Scaling America’s ivory towers

College students and environmental activism.  They go together like football games and cheerleaders, dorm rooms and empty pizza boxes, or all-night cram sessions and final exams.

But what about when those campus eco-activists are promoting oil drilling in ANWR, supporting genetically modified foods, or marching in the streets to oppose the Kyoto global warming treaty outside a major United Nations conference in Germany?

A bit of a strange twist?  Maybe.  But don’t tell that to the fresh-faced activists who make up the ranks of a new and growing student environmental organization called Collegians For A Constructive Tomorrow, an offshoot of the Washington-based national CFACT.  Already off the ground in eight states, the group is now gearing up for a new academic year, and hopes to make old Green-style environmentalism an endangered species on America’s college campuses nationwide.

“For the past three decades, environmentalism has been dominated by the view that people are pollution, that we need to be suspicious of every technology that’s important to industrialized society, and that government regulation is the solution to every problem,” commented Courtney Forsell, a senior at Baylor University in Texas who is helping to organize a CFACT chapter on her campus.

“But that kind of alarmist environmentalism is old hat.  Today, students are increasingly realizing that CFACT’s optimistic message of bold progress coupled with wise and genuine stewardship is the best hope for people and the planet.” she added.

CFACT’s campus group deals with many of the same issues as traditional environmental organizations like air and water quality, food and energy production, and the protection of threatened species. But it first insists that so-called consumer and environmental ‘problems’ be rigorously verified to ensure they are based on sound science, not press release advocacy.  And then, it operates with the premise that real public-interest challenges can best be met and overcome — not by excessive government bureaucracy � but through the power of science, technology, and entrepreneurship all unleashed by expanded political and economic freedom.

“Take global warming, for example,” notes Duggan Flanakin, director of the Collegians South Central region. “Over 17,000 scientists have signed the Oregon Petition saying there is no convincing evidence of man-made climate change.  Yet most environmental groups support severe Kyoto-style reductions in energy use that would exacerbate the world’s Number One environmental problem — poverty.”

“Another prime example is the devastation caused in forests by the perverse notions of forest management carried out by some environmentalists who worked in the U.S. Forest Service during the Clinton Administration.  As evidenced by recent huge and costly fires in the Western U.S., their policies are still causing major damage to the our economy – and to our environment.”

From the campuses to around the globe

Like most issue groups on campus, CFACT members can be found sponsoring lectures and debates, handing out fact sheets in the student center, and talking to fellow classmates about their mission.  But the Collegians are also taking a hands-on approach to environmental matters from their local communities all the way up to the international stage.

The Collegians chapter at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, for example, recently adopted a portion of the Mississippi River that runs past campus and cleaned more than 500 pounds of trash off of its banks.  Fellow Collegians to the north, in Duluth, visited beautiful Hawk Ridge to learn about the migratory patterns of raptors.  And at the University of Washington in Seattle, CFACT students celebrated Earth Day by planting new trees around campus.

It’s CFACT’s forays at the international level, however, that have been getting the most attention.  In July 2001, some three dozen Collegians activists from campuses across America traveled to Washington, D.C., for scientific and economic briefings at the White House and on Capitol Hill, then heard from more experts in London and Brussels, and capped it off with a two-day protest supporting President Bush’s opposition to the Kyoto global warming treaty outside a U.N. climate change conference in Bonn, Germany.  The protest grabbed international headlines with coverage by Reuters, the BBC, USA Today, and hundreds of other outlets, and prompted Greenpeace activists to challenge the CFACT students to a debate, which they gladly accepted.

In 2002, a CFACT ‘Freedom Safari’ took student leaders to a U.N. mega-summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg, South Africa.  There, as an accredited non-governmental organization, they took part in discussions with delegates and media from around the world, and helped stage a well-reported protest of some 600 local vendors, farmers, and other developing against the U.N.’s “Agenda 21” sustainable development plan.  Of course, they also found time for a wildlife excursion and visit to a diamond mine, to round out their South African adventure.

Last September, Collegians activists attended the World Trade Organization’s Fifth Ministerial Meeting in Cancun, Mexico.  That meeting provided many opportunities for the students to address such hot international issues as genetically modified foods, global warming, and clean water.  The group also helped lead an international coalition of free-market groups in handing out two tons of genetically modified food, purchased from local grocery stores,  to the very impoverished Mexican village of Valle Verde.  The event drew enormous press coverage around the world.

Look for Collegians to continue changing the face of  student environmental activism wherever the group is found.

More information about the Collegians program can be found at www.cfactcampus.org

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CFACT defends the environment and human welfare through facts, news, and analysis.