Kicking off the National Teach-In at University of Maryland

NWF   |   February 4, 2009

TeachIn at UMD 003
Five minutes before the meeting started, Scott Lupin, Director of the Office of Sustainability at UMD, could already see that more chairs would be needed. The room was packed, and students were quickly dispatched to bring extra chairs for everyone crowded up against the wall.

Clean Energy UMD, a student club for climate neutrality in place at eight of the eleven University of Maryland campuses, had coordinated this spring semester kick-off meeting which would include a teach-in on climate change policy, the chance to write personal letters to Congress, a brainstorming session, some "climate calisthenics" to get everyone moving (shown above) and that beloved college staple: free pizza.

The purpose of the meeting made itself clear quickly. Speakers urged action on everything from emissions regulation in Maryland (through the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act) to signing up for lobby days at PowerShift later this spring and campaigning their own administrators for more energy-efficient buildings on campus. Matt Dernoga, an active student member of UMD Clean Energy, said, "What
was laughable two years ago is about to become a reality."

Eban Goodstein, speaking in the broadcast, drew a laugh
from the crowd when he said, “Thirty years from now, you won’t remember
the paper you
didn’t write. But you’ll remember the role you played in building a

The students in question were thoughtful and excited by turns. Several noted that the clean energy campaign wasn't purely about lobbying for emissions timetables (the darling of most climate change legislation).

"My vision is windmills on the horizon, and more specifically, I guess, not being at the mercy of gas and energy prices all the time. I don't want to go into a city and see people being disproportionately being affected by dirty air from coal plants and high prices. I see healthier people, a healthier planet, better jobs. It's all connected," said Hanna Poffenbarger. She added that she herself wants a green job when she graduates, and that she's looking at careers in sustainable agriculture.

The University of Maryland's National Teach-In event, which took place Monday night, was one of the first of more than 700 campus gatherings this week, with
students uniting under a common cause: finding solutions to the energy
and climate crisis that they feel affects their generation more than
others. Some schools were even able to set up video conferences with their Senate or House leaders.

Scott Lupin, who opened the meeting by telling the students that they have more power than administrators like himself to push clean energy on campus, believes that these national organizing events are worthwhile, but only the first step.

"To the extent they can, students should also take courses
or find internships to get real-world experience. They really need to learn to work
through existing political channels on campus. More important than
demonstrating is to get on committees, join advocacy groups and effect change
at their school," said Lupin. "This is a great time to be working in this field."