Saturday, February 28, 2009

Climate Action in the Heart of Oil Country

by Colette Cosner

I spent the morning with Ursula James, a Southwestern University sophomore who was still beaming from a recent campus victory. Ursula and her fellow activists in the group Students for Environmental Activism and Knowledge recently won a campaign to get their school to sign the President's Climate Commitment, pledging to reduce the school's emissions to zero. (No small achievement in what she described as the "heart of oil land.") The pledge was signed alongside Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, whom the students had brought to the campus in Georgetown, Texas that week to talk about the Green Belt Movement.

Ursula, already a passionate youth climate activist, learned about the President's Climate Commitment at a Sierra Student Coalition training. The two-year campaign transitioned with Ursula from high school to college, featuring awareness-raising events like the dorm energy-reduction challenge. Residential students competed to reduce their energy use and cut their emissions by 15%. "I think a frat house actually won," Ursula chuckled, "--they didn't shower for weeks." Her university also participated in Power Vote, getting over 50% of the student body to vote for elected officials who support clean energy initiatives.

What struck me the most about Ursula's campaign was her persistence. Again and again, Power Shift '09 panelists and speakers have emphasized the need to directly engage with those in power, especially on the local level. Ursula not only fought for several meetings with her school's president, but also with the Mayor of her city, culminating in a co-authored article about the importance of becoming a "Cool City" (investing in clean energy and efficiency projects to reduce pollution).

Ursula has a long list of accomplishments for such a young person, but her focus is on the future. She is confident that the climate movement's recent victories are just the beginning and she has no intention of resting now.

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