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The Next Campus Social Movement

The Next Campus Social MovementOne of just a handful of universities with major commitments to addressing climate change, Tufts is at the forefront of a growing national trend.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [08.26.02] Cutting carbon emissions. Promoting fuel efficiency. Building "green" dorms. While not as dramatic as the campus anti-war rallies of the 1960s, these steps are crucial in what many believe to be the next great social movement to hit college campuses - climate change activism. And Tufts, writes an environmental magazine, is among the universities leading the way.

"If you look at social movements in this country, they've never been led by government," Tufts' William Moomaw - senior director of the Tufts Institute For The Environment and a professor of international environmental policy - told Grist Magazine. "It was true of slavery, the women's vote, civil rights, the Vietnam War. I think it will be true of addressing climate change."

While the U.S. government has yet to commit to meeting the new carbon emissions standards of the Kyoto Protocol, a few environmentally-conscious universities like Tufts have pledged to reduce their emissions by the accord's 2012 deadline.

To do it, Tufts has made environmentalism a major element of campus life. Taking advantage of its interdisciplinary strengths, the University is approaching the issue of climate change from many angles.

"We definitely have an interdisciplinary approach," Tufts' Sarah Hammond Creighton - the project manager of Tufts Climate Initiative - told Grist. "It's not all about engineering. It's about behavioral science, environmental policies, finance."

By adding an environmental angle to classroom discussions and assignments, Tufts student get to take a hands-on approach to the issue.

"If you're going to teach economics, why not do a cost-benefit analysis on something interesting, like setting up different heating systems at the university or different ways of managing the grounds without so much machinery?" Moomaw told the environmental magazine.

Engaging students from a variety of disciplines, says the Tufts expert, "can enhance the mission of the university, provide research opportunities, and even help the financial operations of the university."

The impact of Tufts' innovative approach can be felt across the University's campuses.

Efficient light bulbs are commonplace in classrooms, offices and dorms. Tufts added a fuel-efficient hybrid car to its fleet. And plans for more environmentally-conscious buildings - to compliment the solar panels and energy-efficient washing machines already found around campus - are in the works.

But perhaps most important, are efforts to raise awareness about the importance of climate change among students and staff.

"For many, environmentalism is recycling your newspapers and cans," Tufts student and "eco-representative" Ted Shevlin told Grist. "But when it comes time to buy that Ford Excursion, that resolve goes right out the door because people don't think about it."

So Tufts has put together a corps of student volunteers like Shevlin, who are using contests and information campaigns to bring about change on an individual level.

"Getting people to consider the impact of their actions is the most important, and the most difficult, part of this job," he said.

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