COLUMN: Students attend World Summit

Posted 11:52 a.m. Sept. 27

by Sam Milton
U-WIRE (DC BUREAU)

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – A few weeks ago, world leaders, grassroots activists, scientists, students and others gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa, for the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

Much of the coverage that the summit received in the media focused on its shortcomings.

Indeed, there were many opportunities to criticize the Summit as yet another forum for heads of state and government, to make empty promises, as another wasted opportunity where many voices went unheard, and as a waste of global time and energy.

Nonetheless, as a conference attendee, I can attest to the fact that the general feel “on the ground” in Johannesburg was quite different than what was portrayed in the media back home. The thousands of people that had gathered at the Summit were there to discuss and implement action plans for some of the world’s most pressing issues including: reducing the number of people without access to sanitation by 2015 (currently 2.4 billion), reducing the number of people without access to modern energy services (currently 2 billion), and reducing the number of people who go hungry, amongst an array of other issues.

As one of 22 students in the Tufts University delegation, I had an opportunity to attend the World Summit and witness the passion that each of the participants brought to the forum. We attended many of the meetings, met delegates from across the globe, and interacted with people from different experiences, backgrounds, and with different agendas. While we learned that there is still a great deal of work to do before world leaders can agree on how governments might foster sustainability, we also found that there is there is plenty we can do at home to contribute to a sustainable world.

Universities have an unparalleled opportunity to seize upon the initiatives brought forth at the World Summit. By virtue of their unique status as places where thinkers and creators come together to develop innovative solutions to complex problems, they have a responsibility to take full advantage of the resources at their disposal. Universities also have the freedom to experiment where a government or business might not be able. Moreover, they can serve as an example to the rest of the community that great things can happen if there is the political and institutional will.

Many universities are already taking concrete steps to become more sustainable and reduce their impact on the global environment. Tufts University, for example, has pledged to meet or beat the Kyoto target for university-related greenhouse gas emissions. Students at Lewis & Clark College approved a proposal to raise annual student fees to help it meet Kyoto standards.

Even large public universities are taking initiatives to “green” their campus by instituting energy efficiency campaigns, purchasing clean energy and building super-efficient dormitories.

Universities can also play an instrumental role in contributing to a sustainable world by introducing courses, concentrations and majors on sustainable development.

If we fail to seize opportunities that reduce our ecological footprint, we will be compromising future generations. Universities have the technological know-how, general support of the student body, and funds for investing in the university infrastructure. Speaking as a college student, it is up to us to make sure that our presidents and our universities listen to us and engage in more ecologically friendly, sustainable practices.

This will not happen, however, without a concerted effort on behalf of students who absolutely must realize that no one will take care of their future if they don’t start doing it themselves.

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