Campus action: US students make themselves heard

From petitions to unexpected coal deliveries, students across the United States are showing their commitment to stopping global warming. Michael Crawford reports on the campaign that links over 540 US campuses.

At the beginning of 2007, students on over 575 college and high school campuses across the United States and Canada organised events calling for immediate solutions to deal with the potentially devastating impact of climate change. The demands were made as part of “Rising to the Climate Challenge”, a week-long series of actions coordinated by the Campus Climate Challenge. The week of action coincided with the February release of the Intergovernmental Panel Climate Change (IPCC) report, which stated with 90% certainty that human emissions of greenhouse gases are warming the planet's surface.

Through the week of action, the challenge reached an estimated 50,000 students. Events included:

• Students from City University of New York and the group "Billionaires for Coal" delivered lumps of coal to employees of Merrill Lynch to protest its investment in TXU, a company proposing to build 11 new coal power plants in Texas.

• Students at the University of New Mexico collected signatures on a petition urging governor Bill Richardson to issue an executive order mandating state agencies to purchase 30% of their energy needs from renewable sources.

• Students from all eight Ivy League universities issued a joint call for their campus administrations to develop plans towards making the universities climate neutral.

• Activists hand-delivered more than 400 letters from elementary school students to West Virginia governor Joe Manchin, urging him to build their new school further away from the coal silo that sits 150 feet from the current site.

• More than 130 students gathered at the Northwest Climate Justice Summit, held February 2-4 and co-sponsored by the Sierra Student Club and the Campus Climate Challenge.

The coalition behind these actions was Energy Action, made up of 41 organisations that aim to fuel a youth movement against global warming. It was formed after the success of Fossil Fuels Day, a national day of action organised by local, regional and national youth groups that involved hundreds of actions to spotlight our addiction to fossil fuels and the impact it is having on our climate and communities. The members of Energy Action work together to create change for a clean, efficient, just and renewable energy future, focusing on four strategic areas: campuses, communities, corporate practices and politics.

The Campus Climate Challenge is a three-year campaign of Energy Action that unites students to win 100% clean energy policies on their campuses. More than 50 local field organisers work with students to plan their clean energy campaigns, providing help in media and communications outreach, educational materials and sample clean energy policies. By working in partnership with students to cut their campus carbon emissions down to zero, we help to provide real world models for other students, elected officials, corporate leaders and the public of how to stop global warming now. Over the longer term, the challenge hopes to develop the next generation of political and corporate leaders, who will shape future policy debates about global warming and climate change.

Campus Climate Challenge was launched in June 2006, after months of work by student leaders and climate activists to develop a campaign to educate young people about global warming, and provide tools that young people could use to take effective action. The decision was made to focus on students because campuses provide a critical mass of young people that is needed to effect real change. Educational institutions play such an influential role in society that advances in clean energy policies will have a strong impact in wider fields. At present, students on more than 540 campuses across the United States and Canada are involved in the challenge. Registered campuses include high schools, community colleges, public and private universities.

Clean energy victories include the following 17 schools, which have all made commitments, ranging from a pledge of total climate neutrality to purchasing a percentage of the school’s energy from renewable energy sources:

Bowdoin College (Maine), Brown University (Rhode Island), College of the Atlantic (Maine), Cornell University (New York), Louisiana State University (Louisiana), Macalaster College (Minnesota), Middlebury College (Vermont), New York University (New York), Pennsylvania State University (Pennsylvania), University of Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania), Pomona College (California), Reed College (Oregon), Swarthmore College (Pennsylvania), University of Wisconsin, La Crosse (Wisconsin), Williams College (Massachusetts) and Winona State University (Minnesota).


Michael Crawford is the communications director for Energy Action Coalition

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