Photo via Salt Lake Tribune
Those who sum up college students with spring break and wild parties don't know the 10 young environmental activists on this list--or the hundreds, maybe thousands more around the country. From initiating green fees that give their schools hundreds of thousands of dollars for sustainability projects to spending their vacations fighting for social justice, these students are making a lasting impression on their communities--and the world.
1. Tim DeChristopher
University of Utah student Tim DeChristopher took environmental activism into a whole new arena last December when he interrupted a fairly tame event: an auction of leases on Utah land by the Bureau of Land Management. Rather than make a fuss, he simply started bidding, driving up the prices on lands that the oil and gas industry were buying and, eventually, purchasing $1.7 million worth of land himself--with no intention of paying the bill. DeChristopher just barely avoided fraud charges by coming up with a $45,000 down payment with the help of other environmental activists from all over the world, and was quoted as saying, "...I've been hoping that...someone would put themselves on the line and make the sacrifices necessary to get us to a more livable future. And I guess I just...had to accept the fact that that someone might be me."
2. May Boeve
As a student at Middlebury College, May Boeve had already left her mark--she was part of the group that convinced the campus to go carbon neutral and had protested the neighborhood's burning of tires--but before graduating in 2007, she and nine other students teamed up with author and professor Bill McKibben for one final environmental project: Step It Up, a day of local climate change rallies that spread to 1,400 locations in 50 states. The following fall, StepItUp2007.org took the movement even further, pushing for environmental initiatives that included the banning of new coal plants, an 80% cut in carbon emissions, and green jobs for five million workers.
3. Ivan StiefelVideo of Ivan Stiefel at the Brower Youth Awards
While most college students spend their spring break hungover on the beaches of Cancun, West Virginia University student Ivan Stiefel took a different route: He founded West Virginia Mountain Justice Spring Break (MJSB), an organization of students that spend their vacation week working toward environmental change and social justice for Appalachian communities harmed by the coal industry. In 2007, the group staged a sit-in at the office of the state governor to protest the building of a coal silo next to an elementary school, and the following year they made similar trips to Virginia and Ohio. Stiefel, who worked as a kayaking instructor in Mexico and China after graduation, won a 2008 Brower Youth Award for his environmental efforts.
4. Rachel Barge
2008 University of California-Berkeley graduate Rachel Barge also won a Brower Youth Award, though her efforts were focused closer to home: She helped lead the successful Green Initiative Fund, in which students passed a referendum supporting a $5-per-student tuition increase that gave the school an additional $200,000 each year to put toward green projects. She also founded Steam--Sustainability Team--an environmentally-focused internship program that set up recycling programs in student centers and developed a campus produce stand that sells organic goods from local farmers.
5. Chris Samila
As a senior at Arizona State University, Chris Samila was majoring in global studies and political science and passionate about the environment in his free time, reading up on the danger the world's oceans are in and attending sustainable building conference Greenbuild. Then a trip to Costa Rica got him wondering why remote bungalows were using CFL bulbs when they still weren't standard in America. Upon his return, he put together the first GreenSummit Expo and Conference, sponsored by the school's Global Institute of Sustainability. The event brought together curious consumers and eco-friendly businesses--about 4,000 people all together--and led to a second GreenSummit, in 2008, where double that number of guests were expected.