College students have sincerity. It's a little quality noticeably absent from Internet discourse on everything from politics to celebrities to run-of-the-mill idiot bashing. College kids are often disregarded by candidates and mainstream news outlets for the same reason: They aren't expected to have any actual impact, and their issues of concern are considered unlikely to travel beyond the confines of their campuses. The Millennials deserve a pat on the head, but it's the Boomers who really matter.
Whether as a journalist, a blog reader, a talk show radio listener or a city dweller, you get used to this rather high level of cynicism. So it was with some sense of detachment that I approached the Powershift 2007 conference at the University of Maryland two weeks ago (November 2 to 5). Honestly? I would have expected a lot of students to attend simply to party somewhere new for the weekend; to make friends, escape embarrassing hook-ups, or find new connections for pot. Not, I guessed, to actually learn.
But I met student after student who cared passionately about climate change. Student after student who could talk at length about why we need to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, without making "clean coal" part of the mix. Kids had traveled from across the country to attend this conference, listen to speakers, attend workshops and petition their Congresspeople, and the most potent thing they drank were enormous cups of coffee. (If there was any sign of hedonism, it was in the multiple coffee joints, one of them a Starbucks, that surrounded the UM building where the conference was held.)
Campus Role Models
At one of the many workshops scattered around campus that Sunday, a room was packed with students learning how to bring solar technology to their campuses, following a model by student organizers at the University of Colorado. It was titled "Anatomy of a Victory: How CoPIRG Students Brought the Fifth Largest Campus Solar Project in the Country to Denver." Through student chapters of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group (CoPIRG), these students had developed the largest solar energy project on a college campus outside of California. CoPIRG campus organizer Cory Nadler had dark curls and a short, thick beard and wore both a Campus Climate Challenge T-shirt and a "Stop Global Warming" wristband. He talked enthusiastically about how many kilowatt hours of electricity were...