To engage other students, green activists put their best fête forward
A pop quiz for the college crowd:
Which of the following is no fun?
B) Doing it in the dark
C) Global warming activism
D) This is a trick question — they’re all related
If you picked C, you’re forgiven, says Maura Cowley, campaign director for the Sierra Student Coalition. But, dude, you’re so wrong.
The right answer, of course, is D. Today’s campus eco-actions involve all sorts of festive frolicking, from “Save the Ales” parties for the 21-and-older set to “Do It in the Dark” contests, green condoms, and risqué recycling campaigns.
“We want to make climate change a top issue among young people,” explains Cowley, “and to do that, we’ve had to come up with fun, accessible ideas that resonate with a wide audience — and not just with enviros.” Cowley, 25, knows the ropes: As a Penn State student, she led a campaign that brought renewable energy and energy efficiency to campus; since graduating in 2006, she’s worked for the SSC, the student wing of the Sierra Club.
Five years ago, there were only about 25 volunteer student organizers for the SSC at a thin smattering of colleges, says Cowley. Today, the SSC has thousands of student organizers at 150-plus colleges nationwide, all searching for creative ways to mobilize green forces.
Likewise, the Energy Action Coalition, an umbrella group for the SSC and 47 other green organizations that focus on students and youth, offers fun-laced forums to spread its message. Power Shift is a prime example — a youth summit in Washington, D.C., that combines climate activism with crowd-rocking music and spoken-word performances.
Beer bashes are another playful way to, well, draft new recruits. Organizers of “Save the Ales” gatherings [PDF] raise awareness about climate change by telling party-cipants that global warming threatens supplies of hops, a key ingredient in beer. Hops need cold winters; when global warming makes temperatures unusually hot, production suffers and beer prices climb. Beer also requires a steady supply of fresh, pure H2O, so the parties provide opportunities to talk about clean water — or launch any number of worthy efforts, from petition-signing to fund-raising. (Post-college progressive groups like Drinking Liberally can also attest to the power of politically charged beverage consumption.)
“Do It in the Dark,” meanwhile, doesn’t mean what you think it does — unless you think it means energy-saving contests between dorms, frats, or sororities. Colleges across the country have been holding these smackdowns in which student residences compete to see which can use the least amount of electricity. In the process, students get turned on to the power of turning things off. They power down computers, flip off lights, unplug cell-phone chargers and other electronics when they’re not in use, and install compact fluorescent lightbulbs. In turn they get treated to non-electric parties, with acoustic music and schwag like CFLs and green condoms. The victors get glory, more parties, and prizes like bikes and iPods. Williams College offered up tips for slashing energy use and ended up saving $10,000 in electricity costs during a month-long “Do It in the Dark” competition in spring 2006, earning props from New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.
Not frisky enough for you? Consider the “I (heart) slutty paper” campaign in which student Hannah Riches, winner of a National Wildlife Federation fellowship, convinced the New School in New York to use non-virgin, 100 percent recycled paper and reduce paper use campus-wide.
Other green campus events can include concerts by eco-friendly bands, glow-in-the-dark soccer games (no nighttime lighting needed!), and giveaways of goodies like reusable water bottles and condoms. Even students stuck in the dorm cramming for tests can listen to green-leaning musicians and draw the blinds to let in natural light.
If they peer out the window, they might even see someone in the center quad dressed as a wind turbine and engaged in faux hand-to-hand combat with a rival dressed as a coal plant. “One of our other fun ideas is to have pretend boxing matches between the two,” Cowley explains. She’ll let you guess who wins.
A fuddy-duddy disclaimer: All of the alcohol-related events mentioned in this story are intended for responsible drinkers of legal age, in compliance with laws and campus rules. Alcohol abuse is associated with everything from DUI arrests to rape, suicide, and death. ‘Nuff said.