Working collaboratively towards what they see as a cleaner, greener future, youth activists of the California Student Sustainability Coalition (CSSC) assembled last Saturday at the group’s largest-ever meet-up in California to discuss ideas how, exactly, people can best impact their surrounding environments is positive ways.
Hosted by UCSB’s student government group, Associated Students, (AS) and the Environmental Affairs Board (EAB), nearly 300 students from across the state: from every University of California campus, many California State Universities, and multiple community colleges presented and participated in a three-part series of workshops ranging from topics such as “End the War, Build the Alternative” to “Food Systems & Leadership 101.” The all-day event included 100 percent vegan food provided by the Isla Vista Food Co-Op, a chance to pick up 100 percent biodegradable T-shirts, and an abundance of reading materials relating to green-living, activism, and, of course, CSSC.
The day began with an opening by Congresswoman Lois Capps. “It’s heartwarming to see more young people at our primaries,” Capps said. “We have enormous challenges ahead of us; we don’t have a long time to make a paradigm shift and pervade the way in which we live in the U.S.” The 23rd District Representative currently serves on the Committee on Energy and Commerce and the National Resources Committee, and champions H.R.6: Energy Independence Act, which aims to raise fuel economy standards by the year 2020. The former nurse reported that, on February 27, H.R. 5351: Renewable and Energy Conservation Tax Act passed 236-182 in the House. This act would amends Internal Revenue Code provisions relating to renewable energy sources and energy conservation and, according to Capps, cuts tax funds from being given to big oil and gas companies. “This subsequently will be used to invest into renewable energy and creates incentives for plug in hybrid cars, reduces out dependence on foreign oil and creates hundreds of new jobs,” said Capps. However, she reminded students, the bill still needs to pass in Senate, and encouraged students to become vehicles for change, repeatedly asking them repeatedly to run for Congress to ensure Bills like H.R. 5351 pass in legislation. The congresswoman also called for more “green-collar” jobs, more recycling programs, and more awareness within the community about how to treat the planet. To achieve true economic and social justice, we must recognize the interconnectedness between people and the environment,” Capps said. “We must not only care for the lives of people around the world but the ecosystems which sustain those lives. For those with convictions for social and economic justice, we must care.”
Capps said she was astounded by the number of students present, and confident in the convergence to mobilize change. Statewide Organizing Director Nico Linesch said the enormous presence of students today would not exist had CSSC not gone through their “transition year” in which the group defined its purpose. Saturday’s conferences represented a culmination, of sorts, of all the group’s reorganization. “We established roles and held conference calls [thereafter] to maintain contact. The Doctrine is big and set the precedent for years to come.” Linesch said. “The turnout [today] blows us away; people are responding well. This is some people’s first exposure to CSSC.” However, the initial group didn’t begin out of thin air and multiply into what is now a nearly 3 million person coalition, said co-founder Jay Cabrera. CSSC formed as a byproduct of Greenpeace. “Christian Casper was hired through Greenpeace to spread their Clean Energy Now campaign. He first went to Los Angeles-area community colleges as a practice round, and passed, and moved onto UCs in the summer of 2002,” Cabrera explained. According to Cabrera, Casper found five representatives from campus organizations to fly to Reno for the Global Solar Conference, which consequently began the UC Go Solar campaign. The group successfully passed the policy in July 2003, and Greenpeace moved on, taking its campaign to the state schools, then the nation as a whole.
However, having tasted success, the group yearned to make greater changes, Cabrera continued. “We as a coalition came together, got advisors and built up into a student run, student initiated organization; Greenpeace didn’t plan on this coalition. We did it for 5 years without money and had 8 more policies passed for green building, renewable energy, better waste management and transportation, and climate change,” said Cabrera “We made massive comprehensive policies, and united all the UCs, CSUs, and now Community Colleges; this is a nationwide movement.”
Now funded by Earth Island Institute, CSSC will hosts two key organizations – the Association of Schools and Colleges (ASSHE) and the California Sustainability Conference – to work towards making sustainability the focus of higher education institutes. Lanesch said he was excited to see so many new participants, including ten schools from Berkeley. “Our goal is for them to take away tangible ways they can plug in; we can support their local chapter to grow, but not start. We don’t start chapters; we empower them to participate in the larger group,” Linesch said. “It started within the UC, then the other systems – CSUs and community colleges – got involved, and now there’s just under three million students, two million of which are feeding into other systems; that’s something new this year, and is a direct result of that transition year.”
Linesch also said that while the CSSC’s focus is higher education, the group has one junior member: 13-year-old Ventura native Alec Loorz, who helped organize a group titled Kids vs. Global Warming. Loorz explained the group as being “focused on educating the youth on the science of global warming, and empowering kids to take action.” Loorz said he was inspired after seeing the Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth. “I saw Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and was inspired. I got in an argument with my friend the next day, who didn’t believe global warming was real. I made a short presentation to prove him wrong; I knew I needed to do something about it: [Now] I give presentations and make videos about global warming, and am part of the Sea Level Awareness Project (SLAP) which warns of future sea levels rising.”
CSSC is expected to participate in the UC/CSU/CCC Sustainability Conference between July 31 and August 3 in Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, at which students and administrators will work in solidarity to create and implement green plans. Interested individuals are welcome to visit sustainability.calpoly.edu for more information.