Wednesday, 31 Jul 2002

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.

I read the newspaper every morning, but try to avoid the stories from the White House, which tend to make me nauseous. Instead, I go straight to the Bay Area section, hoping to be inspired by local news and events. Typically, the headlines are totally different. Rather than something like, “Bush Supports Drilling in All National Parks,” the headlines read, “Governor Signs Historic Bill to Stop Global Warming.”

The debate on Capitol Hill earlier this spring about the Bush-Cheney energy plan made it clear that if our federal government calls the shots, our national energy will come from fossils fuels, large-scale hydropower, and nuclear energy. In other words, if you want cleaner, better, more sustainable energy solutions, you better look to your own community to take the lead.

There are good examples of cities, schools and other institutions in California moving ahead with energy plans that counter the Bush-Cheney fossil foolishness. For example, there is a bill sponsored by state Sen. Byron Sher (D) for a state renewable portfolio standard — not to mention the recently signed historic legislation to regulate global warming pollution from cars and light trucks.

Even though these are excellent efforts, none of them speaks directly to the youth of this country. Because young people can’t vote and aren’t generally encouraged to participate in the political process, legislative efforts like those mentioned above don’t necessarily capture their attention. But we all know (or at least I hope we do) that the key to stopping global warming and achieving sustainability is making long-term plans that engage the sector of society that will implement these policies in the future: today’s youth.

After reading the paper this morning, I was ready to jump into work. Today, I’m focusing on my primary campaign, which is to encourage all nine (soon to be 10) University of California campuses to become the leaders in green buildings and clean energy. True to our commitment to youth, Greenpeace is working with students to convince the behemoth UC institution to change.

Greenpeace volunteers hand out leaflets encouraging San Franciscans to vote yes on a clean energy bill for California.

Rosemarie Lion, Greenpeace.

Many people doubt that we can mobilize a student movement against global warming strong enough to sway the UC administration. But perhaps we know something they don’t: Youth today are fired up to be a part of local change. Young people witness what is going on at the White House and are disgusted. But working on federal and state legislation can be intimidating and is too far removed from their reality. Yet in my experience, students are experts in campus politics and yearn to feel the positive impact of a successful clean energy campaign.

Students at Los Angeles Community College proved this earlier this year while working on a campaign with Greenpeace. Thanks to pressure from the student body, the LACC Board of Trustees unanimously voted in favor of the cleanest renewable energy policy and green building standard ever set by an academic institution in the U.S. Now, that is an example of youth empowerment in action!

This effort would have never succeeded without student mobilization. Now the LACC students are challenging other colleges to do the same. And University of California students are rising to that challenge.

Part of my work today involves following up on the UC student training, hosted a few weeks ago by the UC-Santa Barbara Environmental Affairs Board, a rocking student organization. In a mere two and a half days, 20 UC students representing six out of the nine existing campuses democratically wrote a resolution aimed at being passed simultaneously this fall by all of the UC student senates. It is critical to the students that there is a university-wide consensus on the goals and that the Board of Regents heed their call before the new Merced campus (the 10th UC school) is built. The university is planning to break ground on that campus this fall. Some students say they won’t let construction start until the Board of Regents adopts a strong, system-wide policy for green buildings and renewable energy. Yet all the students agree that cooperation and coordination among students, faculty, and staff is critical. And that is my role — to connect the students, administration, staff, and political figures.

After sending out the final draft of the UC student resolution to the “go solar” listserv, I hit the phones, calling the governor’s office, state senators, renewable energy companies, and nonprofit organizations to gain their endorsement of the initiative. Luckily, no one is saying no. It’s unanimous: We all want green buildings and clean energy. No longer is it students versus the administration; it is all of us against the imminent destruction of global warming. And if we educate and empower the students, we will all come out winners.