As a youngster growing up in rural Kentucky, the UK basketball program was everything. My first memories involve watching basketball games with my father. I had the privilege of being a young boy during the late 1990s, and watching the great teams with Jamal Mashburn, Cameron Mills, Jeff Sheppard and Heshimu Evans.
I remember very distinctly crying after the Cats were beat in the 1999 Regional Final by Michigan State because I thought that UK was supposed to be in the National Championship game every season. The joy of watching UK basketball is something that can be agreed upon throughout our great state. Regardless of sex, race, political affiliation or religious beliefs, a UK victory is cherished by all.
It is forever engrained in our culture, and will continue to bring people together that would not have any reason otherwise to communicate. Some of the greatest friendships have been developed as a result of celebrating a good win, and the team brings great national and even international exposure to our state. I will bleed blue for the rest of my life, and my children and grandchildren will have no choice but to do the same.
Because of this deep reverence for the university and its teams, I want UK to be the best in every area — both on and off the court.
That’s why I, and many students on campus, have been urging the university to ramp up its investments in clean energy options that will mean cleaner air for Kentuckians and make UK a leader in the SEC. Already many of our peer institutions, including Clemson and North Carolina, have committed to stop burning coal on campus because it poses real health threats to students and the surrounding communities.
In Lexington, the university is doing great work investing in geothermal energy for our new dorms and ensuring they’re built with the top efficiency technologies to save energy and money. It’s time for UK to go all the way by ramping up their clean energy investments to include clean, healthy and renewable options like geothermal and solar energy for the entire campus that will move us off coal and make us a national champion in more than just basketball.
The reality is that coal is not cheap. The negative health impacts from depending on coal including cancer, heart disease, lung disease and severe asthma attacks cost Americans $100 billion in health care costs and 13,000 lives annually.
According to a 2009 study performed by Dr. Michael Hendryx, a professor at West Virginia University, the human cost of the Appalachian coal mining economy outweighs its economic benefits. This doesn’t account for the environmental destruction as a result of this industry, including thousands of miles of streams irrecoverably covered, hundreds of mountaintops blown off and species diversity that will be forever lost.
Coal is horrible for this state and is holding us back from building a prosperous clean energy economy for the 21st century. Right now, clean energy jobs and businesses in Kentucky are growing at a faster rate than jobs overall. General state job growth was 3.6 percent last year, while renewable energy and efficiency jobs grew by 10 percent.
This trend is expected to continue. Additionally, studies show that with a greater mix of efficiency and renewable energy, over the next decade Kentuckians’ electric bills will stay the same or be even lower than they would otherwise.
I am very proud of the UK students who are continuously demanding that our school take progressive measures to move off coal on campus toward clean energy solutions and cut ties with the dirty and irresponsible coal industry.
In support of this movement, the Sierra Club sponsored the UK-Arkansas basketball game to bring awareness to the clean energy movement across the U.S. and show their support for UK basketball and the amazing students and fans on campus.
As a generation, we have the responsibility to not leave our children and grandchildren with a world that is decimated by extractive industries, and have sustainable energy solutions in place. As a state, solar and geothermal are viable options virtually everywhere. The political will to help get these programs in place must happen, but the feasibility does exist.
In mountainous regions of Appalachia, wind feasibility studies have also showed very promising results. The University of Kentucky has the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of these technologies, and I hope they listen to the student movement in future decisions.
I commend the Sierra Club for supporting this cause, and showing that Big Blue Nation is supportive of the end of the reign of coal in this state. Make your current students, alumni and state proud. Let’s move toward a sustainable future. Go Big Blue.
Patrick Johnson is a natural resources and environmental science senior and the Kernel’s assistant opinions editor. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.