What does the 2012 Election Mean for Campus Sustainability?

As part of Johnson County Community College’s Sustainability Webinar series, NWF’s Senior Vice President for Conservation and Education, Jeremy Symons, addressed a virtual crowd of over 50 people regarding the impact of the 2012 election on campus sustainability yesterday afternoon.

Symons identified October’s Superstorm Sandy as a “turning point” in how people are registering climate change in the national political dialogue, and referenced a Zogby poll of voters, taken November 7th, in which it is reported that 65% of voters believe elected officials should take action to mitigate climate change for future generations. But it’s not just voters advocating for legislation and calling attention to climate change and its effects. Symons referenced a new World Bank report, Turn Down the Heat:  Why a 4°C Warmer World Must Be Avoided–a call to immediate action to reduce carbon emissions from an institution that has not, historically, “been a leader of environmental consciousness.”

Audience at Symons’s University of Mary Washington presentation earlier this month. Photo credit Julian Keniry, NWF.
More to the point:  people who don’t usually “get it,” are–we need leaders to move us away from carbon-emitting, planet-warming fossil fuelsand toward a society based on clean, renewable energy sources.

So, what can students do, and what role do colleges and universities play in this transition? Symons cited the strong turnout of young voters on November 6th as an important step, and encouraged that bloc to continue to let their legislators know that clean energy is an important issue to them. He discussed student activism around the Keystone XL pipeline, as well as the value in students gaining hands-on sustainability skills in the classroom, and carrying those skills through to the workforce. Symons lauded the leadership of the higher education sector, as campuses, more often than not, are models of sustainability inside and out–prime examples of efficient, low-impact and low-cost operations.

Jeremy Symons’s inspiring presentation was follwed by comments from Scott Sleisinger of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who reinforced the fact that this past election, the power of the people proved stronger than corporate polluter dollars (10 of the “Dirty Dozen” were defeated, and all 18 of the NWF Action Fund-endorsed candidates won their races), a trend Sleisinger says shows the waning power, politically and otherwise, of the fossil fuel industry. However, Sleisinger pointed out that we need to continue to pressure Congress to vote for clean energy, especially about the Production Tax Credit for Renewable Energy.

A closing message from the webinar emphasized setting our sights high–on eliminating carbon pollution for a healthier planet, building and supporting that infrastructure now, for the long-term, rather than continuing to support industries that are only profitable in the short term.

In reference to the title question of this blog, it may be more telling to draw the connection a different way, instead asking, “What effect does campus sustainability have on elections?” Students, faculty, staff and administrators are greening campuses more than ever before, and will continue to demand the same sustainability initiatives and standards in the workforce and in government.

Read about Jeremy Symons’s visit to University of Mary Washington earlier this month, where he helped students connect the dots among Superstorm Sandy, energy and the future.

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