Twelve University of Richmond students traveled to Virginia Tech during fall break to attend Virginia Powershift, a student-run environmental conference encouraging a movement toward sustainability.
Virginia Powershift, held Oct. 10 through 12, hosted roughly 400 students from 12 Virginia schools. Although thousands of students have attended national Powershift summits during the last two years, this year marked Virginia's first sustainability conference of its kind, and the largest to date, said Peebles Squire, chairman of the Virginia Powershift Planning Committee.
Sophomore Megan Venable coordinated Richmond's trip to Virginia Powershift. Venable said she had first heard about the initiative from friends who had attended the national conference last year. She contacted coordinators at Virginia Tech during the summer and began recruiting students.
The trip was funded by student-run RENEW -- Richmond Environmental Network for Economic Willpower. RENEW played an important role in the trip, Venable said, but many of the students who attended the conference were not affiliated with the organization.
The event began with an opening ceremony for all of the students followed by a speech by Mike Tidwell, founder of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, a grass-roots nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness on the impacts of global warming.
"Mike Tidwell gave a really empowering speech about the power of the youth vote and the importance of voicing yourself," Squire said, citing Powervote, an organization seeking a pledge from young people to make clean energy a top priority during the 2008 presidential election.
Saturday, Oct. 11, the conference featured political and lifestyle workshops intended to arm students with the knowledge and resources to be a part of a movement toward a renewable energy economy.
Workshops included ways to adopt green shopping habits, bike maintenance 101 for students interested in riding bikes to reduce energy consumption and teaching strategies for establishing grass-roots political movements.
Venable said one of the most powerful workshops she attended had been about mountaintop removal, a method of coal mining that uses explosives to remove rock from the top of mountains.
The workshop emphasized the human effect of the process, Venable said, citing that often mud and water cascade down mountains into peoples' homes.
"This is especially pertinent to this area," she said, "since there is a lot of coal mining in the Shenandoah Valley areas of Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee."
While workshops were being held, Virginia Powershift also hosted speakers on democracy and political engagement, Squire said.
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James Hansen, NASA Climatologist and science adviser to Al Gore, was Saturday's keynote speaker. Hansen's speech focused on global warming.
"James Hansen has been talking about how global warming would affect us since the 1980s," Venable said. "And now people are catching on. He offered a lot of legitimacy to the conference just by being there."
On Sunday Oct. 17, students were given the opportunity to hold "breakout conferences," in which each university split up and discussed how it would implement aspects of Virginia Powershift.
"We are putting our experiences at Powershift toward RENEW's Environmental Awareness Week beginning Nov. 10," Venable said. "We want to focus our efforts to encourage an interconnectedness between RENEW and other organizations on campus, because the environment affects everyone."
Junior Carly Vendegna also attended Virginia Powershift. She said five issues were important in increasing sustainability at Richmond: food, recycling, transportation, day-to-day living and outreach.
First, RENEW members have discussed starting a slow food chapter on campus and have met with Dining Service representatives to encourage the purchase of locally grown foods, Vendegna said.
RENEW also seeks to increase education on recycling, and has conducted an inventory of existing recycling locations to assess what materials people are throwing away that should be recycled and vice versa, she said.
Another initiative discussed is a bicycle system at the Center for Civic Engagement. Although the system is still being discussed, it would involve the rental of bikes to students who want to reduce the amount of energy emitted by cars, Venable said.
The group is securing a grant for the purchase of compact fluorescent lamp light bulbs, which use less power, Vendegna said, and they are researching more environmentally safe cleaning products for dorms and buildings on campus.
"The outreach aspect includes coordinating state-wide initiatives on a campus level brought upon by the network of all Virginia schools that we created at Powershift," Vendegna said.
One of these initiatives is Powervote.
"We are trying to get students to learn about Powervote," Venable said. "We will probably have tabling, dorm storms and banners in the Commons."
This is an important election for the environment because both candidates are using the election to address energy issues, Venable said.
According to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama's campaign Web site, Obama plans to ensure that 10 percent of electricity in the United States comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025. Obama also plans to develop and deploy clean coal technology and make the United States a leader in worldwide climate change.
Similarly, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain's campaign Web site said that McCain plans to commit $2 billion annually to advancing clean coal technologies. He also plans on encouraging the market to move toward alternative, low carbon fuels such as wind, hydro and solar power.
"Hopefully the candidates will go beyond the election and will continue to build upon sustainable energy," Venable said.
Contact staff writer Carly Gorga at email@example.com
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