Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Students hear call to organize, activate in Earth Day events

students planting

DU students help plant a permaculture garden as part of the University's Earth Day festivities.

The message was clear at the University of Denver’s Earth Day Summit: You can do this (and you really don’t have a choice).

Scores of University of Denver students assembled April 22 to recognize the 40th anniversary of Earth Day and learn about what can be done to save the planet they will one day help run.

The summit, with its slogan “Acting locally, thinking globally,” attracted leading government and activist speakers, including an actual rock star, who challenged students to do something now, no matter how small. In between presentations, students broke into smaller sessions for small group discussions with business, civic and government authorities on what’s going on now in the world to reduce emissions and live more sustainably.

James “Jonny 5” Laurie, a rapper with the nationally-known rock band Flobots, presented the summit’s keynote address, focusing on the band’s social activist role. The Flobots run programs through a Denver studio that encourages young people to both express themselves through music and energize them to get active in their community.

Laurie challenged DU students to think about “sustainability” beyond the parameters of environmentalism and instead envision a global future where all people are connected and dedicated to the common good, from protecting the environment to ensuring everyone can exist without thriving at the expense of others.

“The whole world is now tied up, all of our lives are now intertwined,” Laurie said. “It’s a bigger issue than environmentalism.”

Andrew Romanoff (JD ’08), a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, said sustainability in its many forms should be atop the nation’s and the state’s political agenda. Alternative energy sources can strengthen the country’s national security, create job and keep the United States a leader in technology innovation, he said.

“There’s no reason America has to take a back seat to our competitors,” he said. “There’s no reason this country and this state cannot be leaders in this field.”

Alice Madden, climate change coordinator for the Colorado governor’s office, said Colorado ranks sixth in the country in solar energy generation potential and third in geothermal energy potential. Relying more on cleaner energy, from geothermal to wind, isn’t just a nice thing to do, it’s vital to Colorado’s economy, she said.

Pointing to increasingly volatile weather she said is linked to emissions-based climate change, she noted just in the past year the record snowfall in the mid-Atlantic states, record freezes in Florida and the absence of snow at the winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Closer to home, climate change can lead to economic disaster for ski resorts, a bloom in insects and diseases that damage the states forests and fishing and longer, more severe droughts that will impact farmers and severely limit water available for residential and industrial development.

“This is your planet,” she said. “There is no Planet B.”

Madden challenged students to get involved by limiting their energy consumption and pressing businesses they patronize to do things such as eliminating plastic grocery bags or excessive packaging.

The event was designed to be zero waste. Meals were vegetarian, produced with locally grown organic foods, and leftovers were composted and all other waste recycled.

Co-organizer Megan Marshall, a freshman public policy major, said the idea came out of discussions in January with student sustainability groups. After exploring the idea of inviting speakers to campus on different days throughout April, she and fellow students hit on the idea of putting together a one-day summit. Starting in January, the team worked to assemble speakers and sponsors in a short time.

Sponsors included numerous DU organizations as well as Campus Cycles, Earth Era,, the Governor’s Energy Office, SolNe and Xcel Energy.

At the conclusion, students dedicated a new permaculture garden behind the SIÉ CHÉOU-KANG Center for International Security and Diplomacy. The garden, which will be tended by students and volunteers, will demonstrate techniques for growing food in a sustainable, organic way, without depending on chemicals.

Volunteers are still needed to help plant more than 40 seedlings in the garden. Student Erin Hough will coordinate volunteers.

Chancellor Robert Coombe applauded the summit and said DU’s involvement goes back to the first Earth Day, which inspired the school to create environmental science programs in the year after that inaugural event.

“All of this is driven by students,” Coombe said. “It really is a community movement. It makes us stronger and bonds us together in so many ways.”

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