College students press for climate neutrality

Global warming
By IAN DONNIS  |  March 21, 2007
When a group of Brown University students last month called for their campus to go “climate neutral,” skeptics might have wondered whether such an initiative would make much of a dent in reducing global warming.
Yet the effort at Brown represents how many college students across the US are acting locally to push progress on one of the defining issues of their generation. While individual campuses might not make a big impact in and of themselves, they can help to build momentum and to spread awareness of the need for action.
In response to the students’ request, the Brown University Community Council, which is chaired by university president Ruth Simmons, unanimously passed a motion recommending that Brown develop a statement of climate neutrality, and a plan on how to achieve it as soon as possible, no later than the next budget year, says sophomore Julia Beamesderfer, one of the students involved in the effort.
While efforts at one campus resemble one drop in a big ocean, says junior Nathan Wyeth, another of the student activists, “It will definitely make a difference. I think what each person does is important. It’s a symbol to other universities that this is important. I think Brown can show that these steps can be taken without it costing schools money in the long run, and it’s a message to broader society that we have a responsibility to act on this issue.”
EmPOWER, a student group at Brown, is part of the Campus Climate Challenge (, a national coalition encompassing more than 30 youth groups. In Rhode Island, a recent climate summit attracted representatives from the University of Rhode Island, Roger Williams University, and the Rhode Island School of Design.
At Brown, emPOWER has pushed the case for the university to go “climate neutral,” meaning that it would aggressively begin to reduce its global warming emissions and purchase “carbon offsets” to prevent emissions elsewhere of the amount that Brown continues to emit. In dramatizing their broad support, student activists staged a February 13 photo petition, entitled “1000 Faces for Climate Neutrality,” on the center of campus.
A day earlier, a group of Brown graduates, including former Clinton adviser Ira Magaziner, published an op-ed in the Brown Daily Herald, calling for the university to lead the way in the fight against global warming. “We believe in the powerful voice that our alma matter carries in society,” the group wrote. “Brown’s achievement of climate neutrality would send a clear message to other larger, wealthier organizations that action is imperative and possible.”
The quartet noted that other universities, including the University of Pennsylvania, had already announced plans to achieve climate neutrality, but they added, “Brown can still play a leadership role in the field by proving that even smaller institutions with more limited resources can achieve climate neutrality and can do so immediately.”
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