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  Sierra Magazine
  November/December 2007
Table of Contents
Go Big Green
10 That Get It
Talk of the Quad
Hot Jobs for a Warming Planet
City Kids Unplugged
Editor's Note
Ways & Means
One Small Step
Lay of the Land
Good Going
The Green Life
Hey Mr. Green
Sierra Club Bulletin
Sierra Archives
About Sierra
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Talk of the Quad
November/December 2007

Student, Teach Thyself | OurSpace | Holy Change Agents | Planting a Seed | The World Is Their Classroom | A League of Their Own | Goin' Mobile | Grads for Good | The Eco-Test | Top of the Profs | Bookmark This | Read All About It

Looking for cool ideas? Start here.

The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor provides recycling facilities at its football stadium, one of the few Big Ten schools to do so.

Some campus police officers at the University of Miami patrol on battery-powered Segways.

Princeton's dining halls serve mainly seafood that meets the Monterey Bay Aquarium's criteria for sustainable fisheries.

A filling station at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, dispenses biodiesel fuel.

Murray State University in Kentucky expects to save at least $20,000 annually by replacing individually packaged condiments, milk, and yogurt with bulk dispensers.

Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon, has reduced its annual use of pesticides from 650 to 9 pounds.

Students at St. Mary's College of Maryland can hop on a reconditioned bike and ride around campus for free.

An energy and water upgrade at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 15,000 tons a year.

All campus cafes at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho, serve fair-trade-certified coffee.

Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge has agreed to close the nine major roads into the campus to most automobile traffic.

Recycled wood chips fire a pizza oven at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Students at the College of New Jersey in Ewing get dinged a nickel a sheet for exceeding their per-semester allocation of 600 pages in the school computer lab, a policy that has decreased paper use by 41 percent.

St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, is pioneering the use of water-based, nontoxic chemicals in lab experiments.

See all the bright ideas

Student, Teach Thyself

Future investment bankers, dancers, and biologists may not seem to have much in common, but simply inhabiting the same planet was enough to get these diverse students enrolled in one class.

With concerns mounting that college education encourages academic tunnel vision, a group of Cornell University graduate students and professors created a multidisciplinary course called "The State of the Planet" last January. Made up of 250 students spanning 45 majors, the class aimed to engage participants in environmental issues and emphasize that solutions must draw on all of their specialized educations.

Along with lectures by about 30 speakers, including English professors and nuclear physicists, students took on "action projects" outside the classroom. Some educated locals on green building; another got every person in class to donate $3 toward offsetting the program's emissions.

While "The State of the Planet" cast a wide net, UC Berkeley's long-running student-initiated courses such as "The Joy of Garbage" and "Energy 101" dig deep into their respective subjects. Organizers hope such classes will eventually become academic requirements.

"Students need to know that the environment isn't a crisis," says Marie Nydam, one of the graduate students behind the Cornell class. "It's the crisis." —Heather Mack


With 75 percent of college students now using, tapping into social-networking Web sites seems like a big "duh" for the collegiate grassroots organizer. But until recently, environmental activism on Facebook and MySpace was limited to pledging allegiance to an online group of like-minded people.

Alessandro Acquisti, a social-networking researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, thinks these sites sometimes create flimsy bonds based on little more than a URL, which might hinder grassroots organizing. Especially on the larger sites that lack a shared interest, he questions "whether that is a good community for activism."

Two innovations for the popular sites may change all that. Causes, an application built for Facebook users by Berkeley, California–based Project Agape, seeks to add altruism to the social-networking experience. Facebook's 30 million members can utilize the program to publicize causes close to their hearts, recruit friends to join, and donate to almost any 501(c)(3)-registered nonprofit. In its first three months, the application generated close to $400,000 from its nearly 4 million users, with the most popular causes (the emotionally charged issues of global warming, breast cancer, and dogfighting) getting top billing.

Similarly, the new application for MySpace helps people track and reduce their carbon footprint. Cocreator Jen Mankoff says she hopes to link the program to global-positioning system chips in cell phones to track users' commutes and to utility bills to track energy usage. A beta version of the application debuted this fall; a Facebook version should be available by January. —Peter Frick-Wright

Holy Change Agents

Armageddon may well be nigh, but plenty of Christian students are eager to save the planet in the interim. Along with energy-efficient buildings and recycling programs, evangelical universities are adding classes for an emerging core of believers who view environmental stewardship, or "creation care," as a key tenet of their faith.

"It's a pretty exciting time," says Daniel Brunner, who teaches a "Christianity and Earthkeeping" class at George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Newberg, Oregon. "Evangelicals are recognizing that they are being stereotyped as Earth haters and Earth destroyers. And there's a not-insignificant movement to change that."

Brunner's class addresses issues such as the proclamation of humans' "dominion" over the earth in Genesis and why Christians should take care of a planet they believe will ultimately be annihilated by fire. "The class was split as to whether the earth would be destroyed," Brunner says, "but they all agreed that the Christian community must take responsibility for stewarding it."

How have these words been made manifest? Eastern University, a Christian college in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, purchases 100 percent wind energy, and Indiana's Goshen College installed wind turbines that power an extension campus. —Peter Frick-Wright

Restoring Eden's campus clubs work to unite the environmental and Christian communities.

Planting a Seed

What if everything you needed to know about climate change you learned in middle school? College programs are reaching out to younger students and expanding ecological instruction beyond "the root grows down and the plant grows up" to lessons about sustainability and the environment.

A group from UC Davis recently took over science classes for a day at a local junior high school to show students some factors that influence their environmental impact. "One of the things that surprised the kids more than anything was how their food choices could affect their carbon footprint," says university staffer Amy King.

Beginning with a few rounds of Jeopardy-style questions to pique their curiosity, the Davis team then pulled out a computer model of the carbon dioxide emissions caused by students' transportation to and from school. "They all really want to drive and can't wait to be able to," King says. "We want to show them why they might choose not to, even when they can." —Peter Frick-Wright

The World Is Their Classroom

Conservation-minded college students no longer have to choose between time spent in the classroom and in the great outdoors. Coast to coast, universities are beefing up their hands-on environmental offerings, giving undergraduates opportunities to earn course credit for exploring the natural world as well as the impacts of various human activities. "We're going to do the best job preserving the environment when we have the fullest understanding of the underlying science," says Russell McDuff, director of the School of Oceanography at the University of Washington. His Seattle-based program offers students the chance to explore nearby Puget Sound and sail on deep-sea research vessels.

Other schools take a more interdisciplinary approach, combining regional history and literature with ecology and the biological sciences. The yearlong Wilderness and Civilization Program at the University of Montana in Missoula is bookended by ten-day backpacking and canoeing trips. Students bone up on landscape and cultural issues in the Rockies by meeting with loggers, land managers, and activists. In upstate New York, St. Lawrence University students live in yurts for a semester, learning about natural history, land use, and recreation ethics in the heart of the Adirondacks. —Dan Oko

A League of Their Own

"I was determined to know beans," Henry David Thoreau wrote of his effort to make sense of the world by cultivating a small garden. His words would make a good motto for students attending one of the member schools of the Eco League—the United States' only environmentally themed consortium of colleges.

Founded in 2003, the Eco League consists of five small liberal arts institutions (Alaska Pacific University, College of the Atlantic, Green Mountain College, Northland College, and Prescott College) spread from Alaska to Maine but unified by an emphasis on environmental learning and hands-on experience. On any given day, students at Eco League schools might be on "lamb watch" at a farm, reading Silent Spring, or canoeing on the Yukon River for a senior project. Students can also explore different ecosystems by spending up to two semesters at other schools in the consortium.

"We're still turning out future teachers, lawyers, and leaders, like any college," says Tim Robison, director of admissions at Prescott College in Arizona. "But we also want our students to have a deep understanding of what it takes to create sustainable communities." In other words, graduates who know books and beans. To find more information, visit —Michael Parks

Goin' Mobile

Last summer 11 students from Dartmouth College rolled across the country in a retired school bus, leaving behind the fragrant scent of Chinese takeout, french fries, or doughnuts, depending on where their waste-vegetable-
oil-powered vehicle last "greased up."

Their 12,000-mile, 45-city trek was the Big Green Bus's third voyage, an annual tour to spread the gospel of alternative fuel at every opportunity. This year's crew manned a water station at the San Francisco Marathon, discussed greener public transportation options with North Carolina senators, and wowed kids in Plano, Texas, with the bus's interactive exhibits.

"We're not just speaking to our own generation," says Frances Vernon, a Dartmouth sophomore and bus crew member. "We're talking to little kids, our future leaders, and to their parents, our current leaders."

The Big Green Bus Web site ( gets weekly e-mails from students who want advice on starting their own cross-country class. And the alternatively fueled fever is spreading. The four members of BioTour (, a similar grassroots teaching project based in Massachusetts, have set out across the nation for a second time, filming a documentary about renewable energy while visiting paper mills fueled by wood waste and tiny farm communities powered by solar panels. —Heather Mack

Grads for Good

Unless you've got a trust fund, you've got to make a buck. But many students are unwilling to give up their ideals to do so. Some 200,000 seniors at more than 100 colleges have signed a Graduation Pledge of Social and Environmental Responsibility, initiated at California's Humboldt State University in 1987. Participants promise to consider sustainability along with salary at any job they're offered, and to work to improve the practices of any company that employs them. Their ranks are likely to keep multiplying: According to a recent survey by KeyBank, an educational loan provider, this year's freshman class is more concerned about the environment than the job market they'll face upon graduation. And with green business a growth industry, the ribbon pledgers wear at commencement may be just what recruiters are looking for. For more information, visit —Jennifer Hattam

The Eco-Test

See who's acing and flunking it:

  • Indiana University in Bloomington dropped all funding and administrative support for its Council on Environmental Stewardship last year (according to the Sustainable Endowments Institute).

  • In a referendum with the largest turnout in school history, students at the University of Memphis voted to raise their fees to pay for renewable energy.

  • Arizona State University in Tempe distributes free bus passes to every student, employee, and faculty member.

  • Princeton University is falling behind its Ivy League brethren with no investments in renewable energy (according to the Daily Princetonian).

  • A 1.65-megawatt wind turbine at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, generates enough power for 40 percent of the school's electricity needs.

Top of the Profs
An environmentalist's dream class schedule

"Introduction to Environmental Studies"
Hass, Robert
Analyze Aldo Leopold with the former U.S. poet laureate (UC Berkeley)
units: 4.0

"Ecological Design"
Orr, David
Learn about eco-literacy from the coiner of the term (Oberlin College)
units: 3.0

"International Environmental Law and Policy"
Speth, James Gustave "Gus"
Think globally with the former head of the UN Development Programme
(Yale University)
units: 3.0

"Organizing: People, Power, and Change"
Ganz, Marshall
The grassroots guru lectures on revitalizing democracy (Harvard University)
units: 1.0

"Landscape Photography"
Klett, Mark
Hone your craft with a former geologist known for his resurveys of the West (Arizona State University)
units: 3.0

"Seminar on Community Development"
Plater-Zyberk, Elizabeth
Rethink neighborhoods with a pioneer of "new urbanism" (University of Miami)
units: 3.0

"Evolution, Symbiosis, and Earth History"
Margulis, Lynn
Consider the big picture with the codeveloper of the modern Gaia hypothesis (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
units: 1.0 to 3.0

"Principles of Sustainable Management"
Lovins, L. Hunter
The former head of the Rocky Mountain Institute trains tomorrow's conscientious capitalists to think beyond the bottom line (Presidio School of Management)
units: 4.0

Bookmark This

Turn inspiration into action with these Web sites:

Read All About It
Articles and books for further study

"At Colleges, the Environment Is Hot" (Inside Higher Ed, October 24, 2006)
A report from an Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education conference.

"Being Julian" (Grist, November 13, 2006)
A Q&A with Julian Dautremont-Smith, associate director of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

Degrees That Matter: Climate Change and the University
By Ann Rappaport and Sarah Hammond Creighton (The MIT Press, 2007)
The leaders of the Tufts Climate Initiative draw on their college's experience tracking and reducing carbon dioxide emissions to explain the nuts and bolts of upgrading facilities, buying renewable energy, and incorporating climate action into class activities.

"Innovative Environmental Initiatives in the Big Ten"
(EJ Magazine, Spring 2007)
Students at Michigan State University assess their peers.

Planet U: Sustaining the World, Reinventing the University
By Michael M'Gonigle and Justine Starke (New Society Publishers, 2006)
After looking at the role universities have historically played in their communities, the authors, both from the University of Victoria in Canada, show how they can now lead the way to a sustainable society.

Sustainability on Campus: Stories and Strategies for Change
Edited by Peggy F. Barlett and Geoffrey W. Chase (The MIT Press, 2004)
Case studies from 18 colleges and universities that are rethinking the way they teach, build, and operate.

Transportation and Sustainable Campus Communities: Issues, Examples, Solutions
By Will Toor and Spenser W. Havlick (Island Press, 2004)
Get the nitty-gritty details on transportation and land-use planning, from expanding transit access to improving facilities for bicylists and pedestrians to discouraging driving.

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