Students Green the Think Tank

The widespread dissatisfaction among campus activists after President Bush’s reelection prompted student liberals to create the Roosevelt Institution (RI), the first student-run progressive think tank, guided by the principles of Teddy, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. These young thinkers are adopting a strategy most often used by the right—incubating student opinion and creating a new generation of leaders.

Michael Shellenberger and Adam Werbach (hidden) meet the people at Stanford.©THE ROOSEVELT INSTITUTION

The RI chapters at Stanford, Yale and Wheaton have developed steering committees that focus on environmental issues. Other RI chapters are being organized at 30 college campuses nationwide, and green issues will be in the forefront. "The discussion of the future of environmentalism is very relevant to the Roosevelt Institution’s mission of promoting progressive policy solutions," says student Ben Grant, director of Stanford’s RI Committee on the Environment and Energy. "The next generation of environmental policymakers will be students; it seems only natural that we should chart the course."

Early in 2005, Stanford and Yale’s RI chapters collaborated to get national recognition for the group, and to expand its reach to other campuses. "Bringing people together from diverse backgrounds inspires creative solutions to service the community," says Andrew Cox, co-founder of RI’s Yale chapter.

Stanford’s Committee on the Environment and Energy is actively involved in community-based projects. Last spring, members worked with the "Young People For" fellowship program, a branch of People for the American Way, on promoting cleanup of low-income East Palo Alto, California, and including it on the Superfund priority list of hazardous waste sites. The committee also moderated a forum featuring a talk by "Death of Environmentalism" author Michael Shellenberger and former Sierra Club President Adam Werbach.

The Stanford RI committee is tackling issues on campus, and recently placed an editorial entitled "Think Global, Act Local: Sustainability at Stanford" in The Stanford Daily. "Stanford needs to fully integrate the ideas and technologies that are the subject of its research into the way it builds and maintains the campus," wrote RI members Erin Gaines, Dimitri Dadiomov, John Conley and Brian Payer.

RI is also getting national coverage. Stanford RI "fellows" wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times in response to an anti-green editorial by Nicholas D. Kristof. "The principal challenge to the environmental movement is not one of credibility, as Mr. Kristof argues. Rather it is to build political momentum and to transform the American public’s nominal support for the environment into real support manifested by votes and sustainable lifestyles," wrote Robert M. Pringle, Craig H. Segall and Ben Grant.

RI’s yearly "best of" journal, The Roosevelt Review, will be sent to its media and legislative contacts to further publicize its mission of proposing new solutions and taking action. "The initial goals of RI are for students to affect the policy debates of today and to train students to be the leaders of tomorrow," says Quinn Wilhelmi, a Stanford fellow who is the co-founder of RI. Adds Cox, "It’s really important for students to think of the vision they want the country to have in 40 years."