Surveying Student Activism for Sustainability and Social Change

World_changing By
Sarah Rich

Everybody knows that hope for the future starts with youth. There’s a
ton of activity on campuses from elementary through higher-ed related
to sustainability, environmental responsibility and social justice.
Here are a few highlights from current student projects and campaigns:

The Sustainable University: The Chronicle of Higher Education published a special issue
examining progress towards sustainability on university campuses in
everything from the buildings themselves to the research inside them to
the experimental degrees some schools are beginning to offer that place
special emphasis on sustainability. There’s an interactive quiz
for evaluating personal and school sustainability, and includes Q&A
interviews with James Howard Kunstler, Jeff Sachs, Ray Anderson, and
Micheal Crow.

Focus the Nation: We announced Focus the Nation
last fall during the planning stages for the organization’s nationwide
open discussion about climate change solutions, set for January 31,
2008. Their one-year recruitment phase kicked off on January 31, 2007,
and now they plan to assemble as many teams as possible of faculty and
students from colleges, universities and K-12 schools around the US to
take part in the conversation. Much like the recent 2010 Imperative Global Emergency Teach-In,
the culmination of the project will be simulcast nationwide so that
teams can join in on the discussion from their own locations. Unlike
2010, though, this is limited to the U.S. It would be interesting to
see how the conversation would go, and what different kinds of outcomes
would result, from a "Focus the World" global version of this event.

Climate Neutral Ivies: On February 2, 2007, students from eight Ivy League institutions
banded together to ask leaders at their schools to make big leaps
toward climate neutrality on their campuses — specifically calling for
their schools to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below
1990 levels by the year 2050.

AASHE Report: Not long after the Ivy League push, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education released their annual report
showing an explosion of activity around sustainability on campuses
across the US and Canada. AASHE Digest 2006 includes over 600 stories
about higher education institutions leading the way to a sustainable
future. It is organized into 8 chapters covering: 1) institutional
change, 2) education and outreach, 3) social responsibility, 4) green
building, 5) energy management and renewable energy, 6) food and
agriculture, 7) transportation, and 8) waste, water, landscaping, and
procurement. The Digest offers ample evidence of a broadening and
deepening of campus sustainability efforts, with more institutions of
all types getting involved and campuses undertaking more significant
measures than ever before to improve their sustainability performance.

Presidents Climate Commitment: This isn’t about president G.W.B., but the presidents of American Colleges and Universities.
The commitment allows presidents at institutions of higher-ed to make a
public pact to reduce their schools’ greenhouse gas emissions and
accelerate progress in research and facility infrastructure towards
addressing the climate crisis.

Reclaim the Future: An initiative of the Ella Baker Center, headed by Van Jones,
this is something we’ve mentioned before, but which warrants another
mention in this overview of today’s activities for sustainability and
social justice. Reclaim the Future
is a five-part teaching tool that introduces important, current themes
to students in the school system. These include green economy,
eco-equity and eco-privilege, model cities, and restorative justice.
The website makes all the information available online, along with a
teacher’s guide to assist in adapting the content to fit specific
classrooms and age groups.

Tribewanted’s Impact Assessment: And it’s time for a return glimpse at Tribewanted,
the reality TV show that garnered some press last year when creators
announced the intention to create a green extreme adventure reality
program. Recently I received some follow-up from the crew, letting me
know about some of the work that’s been done to assess the impact and create a sustainability plan for the show’s lifetime. A team of students from the University College London compiled a report
looking at water, energy, waste, biodiversity, food, building,
transport and activities on the Fijian island of Vorovoro where this is
all set to take place.

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