US Colleges' New Green Activists

For many, the idea of a college environmental activist probably still conjures up images from the late 60s and early 70s involving long hair, bell bottoms and peace signs. Well, the times, they are a changin'... ENN profiles what it calls "the new face of the environmental movement" on college campuses, and while some of these students certainly hold sit-ins, others are busier turning either wrenches or compost:

The new face of the U.S. environmental movement might well be Thomas Hand, who studied economics and auto repair at Vermont's Middlebury College, the better to refit cars to run on used vegetable oil instead of fossil fuel.

Or it could be Maura Cowley, who organized a 25-hour sit-in at Penn State University's administration building to press the school's president to talk with activists about cutting greenhouse gas emissions on campus. Unlike sit-ins of old, she blogged about the protest as it unfolded.

There's also Billy Parish, who left Yale in 2002 after five semesters to devote himself full-time to organizing students and others into a network that works to counter the effects of global climate change.

Overall, the environmental activists on 21st century campuses are a bit savvier politically, a bit more technologically inclined, and a bit less grim about the tasks they face: Williams' College in Massachusetts, for instance, held a contest to cut campus energy consumption called "Do It in the Dark" which suggested, among other conservation-related activities, suggested to students to "ask friends to do it in the dark with you!" That doesn't mean, of course, that these students aren't serious about the environmental challenges they face, nor does it mean they're only achieving minimal goals: campuses ranging from Bowdoin College in Maine to the University of California-Santa Cruz to the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University have all pledged to buy all of their energy from renewable sources at student urging.

In fact, the urge to "go green" is so prevalent on college campuses these days that it's even spurring competition between schools. Boston.com takes note of a green rivalry that's sprung up between Northfield, MN's St. Olaf College and Carleton College. So far, Carleton has the lead in renewable energy with a working wind turbine, but St. Olaf has the upper hand in composting cafeteria scraps. This article also takes note of sustainability activities around the country and observes that over 600 colleges and universities in the US and Canada have some sort of sustainability program operating. That's an education any Treehugger can be proud of! :: ENN and Boston.com (may require registration)