October 11, 2008

Virginia Power Shift Comes to Virginia Tech

By Greg Esposito [email protected] 381-1675

Virginia Tech will be the center of the state youth environmental movement this weekend as host of Virginia Power Shift 2008.

The gathering, which will include speakers, symposiums and 60 training sessions on environmental issues, was inspired by Power Shift 2007, a national youth conference on global warming held at the University of Maryland. About 6,000 students from across the country gathered at the event to discuss things such as alternative energy and cutting energy use and emissions of greenhouse gases.

Angie De Soto, a Tech senior and a central planner for Virginia Power Shift, was at the Maryland event and said several students left it with plans to organize similar efforts in their states. She said Virginia Power Shift could be the largest state gathering so far, with 600 students from 22 Virginia colleges expected to attend.

While the group organizing the event, Tech's Environmental Coalition, is nonpartisan, De Soto said Virginia's swing state status and the focus on the role of young voters in the upcoming presidential election makes the event timely.

"We are planning this massive conference to bring together the youth of the state to say, 'Hey, climate change, that's our future. And no matter who we vote for we're going to ask you what your plan is on global warming.' "

With its steam plant's coal-fired boilers, Tech has not historically been known for its environmentalism. But the past few years, student groups have worked with the administration to address some issues. The campus recycling program has expanded, infrastructure changes are under way to make the campus more energy efficient and campus dining halls are now trayless to help conserve water and food.

The changes have not gone unnoticed. Tech jumped a full grade in the College Sustainability Report Card this year. The independent evaluation of college endowments and campus operations is conducted by the Sustainable Endowments Institute and was released last month. Tech received a B-minus overall and earned an A for student involvement. It was one of five schools in the country highlighted by the evaluation for the work of its students.

De Soto said that type of recognition shows that Tech is a model for student involvement that other schools can follow.

"If we can move this massive ship that we have here on campus around, any campus can do it," she said. "We have a very long way to go, don't get me wrong. But we've started. That's what matters."

The event kicks off at 7 tonight in Burruss Auditorium with an opening ceremony and speech from Mike Tidwell, founder and director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Workshops will be held all day Saturday covering topics such as composting, bike maintenance, mountaintop removal mining and political action. NASA climatologist James Hansen will speak Saturday night. Events will continue Sunday morning and end with a speech from Jessy Tolkan, executive director of programs for the Energy Action Coalition at 3 p.m.

The speeches are free and open to the public, with donations accepted, De Soto said. Registration for the workshops and discussions is $15, and there is no deadline to register.

Although the event is focused on youth interest in sustainability, anyone can register.

"We're not, kind of, preaching to the choir," De Soto said. "We want new people coming, and we want people to really understand that this is happening."

For more information on Virginia Power Shift or to register go to vapowershift.org.

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