Colorado State University student volunteers advocate for action with Climate Reality Project

Julia Rentsch

Freshman Business Administration major Colleen McCauley (left) and freshman International Studies major Hanna Johnson gather names for a petition supporting climate action and hand out Climate Reality swag outside Rockwell Hall.
Freshman business administration major Colleen McCauley (left) and freshman international studies major Hanna Johnson gather names for a petition supporting climate action and hand out Climate Reality swag outside Rockwell Hall. (Photo by Julia Rentsch.)

Colorado State University student volunteers and interns with The Climate Reality Project have been increasing their activity on campus in the lead-up to the 2015 Paris Climate Conference in December. 

The Climate Reality Project is a nonprofit organization founded by former vice president Al Gore that is involved in education and advocacy related to climate change.

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In partnership with the activist group Know Tomorrow, CSU students have been working to raise awareness of world climate issues. Those involved with the Climate Reality Project gathered signatures for a climate action petition to send to President Obama prior to his departure for Paris, held a march on the Plaza commemorating the one-year anniversary of the People’s Climate March in New York City and held a rally in Rockwell Hall Friday to show support for climate action. 

As more than 60 college campuses have hosted similar rallies, CSU was considered one of the most important schools to provide input, members of The Climate Reality Project said.

Marissa Bramlett, a student event organizer with The Climate Reality Project, said Colorado’s swing-state status and CSU’s reputation as a sustainable yet politically-diverse university mark the school as a hub for bipartisan climate activism that could set an example for other institutions.

“CSU has a really robust sustainability sector, but they also have more political diversity than CU Boulder, so if we can show that schools like CSU really want action on climate change, we can push the dialogue past this Republican/Democrat binary that we’ve placed the climate discussion in, and show that it’s actually an issue of the millennial generation and that millennials as a whole really want this,” Bramlett said.

A group of nearly 20 CSU students have been working with The Climate Reality Project as interns and volunteers this semester to engage their peers in the Paris talks.

Students who attended recent events hosted by The Climate Reality Project have had the chance to hear a panel of local experts and professionals discuss the importance of the upcoming climate talks.

Tatum VanDam, a junior Ecosystem Science and Sustainability major, has attended Climate Reality events throughout the semester.

“It’s really inspiring to see these young people reaching out to other young people because we really are the future,” VanDam said. “It really showed me the connections between this day and age, with the media, using the media as a way to get to people and inspire them to be more active.” 

Chalking outside the Clark Building advertises Friday's event. (Photo courtesy of The Climate Reality Project at CSU on Facebook).
Chalking outside the Clark Building raises awareness of Climate Reality Project events around the CSU campus. (Photo courtesy of The Climate Reality Project at CSU on Facebook.)

Bramlett said a main goal of The Climate Reality Project is to enhance students’ connectivity with and understanding of world climate events, with the Paris Climate Conference holding particular gravitas due to its expected turnout of a previously-unmatched agreement on binding action to be taken against climate change.

“I think a part of (millennial involvement) is just talking about it in a way that’s relatable,” Bramlett said. “I mean, COP21 is this tremendously complicated thing, that I by no means understand all the nuances of what it means to get 195 countries to show up to the table and agree on something, so speaking about it in ways that are tangible to people, that they understand … what that actually means and taking it out of this big political framework that’s really hard for a lot of young people to approach I think is key.”

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Education is also a main focus of The Climate Reality Project’s impact on campus.

Distinguished faculty members and community leaders have been in attendance at previous Climate Reality events to answer questions that students might have had about the importance of nations taking action in December. Fort Collins Councilman Ross Cunniff attended the event Friday, which was designated as an international day of action focusing on the climate discussion. The broadcast event was targeted at building pressure on world leaders, Bramlett said.

“I think education is critical and important, but what I really hope to get out of this is for some number of students to get activated,” Cunniff said. “To participate in events, organizing events, to broaden their education, to participate in the electoral process and elect candidates who will act in the way we want them to with respect to climate change, really that’s the end goal, is to … kind of light them on fire, if you will, with respect to this issue and get (millennials) to really place the pressure on the country to move in the right direction.”

Hanna Johnson, a freshman international studies major, said she supports The Climate Reality Project’s goals.

“Here in Fort Collins, we’re trying to be completely sustainable (by the year 2050), which I think is awesome, and it makes me really proud to be a part of this community,” Johnson said. “But, yeah, it really sparked (me). Like, I want to make this what I do for the rest of my life.”

Collegian Sustainability Reporter Julia Rentsch can be reached at news@collegian.com and on Twitter @julia_rentsch.