Clean Energy Goes to College

There is a new wave of activism sweeping across college campuses. Student groups are coordinating efforts to reduce fossil-fuel dependency by pushing for more renewable alternatives, and putting forth specific goals for their colleges.

"This is a growing movement," says Billy Parish, director of the Climate Campaign, a network of 10 student environmental organizations. "What’s driving it is the Bush administration’s disastrous energy policy."

Some 125 schools took part in a National Day of Action last April 1. Also known as "Fossil Fools Day," the event included demonstrations promoting renewable energy and protests against Bush’s energy plan.

College campuses are pollution factories. A recent Yale University study reports that the school emits more greenhouse gases than 32 developing countries. Some 84 percent of Yale’s emissions come from on-campus power plants.

Students are bringing the energy protests home. At Temple University in Philadelphia, students are rallying behind wind power, recently passing a resolution expressing willingness to pay an extra fee for it. If the plan goes through, it will be the third-largest university purchase of clean energy, supplying seven percent of the institution’s needs.

Sarah Hammond Creighton, author of Greening the Ivory Tower, is leading the Tufts University Climate Initiative. In 1999, the Tufts campus pledged to meet or exceed the Kyoto Treaty goals of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. In 2002, the campus began work on a residence hall incorporating energy efficiency and photovoltaic electricity. Tufts has also joined the Zipcar car-sharing program, and purchased four electric cars.

Environmental groups at Columbia University have joined forces to create the CU Green Umbrella. Goals include pressuring the New York state legislature to cap carbon emissions, and convincing the university to make more socially responsible investments. "Building a solid activist community will guarantee tangible results," says Columbia student Anjana Sharma. "We need to make changes now, instead of doing it when we have no other choice."