Environmental awakenings

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The Spectrum

In a time where "going green" has become more of a fashion statement than an actual initiative, student run groups like the University at Buffalo Environmental Network are taking a stand and working towards a better environment for their campus and community.
The UBEN is a group of networks, organizations and individuals who work towards ending injustices on the environment through education, action and change, according to their Web site.
On April 16, 17 and 18, the group will come together with schools throughout Western New York to join 400 environmentally active students for Power Shift NY 2010 at UB.
"[UBEN wants] to push the message that this is about students and youth who are meeting to exchange ideas and promote an environmentally conscious and environmentally sustainable future," said Kristina Blank, a sophomore environmental study major and vice president of outreach for UBEN.
In March of 2009, Congress recorded the largest student environmental lobby day in history when students, including those from UBEN, gathered together in Washington D.C. during the environmental Power Shift conference.
Esther Dsouza, a senior environmental design and geography major, vice president of activism for UBEN and coordinator for the summit, explains that the group felt inspired by their time in D.C. and decided to form the first NY breakout of Power Shift and the largest environmental summit that any UB club has hosted.
"I went on the environmental conference [in Washington, D.C.] last year … it was empowering to see so many people who are environmentally aware and active, and it made me realize how powerful we are as a student body," Blank said.
The Power Shift movement is an event for Define Our Decade, a project of the Energy Action Coalition that works with college and university students to encourage environmentally friendly changes on their campuses.
"In 2010, through a set of strategically coordinated local actions, we will define our decade. We will define it with youth leadership, community empowerment, and a unified vision for the clean and just energy future we will collectively create," according to their Web Site.
In collaboration with environmental organizations of other schools, UB Green, Campus Dining and Shops, and Student Life, UBEN will host panels, workshops, concerts and local environmental advocate speakers.
The speakers include Lois Gibbs, an environmental activist who advocated the Love Canal cause in 1978, NY Senator Antoine Thompson, who serves on the Environmental Conservation Committee in the Senate, Walter Simpson, a past Environmental Officer at UB, and Margaret Wooster, a Buffalo native, ecological activist and author of Living Waters: Reading the Rivers of the Lower Great Lakes.
UB professors Sara Metcalf of the geography department and biological sciences professor Dr. Mary Bisson will also be featured speakers during the 3-day conference.
"It's going to be very educational. Many students don't read the top issues of today and we go through school taking in the information taught in classes, but we don't apply it … we're going to teach students how to put these ideas into action," Blank said.
Neighboring environmental organizations will also take part in the summit, including Buffalo ReUse, Grassroots Gardens, Buffalo Car Share, the Community Foundation and PUSH Buffalo.
On the first day of the conference, UBEN has scheduled a Day of Action. Blank explains that after receiving hundreds of environmental policy violations in Pennsylvania for crimes of environmental distress, the Amherst development company U.S. Energy Development Corporation has decided to move its operations and drill oil in Allegany State Park.
Members of Power Shift NY and concerned community members will meet at 3:00 p.m. on April 16 outside of the corporation to peacefully protest its actions and plans to take oil from the park.
"All we want to do is to let them know that it's not OK to drill in any park and there's other green measures that they should be taking," Dsouza said.
To take part in what Blank describes as a perspective altering event, students can visit the Sub-Board Inc. ticket office during business hours to reserve tickets, or they can visit powershiftny.org to order tickets in advance for $15.
Blank and Dsouza encourage students to purchase tickets in support of UBEN and to take the first step towards a greener planet by attending the conference.
"The environment is among us – we can't segregate ourselves from the environmental issues of the day. They are an integral part of our lives, and will continue to be so in the future," Blank said. "It's up to the youth to step up to the plate and counteract that."

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