The more than 4000 public and private four-year colleges and universities in the US are one of the least-often-mentioned byproducts of three centuries of successful US and global industry.1 They have grown from humble beginnings to a powerful network of research centers, investment pools, and, in some cases, small cities, that collectively housed, fed, educated and trained more than 20 million students last year alone, while employing millions of university staff. Over the last 50 years, the percentage of the US population with a bachelor's degree increased five-fold. Today, nearly one in every four people in the US has a college degree and more than half have attended some college. The growth of the US university system over the past half-century has greatly expanded the scope of the financial, intellectual and human resources that must be harnessed, but also gives an indication that there is historical precedent for rapidly changing the system.
Indeed, the breadth and depth of the current climate crisis require that today's 18—25 year olds oversee a dramatic national transformation to a low-carbon economy — locking in 70—90 per cent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by the time they retire. History has shown that motivated students can and have organized and catalyzed national social movements — from civil rights, to Viet Nam, to the environmental movement, to fair trade, to anti-Apartheid campaigns — becoming societal change agents both before and after graduation. Energy Action, a diverse coalition of student and youth groups that have come together to launch the Campus Climate Challenge, are building on this history and current incarnation of student activism.
Responding to the current climate crisis is such a difficult and complex task that it will require today's students to go beyond their traditional roles as activists and social and political engineers. Today's students must not only stop carbonintensive projects, but also start a modern industrial revolution that can support the demand for goods and services of a projected population in 2050 of 420 million in the US and 9.5 billion around the world. Armed with access to nearly open-source data and the academic freedoms won by students in the 1960s and 1970s, today's young leaders can provide the millions of hours of free and low-cost consulting work desperately needed to catalyze aggressive climate solutions. As described below, the National Association of Environmental Law Societies (NAELS), Harvard's Green Campus Initiative, Arizona State University's School of Sustainability, and CU Law's Energy and Environment Security Initiative (EESI) are all, along with other groups, started on this endeavor.
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