Campus environmental groups seek support from students

Power Vote and USC CalPIRG have seen a dramatic spike in environmental interest

Steffi Lau, assistant city editor, diversity beat writer
Daily Trojan
September 24, 2008

As students walked to class Tuesday morning, the USC chapter of CalPIRG and Power Vote organizers kicked off a month-long initiative to gain student support for environmental protection.

The USC campaign is part of a nationwide initiative by Power Vote, an initiative by the Energy Action Coalition, to gain a voter bloc of a million young people who pledge to make environmental issues a top priority in this year's presidential election.

"Young people are more educated about clean energy and already strongly support it," said Emily Carroll, the California coordinator of Power Vote. "So it's really just a matter of getting them to pledge."

Power Vote is hitting 300 campuses nationwide, including eight in California, and has collected 150,000 votes so far, Carroll said.

At USC, CalPIRG and Power Vote are teaming up to reach a goal of 4,000 pledges from USC by the end of October.

By 2 p.m. Tuesday, volunteers were wrapping up the kickoff, having received 150 pledges, short of their goal of 250 pledges for the day.

"Some students are very aware of environmental issues, but there's also a lot of apathy on campus," said Shana Rappaport, CalPIRG director of campus climate change and a senior majoring in communication. "I think it's a problem with how global warming is presented as this big daunting problem that they don't feel they have capacity to change."

Carroll said her goal is to enlist the support of 1 million young people nationwide so that the voting bloc can use its broad coalition to steer the discussion of environmental issues.

"Having a youth voter bloc of 1 million is very powerful," she said. "That can make or break anyone's election."

Although Power Vote is a non-partisan group, the organization wants to ensure that the elected president remains committed to the environment.

As part of its platform, Power Vote promotes investment in millions of green jobs to improve the environment and the economy.

Another key issue, Rappaport said, is the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, a international treaty by the United Nations in which countries agree to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Though the United States is signed on to the Kyoto Protocol, not ratifying it means it is not bound to the treaty, making it the only developed nation to have not agreed to the treaty.

Mark Bernstein, managing director of the USC Energy Institute, said he believes this election year is unlike any other since he has seen so many young people weighing in on the environment.

"More students are active beyond campus environmental issues. You can just kind of feel it," he said.

Bernstein said he is excited that the energy and the environment have become such prominent issues, but that the widespread enthusiasm is probably based on the economy.

"The environment has always been a campaign issue, but it was not high on people's agendas," he said. "If the prices were low, people wouldn't care."

For Kristin Avila, a freshman from Sonora, Calif., an hour away from Yosemite, environmental issues have a special importance, especially with climate changes affecting her hometown.

"We live in the mountains, and each year we're getting less and less snow. We have water shortages and the lakes have less water every year," said Avila, a theater major who signed the pledge.

Avila said since she experiences modern environmental woes firsthand, she understands the sense of urgency with which she and her peers need to act.

She is grateful that so many of her friends have become politically active at such an early age, she said.

"We have more time to deal with the climate change problems than the older generation," Avila said. "But we also have more time to fix it."

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