By Paige Dollevoet
If you saw signs on Bascom Hill on December 6th last semester, you saw the work of a newly formed student organization, CLEAN. CLEAN used to be a coalition of many different groups from around campus, such as the Sierra Club and 350 Madison, with the common goal of renewable energy. Recently, however, they have made the transition from coalition to student organization. They appeared at the organization fair for the first time in spring 2020. Though new and small, this organization is mighty and has very high hopes for their future.
CLEAN’s primary goal is to have UW Madison using 100% renewable energy by 2050, and all electricity provided by renewable energy by 2030. CLEAN has already accomplished a lot for being such a new organization. On December 6th, they held a strike and marched to deliver a petition from Memorial Library Mall to Bascom with around 2500 signatures and to stick signs in the hill promoting renewable energy. Recently they held an event called Our Time to Shine, where Cara Nastali, a senior in civil engineering and executive member of CLEAN, gave a speech. CLEAN also petitions to the chancellor, meets with advisors, and holds events and weekly meetings. Cara said that she believes the best method for accomplishing the renewable energy goal is “getting students on board and making sure our voices are heard.”
CLEAN’s primary goal is to have UW Madison using 100% renewable energy by 2050
“Pretty much every university I know has a similar club with a similar initiative,” said Cara, though she commented that they do have different goals. This is especially evident since other universities have already taken steps towards renewable energy, whereas Madison has not. When asked about her personal goals for CLEAN, Cara said, “I’d like the university to make a public statement about transitioning to renewables.” Most other Big 10 schools have made some goal regarding the transition to renewable energy, however, UW Madison has not, despite its low STARS report (a measure of sustainability). For Energy, UW Madison comes in at a 3.46/10, a very low score.
There are a lot of problems related to pollution that CLEAN is trying to combat. For example, emissions from coal plants cause respiratory illness. At the Our Time to Shine event, a man from Oak Creek shared his personal story about how coal emissions affected him and his family. After moving to Oak Creek, close to a coal plant, the family developed respiratory illnesses, to the point where the children had to use respirators. When they asked the plant to check their house for dangerous contaminants, they found nothing out of the ordinary; however, when a third party checked the house, they found an abundance of dangerous chemicals. Over 40% of the energy currently used by UW Madison comes from coal. It is significant to note that though UW Madison does not have any coal plants within a close vicinity, there are still several remaining in Wisconsin.
When asked about why she believes in renewable energy, Cara said, “I think it’s the future…fossil fuels are pollutant, they hurt the community, human health, and they hurt the environmental health of people in the state.” She also commented on some barriers to getting renewable energy quickly. These barriers include the “red tape” for being a public university, which means proposals have to go through the state, and the high upfront cost. However, this high upfront cost could be curbed with the energy savings in the future that could actually make UW Madison money in the long run.
Does CLEAN sound interesting to you? You can get involved! The organization is seeking new members and has a variety of ways to get involved. The first step would be to go to meetings, signing petitions, voting for renewable energy, and attending CLEAN events. The “Doc of Voices,” a document where students can write a short personal statement about why renewable energy is important to them, is another cool way to get involved. Cara believes the administration prefers CLEAN because it adds more of a personal touch. Though small, CLEAN is quickly growing into an organization to create a better tomorrow for all of us at UW Madison.