Posts Tagged ‘students’


Green Fund


Posted by Trevor Lovell
From a ReEnergize Texas press release issued April 26th

UTSA, TAMU, UT-Austin, UT-El Paso, and North Texas

Earth Week in Texas brought a major victory for student environmentalists. Student bodies at 5 state universities voted in favor of campus “green funds.” The institutions are among some of the state’s largest – UT Austin, UT San Antonio, UT El Paso, Texas A&M University, and the University of North Texas – and the funds are expected to generate a combined $8 million for sustainability projects over their five year lifespan.

“The message was about investing in a greener future for our campus,” said Cameron Tharp who headed the campaign at the University of North Texas where 82% of students voted in favor.

If each of the funds is approved by its respective board of regents, Texas would have a total of 7 public colleges with green funds, including Texas State University and Austin Community College, both of which already have such funds in place. California currently has 10 public colleges with green funds, the most in the country. (more…)

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Original post can be found at the ReEnergize Texas Blog

On Tuesday, students from Southwestern University’s Students for Environmental Activism and Knowledge (SEAK) had intended to speak before the Georgetown City Council regarding the 20 year energy plan for their city.  They had registered an agenda item with the City Secretary’s Office, asked all the right questions about who could speak and for howlong, and everyone was in City Council chambers ahead of the meeting forms in hand and polite, thoughtful, well-reasoned remarks committed to memory.

SEAK’s charismatic President, Connor Hanrahan, went to the mic and spoke politely about hoping to form a positive “working relationship” with the city as they discussed aspects of the energy plan and in particular a provision to purchase 30% of their electricity from nuclear power plants.

“We are not here to protest nuclear,” he said, “but want to discuss new information that affects this plan.”

And then the Mayor dropped a bomb.  Citing a “misunderstanding” about City Council procedures, he informed Connor and the group of students and allies he’d brought with him that they would not be allowed to speak at the meeting that evening.  To his credit, Mayor Garver did make an effort at conciliation by offering Connor the opportunity to nominate 2 members of his party to speak for 3 minutes apiece, but the notion was quickly rebuked by Councilwoman Pat Berryman, a known proponent of nuclear power.

Does this sound familiar to anyone?  Think Pedernales Electric Coop and CPS Energy.  These two major electric utilities in Texas have been recently embroiled in controversy over failure to provide information, give the public access to speak, and making bad, even corrupt decisions from positions of power.  As a result, reform candidates have been elected to the PEC Board of Directors and two of its former members face multiple felony indictments.  At CPS, two executives have been placed on leave while its board investigates why the utility failed to disclose new cost estimates to the public and the San Antonio City Council.

Why would Georgetown’s Mayor and City Council tell local students they had no right to speak about the energy future of their own city?  Because the rules said so?  Can a member of the City Council not make a motion to suspend the rules?  In fact they can, but no member of the City Council had the courage or good sense to make that motion and give their constituents the opportunity to weigh in on an issue of city governance. (more…)

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This is an issue that has been bothering me for some time, but does not get as much play in political discourse I think it should. In my opinion the high cost of education and my generation’s huge accumulation of loan debt are likely to be one of the biggest problems that ordinary people in this country face.

The increased integration of the global economy is dictating that we have a highly educated workforce in order to remain competitive. To get this, high-quality post-secondary education needs to be available to all who want it, and people who have received secondary education need to have the freedom to meet their potential.

Unfortunately, this is not the way the situation looks currently. The cost of post-secondary education has grown to unprecedented heights, and more than half of college graduates are indebted to student loan providers by the time they graduate. It has become commonplace for college graduates to be saddled with anywhere from $50 to over $100 thousand in debt.

I admit that I may be a little biased, being that this issue hits very close to home for me. I am a recent graduate myself and have seen many people in my age group saddled with unbelievable amounts of debt. As is reflected by my work at Public Citizen, I am an aspiring government reformer whose primary ambitions are in the nonprofit sector. I love the fact that I am able to work for an organization that makes efficient use of its funding and fights for the things I value, making a genuinely positive impact. This type of thing is not an option to many of the people I graduated with, because they are forced to work jobs that pay enough to pay off their accumulated debt.

While many of colleagues may not have chosen this career path anyway, it is unfortunate that it is not even a viable option for them. One cannot help but note the irony of many people my age being unable to fight the status quo because they are so heavily indebted to companies that want to preserve it.

The costs of education have continued to rise in this country, and government assistance has fallen heavily. Over the last few decades the amount of tuition costs paid for by Pell grants for students in need of financial assistance has dramatically declined from covering over 60% to below 30% of students. In 1997, amendments added to the Higher Education Act deregulated the student loan business and made it possible for lenders to charge huge interest rates and massive default penalties fees. Companies are now able to forbid refinancing and use of bankruptcy protections for debtors. Worse, they are now able to garnish wages and social security, as well as prevent debtors from obtaining professional certifications and use their influence to terminate debtors employment. Sally Mae and other companies are able to see to it that their debtors are unable to pay off their loans and accumulate enormous amounts of interest — and of course they have spent millions of dollars lobbying and donating to the campaigns of their allies in congress like House Minority Leader John Boehner and Senator Mike Enzi.

Much like the sub prime loans that led to the mortgage crisis last year, these loans are sold to incoming students as being much more affordable then they are in reality. They are not warned of the astronomical amounts of interests that these loans often accumulate, or how quickly interest rates can jump. Defaulted students loans have become a huge industry and this legalized loan-sharking has made the executives and share holders at Sally Mae and other lending companies very well off. Unfortunately this boon to their fortunes has done considerable harm to our current generation of college graduates and our country’s ability to compete in the world economy.

The Disappointed Environmentalist

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Southwestern University may be a small campus unbeknown to most, yet, this university has big plans for becoming a leader of sustainability in the state of Texas. Only about 1,300 students call Southwestern home, and roughly 60 members of the student body are involved in the university’s environmental organization, Students for Environmental Activism and Knowledge (SEAK). Since SEAK’s genesis a few years back, it has been SEAK’s long-existing goal for Southwestern University’s president to sign onto the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment. This past ambition finally became a reality for Southwestern this past Tuesday, February 10, 2008, when President Jake Schrum signed the Commitment.

Southwestern University is now amongst the 600 other colleges and universities that have signed onto this agreement throughout the United States. Furthermore, Southwestern’s cooperation with the PCC makes it: the 18th college in Texas to sign the PCC, the only other college in Central Texas (Houston-Tillotson is the other)to also sign the PCC, and the one of two universities that has signed both the PCC and Talloires (“Tal-wahr”) Declaration–an international initiative related to sustainability in higher education.

Specifically, President Schrum’s pledge to the PCC entails that he must:

* Complete an emissions inventory.
* Within two years, set a target date and interim milestones for becoming climate neutral. This means either emitting no greenhouse gases, or offsetting emissions through energy credits and other methods.

* Take immediate steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by choosing from a list of short-term actions.
* Integrate sustainability into the curriculum and make it part of the educational experience.
* Make the action plan, inventory and progress reports publicly available.

The recent signing took place at the University’s Roy and Margaret Shilling Lecture series, where environmental and political activist, Wangari Maathai, served as the guest speaker. wangari_maathaiWangari Maathai currently hails from Nairobi, Kenya. In 2004, she became the first African American woman to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. She was honored for her “contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace”. Most of her environmental efforts were concentrated in Africa’s Green Belt Movement, which she founded in 1977. More recently, between the years of 2003-2005, she was an elected member of Parliament and served as the Assistant Minister of Environment and Natural Resources under the government of President Mwai Kibaki of seakKenya.

After an hour long lecture on her past involvements and future hopes concerning the environment, she congratulated the University on it’s efforts to build a sustainable future in world “periled with climate challenges. “I want the whole world to copy your actions at Southwestern University,” she said.

For more information about Wangari Maathai, check out this video which highlights her work from her 2008 documentary, “Taking Root”: <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5GX6JktJZg>

Beyond Southwestern’s recent initiative to sign onto the PCC, the campus has also made many efforts to become the most sustainable campus it can be by implementing the following features:

* A “Civic Engagement/Green Hall” opened in the new Dorothy Manning Lord Residential Center in fall 2007.
* The new Wilhelmina Cullen Admission Building was designed to be a green building, and Southwestern has applied for the building to become certified under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program. The building was designed with the goal of Gold LEED certification, the second highest possible certification.
* The Center for Lifelong Learning, which is currently under construction, was also designed to be a “green” building.
* Southwestern students have organized two environmental summits for area high school students.
* Students have been given consecutive grants to attend the national Powershift Conference in Washington DC and are consistent participants in ReEngerize Texas.
* The university has made recycling bins available in all campus offices. Both paper, plastic and aluminum cans are now recycled.
* Southwestern students, faculty and staff members are constructing an organic community garden behind the Studio Arts Building this semester.
* Compost piles for food waste also have been set up near the community garden.
* When Herman Brown and Moody-Shearn Residence Halls were renovated in summer 2008, the old fixtures and furniture was picked up by an organization that could recycle them.
* The custodial staff is phasing in the use of all green cleaning products.
* Students have been working with the Sodexo staff to have the Commons go “trayless.”

As a student of Southwestern and member of SEAK, I speak from experience when I say that it is no easy task to make sustainability a number one priority on such a small campus. I feel assured that most smaller schools in America have environmental groups on campus, or at least a few students who are interested in bringing sustainability to their campus. My advice to all of you is to organize and incite some environmental action on your campus as best as possible! It’s never an easy task when it’s just a few students, but there are so many possibilities to become involved in progressive environmental action. Attending local conferences, organizing environmentally-themed parties/mixers, talking to your campus president about your school’s environmental policies, gardening, or even just starting a environmental club on campus are just a few initial steps a small campus can take to gain green recognition amongst the student body.

Kudos to Southwestern and all other universities around the world working to create sustainable learning institutions that will positively benefit the environment we all share!

On behalf of Public Citizen Texas and Southwestern University,

Melissa Dison

Southwestern University c/o 2011

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