Last weekend 40 students from the College of William and Mary traveled to Blacksburg to attend Virginia Power Shift 2008, an environmental sustainability conference held on the campus of Virginia Tech.
The conference began Friday evening with the keynote address from Dr. James Hansen, a climatologist with NASA and a professor at Columbia University.
“It kind of got me feeling like this is a very urgent matter,” conference attendee Beyang Shi ’11 said.
Saturday, students attended training workshops and presentations concerning environmental sustainability.
“On an individual level, I really enjoyed the workshops on Saturday. There were 10 or 15 workshops at four different times throughout the day that you could attend, and my favorite was on local food and urban gardening,” Student Envronmental Action Coalition co-facilitator Phil Zapfel ’09 said. “That was really interesting to see how you can start growing your own food right here in your backyard, and SEAC’s trying to start that [at the College] actually.”
Students learned about environmental problems stretching beyond campus as well.
“We went to this one session on coal mining and mountain-top removal in southwestern Virginia,” SEAC member Amanda Grant ’12 said. “I think that was good just because it was something I’d never really learned much about.”
Saturday evening, expert panelists discussed what policies needed to be implemented to guarantee Virginia a sustainable future.
“There’s a panel of people who have studied this, who have researched this, and it wasn’t even about finding the technology that would make the sustainability a possibility,” Shi said. “It is there, the technology is there, all the research has been done to make it feasible, and all that’s really missing is the will from the general populace.”
The conference ended Sunday with students from each school gathering to discuss what they learned and how to apply principles of environmental sustainability on campus.
“It was amazing to see all these excited William and Mary students gather around and talk about the new ideas and the new programs and processes that they’ve learned over these last few days — to be able to take those and really apply them,” Zapfel said. “The creative juices started flowing and we really got some amazing ideas to bring back to campus.”
One idea was grassroots political advocacy.
“We’re going to start establishing consistent contact with our state representative through phone banking and lobbying in Richmond,” Zapfel said. “We’re also going to connect here locally with other groups that are involved here — the political groups on campus, College Republicans and Young Democrats, Americans for Informed Democracy — groups like that, trying to get a more active community upswing from the students reaching out to the community trying to become part of that community.”
Attendees also learned about individual methods of promoting environmental sustainability.
One of the most important things that attendees took away from the conference was the importance of consumer responsibility. “I mean, I bike already, I bike more than I drive, and I’m going to plant more and be a smart consumer, essentially, and those are obvious things,” Shi said.