cans and growing our own plants; sustainable-living practices were only part of the war. There are many, many other battles taking place, some of which continue to face the country’s corporate giants. Now don’t get me wrong — recycling, composting and local food growth is critical to all the elements of a healthier environment, but Coal Free Mizzou made me feel like part of a movement.
Last year was a banner year for Coal Free Mizzou. We stormed the UM System Board of Curators meeting and were heard by the administration, we were granted and placed upon an Energy Strategies Student Advisory Committee and caught more media coverage than all the years we’ve been on campus (a total of four). We even had a Missourian reporter do a story on Coal Free Mizzou’s “fire”, a very apt word choice.
The first semester I joined, I attended a MO Love retreat that was hosted on MU’s campus. MO Love is a convergence of green-minded activists from universities around the state running campaigns similar to Coal Free Mizzou’s. I met, bonded with and was enlightened by students from campuses all over Missouri. We had workshops, trainings and strategy planning sessions. Before the retreat, weaning a university the size of MU off of their general power source seemed like an unfeasible goal to me. Every individual I met had the willingness, fortitude and intellect to believe otherwise; they had an indescribable craving — the fire — to change the status quo for the sake of the people and the planet.
For four years, and often more, universities serve as home base for students. To Coal Free Mizzou, and from our experience and a good chunk of the community, home shouldn’t be burning coal so close to where we live and learn. MU is the flagship school of research and innovation for the state — so why then is MU the last university in Missouri to still have and use an on-campus power plant? That’s what I wanted to know, and what Coal Free Mizzou was on its way to finding out.
Once we got the attention of UM System President Tim Wolfe and MU Chancellor Brady Deaton, we held onto it. We continue meeting with administrators and energy processionals on a monthly basis, and talks of energy transitions are promising. The 2013 MU Climate Action plan stated goals of a 75 percent reduction in coal use by 2017. Missouri is a perfectly capable place to make the move to clean energy sources, but it takes a strong-willed community to make changes like that possible.
For the last year or so, I have been the media coordinator for Coal Free Mizzou; I am responsible for getting the Coal Free Mizzou mission and actions heard by the public. My time in this position has taught me just how critical having voices heard loudly and clearly is. Misinformation is a huge part of why the transition to cleaner energy sources is such a grueling process in the United States, and I plan to spend my time after college erasing that problem.
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