James Hansen, one of the nation’s leading experts on global warming, joined a group of UNC students today in calling for the university to become coal-free.

Standing in front of UNC’s Cogeneration Facility, which powers the campus, about 20 students held signs encouraging Chancellor Holden Thorp to “be a climate champ.”

They were joined by Professor Jose Rial, a UNC glaciologist, Patricia Leighten, a Westwood neighborhood resident who lives about a quarter-mile from the plant, a handful of Sierra Club members and Carrboro Alderman Sammy Slade.

The speakers praised Thorp’s creation of an Energy Task Force and said it provides an opportunity for UNC to become a national leader in renewable and clean energy.

“The best way for the Energy Task Force to address energy use on campus is to get UNC off of coal as quickly as possible,” said Stewart Boss, a freshman and media outreach coordinator for the Sierra Club’s Coal-Free UNC Campaign. “Coal is the dirtiest possible energy source we could be using today.”

Hansen said he was encouraged by the task force and by student enthusiasm, but cautioned that “clean coal” and “cogeneration” isn’t as beneficial as people think.

“The claim that if we use coal more efficiently, we’ll be emitting less CO2 does not at all address the problem,” said Hansen, who was sporting one of the group’s yellow “Beyond Coal” T-shirts atop his shirt and tie.

Comprehensive coverage of the push to make UNC coal free will appear in next week’s Indy.