University of North Carolina campaign against coal usage, 2009-2010


To end the use of coal on campus by 2015, to close the coal-firing plant on campus, and to transition completely to renewable energy sources

Time period notes

The campaign is still ongoing but the last action taken was November 18, 2010.

Time period

September 28, 2009 to November 18, 2010


United States

Location City/State/Province

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Location Description

University of North Carolina campus
Jump to case narrative


Coal-Free UNC student group


Sierra Student Coalition

External allies

Sierra Club; national Sierra Student Coalitions, Ben Sollee (an environmental activist), Molly Diggins (North Carolina Sierra Club Director), Climatologist James Hansen

Involvement of social elites

Not Known


University of North Carolina administration

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Not known

Campaigner violence

Not known

Repressive Violence

Not known





Group characterization

College students

Groups in 1st Segment

Coal-Free UNC
Sierra Student Coalition
Sierra Student Coalition
University of North Carolina students
Molly Diggins

Groups in 3rd Segment

Climatologist James Hansen

Segment Length

9 weeks

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

2 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


1 out of 3 points

Total points

4 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

The campaign partially succeeded in accomplishing one of its 3 goals in that UNC agreed to commit to ending the use of coal by 2020.

Database Narrative

University of North Carolina (UNC) Sierra Student Coalition members and students created the Coal-Free UNC movement in an effort to end the University’s use of coal and close the on-campus coal plant.  Its goal is to eliminate coal on campus by 2015.  Coal-Free UNC also wanted the University to adhere to its green initiative EXPLAIN.  The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal national campaign to end dependence on coal and its use on campus, while encouraging the use of renewable sources of energy inspired UNC’s campaign.  

On September 28, 2009, Coal-Free UNC held an organizational meeting to begin their campaign.  Coal-Free UNC held the meeting from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Bingham 101, a building on UNC’s campus.  Students split into groups to discuss nonviolent tactics and strategies to end the use of coal on campus.  North Carolina Sierra Club Director Molly Diggins spoke at the meeting to rally the students and encourage them to join the fight against coal.  

Coal-Free UNC hosted photo petitions on September 29, 2009, to visually show their support to end the use of coal.  Photo opportunities occurred from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Pit, a student hub on campus.  On October 6, 2009, Coal-Free UNC launched a 3-part humorous video series that showcased “dirty” college behavior.  Its message was that while some “dirty” behaviors are accepted at college, the use of dirty energy sources like coal are not acceptable.  

On November 11, 2009, Coal Free-UNC hosted a rally from 11:50 a.m. to 12:10 p.m. at Polk Place, a central campus location.  Coal-Free UNC staged the rally to spread the message of its campaign and to generate awareness. About 40 people attended the rally.  

Coal-Free UNC sponsored a free concert at Jack Sprat Café in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on December 2, 2009.  The concert lasted from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. and featured local artists.  The concert aimed to promote the campaign and awareness of the issues that coal usage poses to the environment.  

On January 13, 2010, Coal-Free UNC hosted a showing of the movie Coal Country from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Chapel Hill Library Public Meeting room.  The documentary gave information about the United States’ coal practices, energy usage, and mining techniques.  Coal-Free UNC hosted another yearly organizational meeting on January 27, 2010, and discussed campaign techniques.  The group also hosted guest speakers to disseminate information about the campaign.  About 25 people attended the meeting, which lasted from 7 to 9 p.m. in Dey Hall Room 303, a building on campus.  Coal-Free UNC also protested on January 28, 2010, during the National Day of Action.  

On February 2, 2010, the Coal-Free UNC campaign hosted climatologist James Hansen who gave a speech at UNC’s coal-fired plant against the use of coal.  Hansen’s presence brought attention to the issues with coal usage.  

March 2-4, 2010 was I ♥ Mountains Week on UNC’s campus and Coal-Free UNC staged a variety of actions in protest of coal usage.  On March 2, 2010, Coal-Free UNC held a concert at Carborro Arts Center featuring Ben Sollee, Daniel Martin Moore, and Lizzy Ross.  At the Pit, a central location on campus, coal usage protesters staged a visual interpretation of the destruction that occurs with mountaintop removal.  This action occurred on March 3, 2010.  Finally, on March 4, 2010, Austin Hall from Appalachian Voices spoke about mountaintop removal mining.  All the actions taken during I ♥ Mountains Week encouraged awareness and aimed to motivate people to join the protest, as well as make a statement against coal mining and use.  

On March 17, 2010, protesters held two events during Carolina’s Day of Action.  The first action was a rally, which advocated for a greener campus.  The second action was a panel discussion, which disseminated important information about the social and environmental hazards of coal, as well as alternative energy sources.  The Day of Action’s main goal was to influence students to get involved with the push for the end of the use of coal.    

Coal-Free UNC staged a flash dance on April 14, 2010, as a new method of protesting coal usage.  Protesters wore yellow clothing and danced on the steps of the South Building on UNC’s campus.  The color yellow represented sunlight and the environment, in an effort to encourage students to take better care of their environment.  The flash dance was an effort to remind the administration of the harm that coal poses to the environment and to encourage the administration not to renew their contracts with coal companies.  The dance lasted for 5 during the middle of the day.  Coal-Free UNC held their last press event of the semester on April 28, 2010.  During this event, protesters convened in front of Peabody Hall on campus and attempted to raise awareness for their cause.  Talented singers serenaded those who passed by with the “Coal-Free” alma mater, while speakers called on UNC to end its contracts with companies that mine coal in a destructive manner and to make the transition to stop burning coal by 2015.  

On November 18, 2010, Coal-Free UNC and the Sierra Student Coalition hosted the “Music Saves Mountains” event, which was 2 hours long. The goals of the protest were to increase awareness of the controversial process of extracting coal through musical performance and speakers.   The Sierra Student Coalition and Coal-Free UNC publicized their protest through Facebook and encouraged other students to join.  180 students said they would attend the event.  

At the beginning of the protest, students planted 100 pinwheels on the lawn of the South Building on campus.  The pinwheels represented the protesters wishes for clean, renewable energy sources, instead of coal.  15 members of the Sierra Student Coalition then walked into the chancellor’s office and delivered a letter, which explained the consequences of mountaintop removal and outlined potential alternatives.  In the Student Union Multipurpose Room, Ben Sollee, a well-known activist against the use of mountaintop removal, performed songs to share Appalachian culture and raise money for a non-profit organization called Appalachian Voices, which works to preserve the mountain range’s environment.  A band called Mebanesville also performed.  The Sierra Student Coalition scheduled three speakers for the event: Carrboro Alderman Sammy Slade, UNC professor and mountain top removal documentarian Chad Stevens, and UNC student activist John Allen.

After the action, the Sierra Student Coalition and Coal-Free UNC sent their 100 pinwheels to Washington D.C.  The pinwheels were to join other anti-coal pinwheels in a show of solidarity against the use of coal, especially coal extracted through mountaintop removal and were to arrive in time for the National Sierra Student Coalition Conference. 

Coal-Free UNC is an ongoing campaign, but it has only been partially successful.  The campaign encouraged UNC to commit to becoming coal-free by 2020, but has not ended the use of coal on campus.


The protest was influenced by others that were a part of the youth-led Beyond Coal campaign. (1)


Comparato, Nicole. "Coal Removal Process Protested." The Daily Tarheel. University of North Carolina, 19 Nov. 2010. Web. <>.;

Boss, Stewart, Taylor Timmerman, and Angela Ju. "Music Saves Mountains at UNC W/ BEN SOLLEE!" Facebook. 15 Nov. 2010. Web.;

"Campuses Beyond Coal." Beyond Coal. Sierra Club. Web. <>.;

Backman, Melvin. "UNC Works to Be Coal-free." The Daily Tarheel [Chapel Hill] 10 Dec. 2010. Print.;

"Climatologist James Hansen on Coal Use at UNC." Facebook. Web. 14 Mar. 2011. <>.;

"Coal-Free Shuffle" FLASH DANCE." Facebook. Web. 14 Mar. 2011. <>.;

"Coal-Free UNC Concert at Jack Sprat." Facebook. Web. 14 Mar. 2011. <>.; "Coal-Free UNC." Facebook. Web. 14 Mar. 2011. <!/coalfreeunc?sk=wall>.;

"Coal-Free UNC Kickoff Meeting." Facebook. Web. 14 Mar. 2011. <>.;

"Coal-Free UNC Kick-Off Meeting." Facebook. Web. 14 Mar. 2011. <>.;

"Coal-Free UNC." Word Press. Web. 14 Mar. 2011. <>.;

Girlic, Olga. "Coal Country." Facebook. Web. 14 Mar. 2011. <>.;

"Go Green For Carolina Day of Action!" Facebook. Web. 14 Mar. 2011. <>.;

"I <3 Mountains Week." Facebook. Web. 14 Mar. 2011. <>.;

"Last Coal-Free Press Event of the Semester!" Facebook. Web. 14 Mar. 2011. <>.;

"Sierra Club Coal-Free UNC RALLY." Facebook. Web. 14 Mar. 2011. <>.;

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Kira Kern 19/02/2011