Climate advocacy on campus and beyond
By Emma Dickinson
CCL’s environmental advocacy does not just occur in chapter meetings and lobbying sessions—it also has a happy home on many college campuses. In an effort to bring young people and students to the table as advocates for carbon pricing, CCL volunteer Clara Fang formed the Higher Education Action Team in February 2016. The action team soon began partnering with Oregon Climate Fellows, which became Our Climate, to build a grassroots environmental movement for carbon pricing among the younger generation.
“Universities have the advantage in that they are self-contained institutions with strong internal networks,” says Fang. “By engaging a few champions, you can get a whole campus activated in a short time. Universities also have the advantage in that they have a lot of smart people who understand or are even expert in the issues, are good writers, and are respected members of their communities. They are, in many ways, ideal advocates.”
Student empowerment & presidential endorsement
Every higher education institution, whether it is a liberal arts college or a research university, has a different idea of how sustainability looks for their campus, but for the most part, advocacy for climate policies and carbon pricing are new concepts. Fang and her team are looking to change that.
Through its partnership with Our Climate and their Put A Price On It campaign, the action team seeks to engage students and teach them about civic engagement and leadership at the same time. Our Climate provides training, resources, and peer support so that students do not need to reinvent the wheel when starting a carbon pricing campaign. A Campus Climate Action Toolkit is available on the website and provides a step-by-step process to starting a carbon pricing campaign—starting with organizing interested members on campus to gaining endorsements from local politicians and even campus presidents.
One example of success in that effort is President David Oxtoby of Pomona College, who not only endorsed a carbon price, but wrote an article in the Huffington Post about it. “Finding workable solutions is imperative and I believe there are actions we can take, among them passing legislation to put a price on carbon pollution,” he wrote. Swarthmore College and Dickinson College have also endorsed a carbon price, and with the help of students, more will follow. The goal for the action team is 600 endorsements from university presidents around the United States by the end of 2017.
The Higher Education Action Team also advocates through outreach at conferences and community events. At the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education annual conference in October of 2016, members of the Higher Education Action Team gave talks on internal carbon pricing and advocacy. In November, Clara Fang gave the keynote speech at The New York State Sustainability Conference on climate advocacy in higher education. Leaders from the CCL Columbia County Chapter also led a workshop and a table to get attendees involved with the Hudson Valley, Columbia County and Albany CCL chapters.
In December, Clara Fang and Page Atcheson, Executive Director of Our Climate, helped to facilitate a three-day workshop at Bard College on environmental leadership for college students and recent graduates from all over the United States. In 2017, members plan to present at the Second Nature Presidential Climate Leadership Summit, the Association of Environmental Science and Studies Conference, and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education Conference.
In addition to endorsements and outreach, the Higher Education Team plans to elevate the visibility of the Put a Price on It campaign in 2017. They are planning on getting students to the People’s Climate March in DC in April, deliver highly visible actions, and get students involved in lobbying with CCL chapters in the community. They are also working with the Pennsylvania Environmental Resource Consortium to plan a press conference and lobby day in Harrisburg, PA where they hope to deliver a large number of endorsements from colleges and universities in Pennsylvania in support of a state carbon tax.
Including students and non-students alike
Citizens’ Climate Education maintains a database of free tools for students and non-students alike to educate themselves and others about climate change and climate action. With everything from laser talks and economic analyses to live, instructor-led classes like Climate Science 101, you can enjoy your own virtual, climate-focused classroom.
Our Climate is a great place to start if you are a student wishing to participate,as they offer fellowships, a field representative program, and more. Adapting the CCL model to students’ busy schedules, Our Climate connects you to peer support and resources for organizing. Students can choose any level of involvement, from fellowships that require about 10 hours a week, to just being part of the Facebook page. Contact Tom Erb to talk about how you can help grow the movement to put a price on carbon.
And if you’re not a student, you still have an important place in CCL’s Higher Education Action Group. In fact, the Higher Education Action Team is primarily focused on working with non-student volunteers. “Non-students are very important in our effort to engage higher education,” Fang says. “Faculty, staff and other campus members are important allies when it comes to reaching administrators, providing crucial support to students, and ensuring continuity. CCL volunteers who are not a part of higher education can be involved as local chapters supporting campus chapters, doing outreach on college campuses, and being advisors.”
Fant says, “Higher education can empower the next generation to be engaged citizens, leaders and entrepreneurs in creating a just and sustainable world.” Contact the Higher Ed Action Team today to help spark action and advocacy in the next generation.
Emma Dickinson is a high school senior living and volunteering for CCL in Atlanta, Ga. After high school, she plans to study ecology, sustainability, and French horn performance at university.