Students Fight Climate Change, Cite Personal Reasons
October 3, 2013
Students cite their future as the reason for getting involved with climate change activism on campus. By Monica Vendituoli 2040. If energy consumption continues to grow at its current rate, that's when the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will cause permanent climate change, according to a new U.N. report. That year stuck out to Daniel Sherrell, a senior at Brown University. He will be 49 then. "Before then, members of Congress and the international community will have to swallow their hubris and make difficult decisions," says Sherrell, a leader of the Brown Divest Coal Campaign, which advocates that Brown stop investing in the coal industry. "When I'm 49, I want to be building on their progress, not cleaning up their messes." The majority of college students believe climate change is occurring, according to a study conducted by Jeff Larsen, a University of Tennessee – Knoxville psychology professor, who studied incoming freshman in the summer of 2013. Of those who answered, 76% agreed climate change is happening, 15% responded it is not happening and 9% said they did not know whether it was happening. In addition, Sheldon Insights found in its 2013 Eco Pulse Study that 65% of 18 to 24 year olds believed global warming is occurring and is caused by humans. Student efforts to stop global warming have recently gained steam, especially the divestment movement. Similar to the divestment movement in the 1980s where college students advocated that their schools divest from companies with ties to the South African government, the fossil fuels divestment movement involves students advocating that their schools divest from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies. According to the Fossil Free Campaign website, there are currently 317 colleges and universities with fossil fuel divestment campaigns. Dennis Fox, a junior at Cornell University and president of Cornell's KyotoNOW! climate justice group, sees promise in his school's divestment movement. "We have been making some great strides with our university. So far we haven't yet committed to divestment, but we are well on our way," Fox says. Ophir Bruck, a senior at the University of California-Berkeley and Fossil Free Campaign coordinator, hopes students can get the University of California system to commit to divestment by the end of the year. However, he sees the Fossil Free campaign's goals extending beyond divestment. "A huge part of the campaign is to educate students and to just spread awareness among students, faculty, staff, alumni of climate change and the urgency with which we need to act," Bruck says. Bruck is also attending the Power Shift 2013 Conference from Oct. 18 to 21, in Pittsburgh, where more than 10,000 youth leaders are expected to attend to discuss how to stop fracking, start divestment and create clean energy. Campus efforts to stop climate change also focus on changing student habits. Katherin Sibel, a junior at American University, is involved with both her school's divestment efforts as well as the Green Eagle Program, which employs students to teach others about sustainability. "We basically just work to create social norms ... which promote environmental or sustainable living for students," Sibel says. Students also express their concern for the planet through green majors such as environmental science, sustainability and environmental policy. Colin Nackerman, a sophomore at George Mason University, was inspired to major in environmental policy after growing up in a small town in Southern California that was affected by environmental issues. "I kinda wanted to get into the regulation side of policy to hopefully save places like my hometown from being devastated by environmental disasters," Nackerman says. At George Mason, he is also involved with the Environmental Action Group, whose goal this year is to fight for more transparency on funding the school receives from the Koch brothers, opponents of climate-change regulations. Students cite their future as the reason for getting involved with climate change activism on campus. "We're the ones inheriting these issues and we're going to have to be dealing with them in the future, so it behooves us to act now," Bruck says. Monica Vendituoli is a junior at Wheaton College. This article originally appeared in USA Today.