College students seeing green as the way to go
By Daniel Horgan, Special for USA TODAY March 13
A youthquake of activism is hitting college campuses as students — armed with cellphones, lots of contacts and political savvy — tackle global warming.
Plans have begun at campuses across the nation to implement initiatives discussed in "Focus the Nation," a national teach-in on the climate that took place in late January.
Almost 2,000 schools and faith and civic institutions, and about 75 national and state political leaders were part of the event. Organizers say about 1 million people participated.
"This is not a protest movement. It's an engagement movement," says Eban Goodstein, the economics professor at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., who founded the non-profit organization, also called Focus the Nation, in 2006 to spearhead climate activism.
At the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, "everyone's looking at what's our next step," says junior Katelyn McCormick. "People are planning campaigns. Freshmen are really excited."
McCormick was among the students who gathered in Washington, D.C., in November for Powershift 2007, the first national youth summit on the climate crisis. At a special congressional hearing chaired by U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., McCormick spoke about how schoolchildren in West Virginia are affected by proximity to a coal-mining operation.
Scientists have tied climate change to the release of heat-trapping "greenhouse" gases into the atmosphere, fueled by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal.
"Global warming, environmental injustices and social injustices are so closely tied together that you can't separate one from another," McCormick says. "I definitely have found my passion and plan to make this part of my life."
Lindsay Clark, a 2007 graduate, works at the Office of Sustainability at the University of Utah, which fosters eco-friendly programs. She says she is helping the school become a "net zero water campus" by recycling water and increasing its use of renewable energy. The school has an extensive energy-retrofitting program, which includes energy-efficient light bulbs and low-flow water fixtures.
As a follow-up to the national event, Clark and other students met with Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and pressed him to support the Higher Education Sustainability Act, which is now being considered by Congress. That legislation would require campuses to go green in their use of energy, materials and facilities.
At the University of Vermont, more than 85 faculty members took part in Focus the Nation, says Samir Doshi, a doctoral student. A new Office of Sustainability has opened at the school — similar offices are up and running or coming online at many others — and the school's new student center is the first to receive the LEED Gold designation from the U.S. Green Building Council for exemplary environmental design and construction.
"A lot of people, when they talk about global warming, there's a lot of gloom and doom. We wanted to make it something positive," Doshi says.
Many professors and faculty members embraced the teach-in, weaving discussions into their class schedules and taking part in panels.
Goodstein and other activists see faculty involvement as a partnership between old-guard activists from the 1960s and the new "self-broadcasting" generation.
"You've got the old-school people in the movement who fought in the civil rights movement. And you've got these instinctually brilliant young people who know how to organize, who know how to broadcast, because they already organize every day when they look for friends (on Facebook or MySpace)," says Garett Brennan, spokesman for Focus the Nation.
Students also have used some more offbeat approaches.
At the University of Missouri, northward relocation of hop crops because of warmer climates inspired a "Save the Ales" night at a local brew pub.
"If you tell them that over the next 30 years the price of beer will really go up because of climate change, they stop and listen," says Lindsey Berger, a Missouri junior. "That's one thing that will grab their attention."
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