Archive for the 'Campuses' Category

Divestment listening tour connects students and anti-coal activists

by Will Lawrence and Kate Aronoff, re-posted courtesy of Waging Nonviolence

Picture courtesy of We Are Powershift.

Students from Swarthmore and Earlham College will be traveling to Appalachia this week as part of the Divest Coal Frontlines Listening Tour, which is the latest effort in a broader campaign calling on all colleges and universities to divest from the largest and most destructive U.S.-based fossil fuel companies. Arriving in West Virginia in time for the Mountain Mobilization — a regional gathering July 25 through August 1 that will culminate in direct action on a proposed mine site — the tour is meant to facilitate collaboration by connecting the divestment campaigns with groups that have been organizing against mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia for the past several decades.

Mountaintop removal (MTR) is just what it sounds like — a process in which the tops of mountains are exploded to reveal the coal seams underneath. Anti-coal activist and lifelong West Virginia resident Larry Gibson describes the practice as “raising the dead, while burying the living.” This method is less labor-intensive, and thus more profitable to mining companies, than underground mining. In regions where it is practiced, MTR results in poisoned water, deadly health impacts and economically devastated communities.

Engagement with environmental issues is nothing new for many colleges. Student-led initiatives have driven down institutional energy consumption in the past 10 years, placed wind turbines on campuses and taken coal-fired power plants off of them. While these efforts continue, students across the country are turning to divestment as a new means to confront the coal, oil and gas industries. Campaigns are currently being waged at SwarthmoreEarlhamUNC-Chapel HillUniversity of Illinois-Urbana-ChampaignCornell and Colby, with another six campuses planning to join in the fall.

In forming relationships with organizations on the frontlines of the struggle against MTR, students hope to more effectively act in solidarity with these groups and weave divestment, both symbolically and materially, into an ecology of resistance against the fossil fuel industry. Although it may be just a small part of the ongoing movement for climate justice, college divestment campaigns add a new element of strategy to the work being done to combat climate change.

By asking for divestment, students implicate universities in the destructive practices of the global economy, calling into question their positions as actors in an increasingly myopic financial industry. Like the corporations they invest in, university finance managers look for returns on a quarterly, not long-term basis. Such thinking paints coal, oil and natural gas as sound investments based on solid short-term financial returns, while failing to consider their negative long-term returns: poisoned watersheds, toxic ecosystems and devastated communities.

Divestment also carries a symbolic weight that challenges us to reconsider fossil fuel extraction and climate change as human rights issues. For many, the word divestment brings to mind the mass movement to divest from South African apartheid in the 1970s and 80s. More recently, divestment campaigns have drawn attention to human rights crises in Sudan and Palestine, as well asworkplaces in the U.S. Calling for divestment from fossil fuels inevitably highlights these connections, and creates an opening to talk about the ways that climate change disproportionately affects poor communities, women and communities of color. Furthermore, it places the blame for the economic violence of climate change squarely on the companies that fuel it, rather than on those consumers who can’t afford to “buy green.” Continue reading ‘Divestment listening tour connects students and anti-coal activists’

Iowa City promotes environmental education in local high schools

Cross-posted from by Kerri Sorrell

Focus often eludes high school students with seven different classes covering seven different subjects and too much homework to jam in their backpacks at the end of the day – but on Thursday, April 5, EcoCentric and Envirocity, environmental clubs at two Iowa City high schools, teamed up with Iowa City Summer of Solutions to concentrate class discussions on one issue: the environment.

The daylong event, Focus the Classroom, encouraged teachers to relate the subjects they teach to current environmental issues. Last summer, Zach Gruenhagen, Bailey McClellan and Noelle Waldschmidt from the Iowa City solutionary team worked to complete a website with sustainability-focused lesson plans for every subject area, to help teachers more easily integrate the environment into their classes. In addition, presentations ran all day from environmental leaders in the Iowa City community, including Tim Dwight – a Iowa City High graduate and former professional football player.

Dwight, a popular speaker at both high schools, co-founded a renewable energy company called Integrated Power Corporation after retiring from the San Diego Chargers. At the Focus the Classroom event, he gave presentations extolling the virtues of solar energy.

“This shift [to renewable energy] that I’m going to talk about is your generational shift, and it’s going to be massive. Producing energy with wind and solar will change the world because those resources are available anywhere, and you’re going to see it,” he told students at West High school.

Read more …

Continue reading ‘Iowa City promotes environmental education in local high schools’

BREAKING: Student Activists Hang Banner at MSU

Today Michigan State students took action to push their school to go 100% renewable. Here’s what my friend David Pinsky had to say about their situation last week:

The Michigan State University (MSU) T.B. Simon coal plant is the largest on-campus coal plant in the country.

The MSU coal plant burns 200,000 tons of coal every year, and is one contributor to the 31 annual deaths in the Lansing area due to coal-fired power plants.

Since 2009, hundreds of MSU students have been waking up and saying “today I am going to shut down our campus coal plant!” For nearly three years, two student groups, MSU Greenpeace and MSU Beyond Coal, have been working tirelessly to pressure their administration to shut down the coal plant and transition to 100% clean energy.

Following relentless grassroots organizing from students, the administration finally responded – with an unambitious energy transition plan that calls for 40% clean energy by 2030. The plan also contains false solutions such as burning biomass and natural gas. Greenpeace and Sierra Club energy experts have concerns about the methodology used to create the plan. The ultimate goal of the plan is 100% clean energy. However, with a current timeline that extends to 2030, meeting not even half of the 100% goal, MSU students are calling on the MSU Board of Trustees to reject the current energy transition plan.

On April 13th, the MSU Board of Trustees has the power to reject this unambitious plan and demonstrate leadership on clean energy…. ” Read the rest of Davids blog on

This is part of a week of action and students around the country are taking action in solidarity, you can too.

You can tweet about this using the hashtag #quitcoalmsu

Fossil fuel industry, look out: Campus Sustainability + Occupy = Divestment

Swarthmore College and several other campuses have launched a campaign to divest from fossil fuels. Read why and get involved in the campaign!

by Blair Halcyon

SWARTHMORE, PA — On campuses across the country, students are writing a new chapter in the youth environmental justice movement. The last five years of student organizing have won huge victories. “Sustainability” is on the tip of every college administrator’s tongue, and 674 institutions have signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment to long-term carbon neutrality. Colleges have taken real leadership in the fight for climate justice.

If one thing is clear, though, it’s that we haven’t won yet. The United States and other countries continue to block any international progress on confronting climate change. Mountaintop removal coal mining still devastates communities in Appalachia. A misguided push toward fracking is causing deadly water contamination here in Pennsylvania and across America. And, while we had a big victory on the Keystone XL pipeline, tar sands oil extraction continues to threaten the health of First Nations peoples and menace the global climate.

This is why a new wave of students is bringing new urgency to the movement. We’re following in the footsteps of our predecessors who fought for carbon neutrality, and bringing an Occupy-inspired awareness that money at the heart of our social and environmental ills. American universities collectively invest over 350 billion dollars. Believe it or not, a lot of that money goes to propping up the dirty, dangerous and outdated fossil fuel industry. Here at Swarthmore, a group of students came together because we just couldn’t sit around and watch this happen. We couldn’t stay silent while our school pours money into companies that are making people sick and destroying the planet. Along with students at UNC-Chapel Hill, the University of Illinois, and several other schools, we are demanding that our schools divest our money from the fossil fuel industry.

This divestment campaign will be an uphill battle, so entwined are our endowments with fossil fuels. Despite their commitments to sustainability and social justice, Swarthmore President Rebecca Chopp and other administrators have learned to think of the college’s investments as entirely unrelated to the values of the institution. They work within a bureaucracy that is structurally resistant to change. And the dominant, outdated and flawed logic of investment finance tells them that any restriction on the college’s investments will result in diminished returns. All of these factors cause them to ignore the contradiction between values and investment practices, or deny they exist.

Fortunately, our position as students, as young people, and as idealists allows us to see the obvious contradiction. Swarthmore’s relationship to its ideals is a tangle of moral knots that needs untying. We refuse to be bogged down by the cynical belief that change is not possible, or the heartless belief that it is not necessary. We negotiate, we organize, we antagonize, we educate, we delve into the tangle because we know we can chart a new course forward for Swarthmore, just as the nationwide fossil fuel divestment movement seeks to chart a new course for our whole society.

We are not willing to settle for a college that exists in moral purgatory. It is not enough to reduce on-campus energy consumption—colleges must prevent their dollars from subsidizing filthy energy companies elsewhere. We need our colleges to confront the contradiction between their investments and their values. Frontline communities—those most impacted by extraction and climate change—demand it. Our personal and institutional commitments to struggle against injustice require it. Lives are at stake every day. Through divestment, colleges can unequivocally proclaim that they stand for sustainability, justice, and human decency.

To learn more about our campaign at Swarthmore or to get involved, email

Bellingham Students Speak Out for a Clean Energy Future

This guest post was contributed by Eric Jensen, a student activist at Western Washington University

Wednesday night, outside of a heated local candidates debate about a proposed massive coal export terminal just ten miles from Western Washington University, a group of students with the Western Action Coalition decided to have a little fun while calling attention to the issue.

The coal terminal, proposed by SSA Marine and it’s minority owner Goldman Sachs, would ship coal from open pit mines in Wyoming through Bellingham, Washington and out of a port at Cherry Point, eventually reaching East Asian markets. The terminal poses a significant threat to communities near WWU: coal dust and coal runoff from open freight cars are a concern to anyone near the tracks; thriving forest would be stripped from the land at Cherry Point; and 80 acres of uncovered coal could degrade the spawning grounds of an endemic herring population, which forms the bottom of the marine food chain. The impacts are as diverse as the communities that would be affected by them.

An action organized by the Western Action Coalition with Earth First! Whatcom focused attention on some of the impacts, while calling the WWU student community to take action with their ballots this week.  Olivia Edwards, a junior studying environmental science dressed as a Salmon. Unconvinced by SSA’s arguments, she said “there are still a multitude of questions that need to be answered and that deserve to be addressed.”

Demonstrators distributed literature endorsing county council and mayoral candidates that will stick up for a sustainable economy for Bellingham and beyond. They called for electing Pete Kremen, Christina Maginnis, and Alan Black for Whatcom County Council and Dan Pike for Bellingham Mayor – all of whom have been endorsed by Washington Conservation Voters.

Continue reading ‘Bellingham Students Speak Out for a Clean Energy Future’

BREAKING: Student Activists Risking Arrest Inside University President’s Office


Reposted from Dan Schreiber at

This afternoon, seven student activists marched into President Simon’s office at the Hannah Administration building at Michigan State University to ask MSU to transition to 100% clean energy.

Activists walked in wearing Greenpeace Quit Coalt-shirts and surgical masks to display the health risks of burning coal.
Today’s protest comes after two years of attempting to work with MSU’s Administration to transition the campus from burning coal to 100% clean energy.
Michigan State University has the largest on-campus coal plant in the nation, burning over 200,000 tons of coal each year. The energy supplied by this plant powers only the campus, but its pollution spews out into the community of East Lansing, and far beyond. Incidences of asthma, sudden infant death syndrome, lung disease, and emphysema are drastically higher in areas near coal-fired power plants. Coal pollution causes 31 deaths annually in East Lansing. Not only are there serious immediate health risks, but coal pollution is also the single greatest contributor to climate change in the United States.
“Coal is harmful to our environment and us, but not everyone knows. I think it is important to raise awareness of the problem so it can be fixed and the damaging effects of coal can be stopped,” said student activist Kendra Majewski who is currently inside President Simon’s office.

The Billion Dollar Green Challenge Launches

Credit: Michael Drazdzinski

Solar panels adorning the tops of Harvard buildings. A bright, towering wind turbine on the St. Olaf campus. Libraries and dormitories chock full of blue recycling options and even composting bins inside the dining halls, at the University of Washington.

Campus sustainability has come into its own over the last decade, with renewable energy, tray-less dining, and sustainability director jobs popping up at campuses across the country. While many colleges and universities can implement some or all of these programs to reduce their carbon footprint, many projects are done piecemeal, without a regular source of funding or the institutional support to make it the first step in a larger commitment.

Being a sustainable campus can be so much more than just a green garden or showcase project. Sustainability projects can often reduce the overall operating costs for the campus, saving energy and money, keeping tuition low. But high upfront costs can be a barrier to administrators experiencing steep budget cuts and rising energy costs.

One way for any college or university to achieve these results is through a sustainability financing mechanism called the Green Revolving Fund.

On the main stage at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s national conference in Pittsburgh, PA, the Billion Dollar Green Challenge will be launched in front of the largest gathering, to date, on sustainability in higher education. The Challenge is inviting colleges to establish green revolving funds to invest in significant energy efficiency upgrades on campus.

At the time of the launch, 32 institutions have joined the Challenge’s Founding Circle. Founding Circle participants range in size from large institutions such as Arizona State, Harvard and Stanford, to small and innovative institutions such as Northland College, Green Mountain College and Unity College.

Green revolving fund projects are diverse and versatile, and can be easily adapted to a school’s priorities. Have an active student body? Consider operating a student-driven fund, like at Oberlin College’s EDGE Fund, where students work with faculty and staff to initiative sustainability projects. Want to retrofit your campus buildings? Take a page from the University of Pennsylvania’s Energy Reduction Fund, which reduces energy through building upgrades.

Existing green revolving funds prove that sustainability efforts can be profitable and even fund larger and more ambitious projects, as they have an average return on investment of 32 percent annually.

Clearly, the benefits of joining the Challenge and operating a green revolving fund are numerous. They are a bright spot in a rocky economy, helping to create green jobs in campus communities while substantially reducing operating costs. The Challenge is a broad network of like-minded institutions focused on improving campus sustainability throughout their operations.

For participating institutions, it will be a best practice forum for what kinds of projects have proven successful, what programs have had difficulties, and what programs you should consider on your own campus, based on real-life examples.

As energy prices rise and concerns about resource scarcity increase, it is a risky venture to not invest in environmental initiatives on campus. By joining the Billion Dollar Green Challenge, institutions can both save energy and grow money.

Visit for more information and see if your school might be a good fit.

Mark Orlowski is the Executive Director of the Sustainable Endowments Institute (SEI) and Emily Flynn is Manager of Special Projects at SEI.

Create a Green Economy Before You Graduate!

Colleges and universities have tens of  billions of dollars of purchasing power, so working to green your school’s purchasing of everything from electricity to food to financial services will lead to a greener economy!  Check out a great outline of how to get involved in greening campus procurement from AASHE’s Sam Hummel, who I worked with when we were both students on spreading campus renewable energy and sustainability initiatives around NC and the Southeast and who then became the Sustainability Coordinator at Duke University.  He was involved in this work as a student and a university employee, so he has some great advice.  Read the article here.

Students Stand Up and Say “No More Coal”!

Yesterday more progress was made in the effort to move the state of Massachusetts beyond coal and towards a clean energy revolution. The Utility and Telecommunications Committee had open public hearings for several proposed bills which call for an end to fossil fuel dependence in the state, one of which was written by students from Students for a Just and Stable Future ( The hearing started with an introduction of the bills by Rep. Eherlich from the 8th Essex District, who continued to explain how organizing around the coal power plant in her community is what drove her to first become civically engaged.The hearing was well attended by concerned community members, public health advocate groups as well as students from across the state.

After Representative Eherlich spoke, members from Environmental League Massachusetts and the Sierra Club outlined the health risks posed by coal power plants. The Sierra Club also offered reference to their recent publication on how renewable energy sources can replace the base load power for the grid which is presently generated by fossil fuels and nuclear power. Four members from Students for a Just and Stable Future then spoke on behalf of their drafted legislation, house docket #2625, which is entitled “An Act to Phase Out Coal Burning and Use”. Unlike other bills in front of the committee that ask for this to be done by the year 2020, Students for a Just and Stable Future believe that the issue demands more urgency and should be accomplished by 2015. The students who spoke addressed the many externalities pushed onto local communities and the environment throughout the coal commodity chain covering everything from the devastation due to mountain top removal to the effects emissions are having in the form of acid rain and global climate change.

Continue reading ‘Students Stand Up and Say “No More Coal”!’

Taking Back Tuscaloosa

AL TornadoCross-posted from Guest blogger, Mallory Flowers, University of Alabama.

The only thing I know for sure right now is that I’m very lucky. I live in campus housing—on the side of Tuscaloosa that didn’t get touched by the recent tornados. In the moments after the storm, my friends and I knew it must have been bad, but it took hours, even days, for the full impact to be realized. Many are dead, and many more have had their lives forever changed.

I cannot accurately describe the way it felt to see my city destroyed—seemingly attacked, with no enemy to blame. Neither can I express the way it felt when I realized that my campus was now more of a refugee camp than a school. Waiting in lines for sandwiches and cups of water, the only available food, we hoped our phone batteries would last long enough to keep bringing us updates until power was restored.

Driving across parts of town that were once bustling hubs of business and student life, and seeing them now dark, deserted, and destroyed was completely surreal. Traffic was worse than it is on Game Day—and if you’ve ever been in Tuscaloosa for a football game, you know that’s saying something.

As we watched the death toll climb, and as we heard news, good and bad, of our friends, armed guards watched us from every street corner, preventing looting in our normally peaceful college town. But over the roar of helicopters piloted by news teams and the National Guard, of generators providing emergency power to campus, and of sirens continually sounding in the distance, there was laughter.

Somehow, despite the feeling of helplessness as we sat in the dark not knowing what to do or how to help, the Tuscaloosa spirit was preserved. Within hours of the double-vortex EF-4 tornado gorging a 1.5-mile wide scar through our town and others, it was evident that it had not destroyed our sense of community. We in the South are known to be resilient, and this time is no exception. Much has been lost, but with it, much opportunity to serve, grow, and move forward.

AL Tornado Old ManTuscaloosa is not the only town affected—much of north Alabama is devastated, with some towns wiped clear off the map.  And as we rebuild, we will do so with a purpose. We will replace the damaged police and fire stations, the water towers, the homes, we will clear the roads of the trees that were thrown, fully uprooted, into the road.

To outsiders, the South is often known more for its poverty and “backwoods” culture than for the beauty and hospitality those that live here enjoy every day. But we now have the chance to rebuild our aging, and in places failing, infrastructure. We will take this chance to rebuild our town, and reclaim our state. We will rebuild Alabama efficiently, with better technology, and do so using less energy.

As droves of volunteers take to the streets, the one thing everyone can see is that it is students taking the reigns on this effort. The youth will not wait patiently for others to fix this problem. We are here to take back Tuscaloosa, bring back Birmingham, and aide all the small towns in between, and make them truly better than ever before.

I lied when I said I only know one thing. I know I’m lucky, but I also know that we’ll move forward from here. I know that Alabama will work together to become better. I know that we will move towards solar energy—so that next time a storm like this happens, millions don’t sit without power. I know we’ll seek real climate solutions, to ease the risk of more of these storms happening. I know that Alabama will be a better state, that our communities will become stronger, and that our youth will step up to the challenge that has been placed before them.

Roll Tide Roll.