April 19, 2011

KyotoNOW! Celebrates 10 Years of Activism

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Founded in 2001, KyotoNOW! began as a protest group reacting to Cornell’s decision not to support the Kyoto Protocol –– an international agreement calling for the reduction of greenhouse gas levels to 7% below 1990 levels by the year 2008 –– after President George W. Bush withdrew the United States from the agreement.  During the protest, students held a sit-in in and around Day Hall with signs, banners, and musical instruments in an effort to change the University’s opinion on the Kyoto Protocol. Due to this pressure, the administration finally decided to endorse the Kyoto Protocol on April 10, 2001. “We’re incredibly proud of our founders,” KyotoNOW! President Lucia Von Reusner’12 said. “They’ve been a tough act to follow.”Throughout the past decade, KyotoNOW! members have continued their founding tradition of working to inform students about environmental problems and encourage environmental activism throughout the community. In 2007, KyotoNOW! played an integral part in President Skorton’s commitment to sign the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment agreement, adding Cornell to the list of 79 educational institutions across the country who had already signed. “Although the administration was skeptical at first, they really came around and increased their support for campus neutrality tremendously,” KyotoNOW! Vice President Alexandra Gore ’12 said. More recently, KyotoNOW! has also been active in working against hydrofracking in Marcellus Shale in New York. As a member of the 2008 Ad Hoc Advisory Committee Report on Leasing of Land for Exploration and Drilling for Natural Gas in the Marcellus Shale, Gore said she was able to “bring the voice of KyotoNOW! and the rest of the student body to the committee and make sure that the future of Cornell is one step above the present.”Since a moratorium was issued, the organization has turned its attention to other matters. “Because the situation is pretty much at a standstill right now, there isn’t much we can do,” von Reusner said. “But we’re prepared to fight as strongly as before once the issue reemerges.”Following last year’s BP oil spill, KyotoNOW! actively participated in a national Greenpeace “Week of Action” campaign in Sept. 2010.  Aimed at inspiring activists around the country to raise awareness about unsafe drilling projects, the campaign on campus involved bombarding the office of the Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s office with phone calls. Over 400 Cornellians made a phone call and expressed their opposition to unsafe drilling. “There were so many phone calls that the second they heard that you were from Cornell they hung up on you because they knew exactly what you were going to say,” Gore said. Two weeks later, Salazar announced the implementation of newer, tougher restrictions on oil and gas drilling, including drilling safety rules and workplace safety rules. This, according to von Reusner, was evidence of the campaign’s efficacy. “I think people on campus really felt empowered. Students made that difference,” she said. KyotoNOW!’s current initiative involves a push for a sustainability course requirement. Though there are several courses currently offered that cover sustainability issues, the members of KyotoNOW! believe that a basic education in sustainability should eventually be required for all students to graduate, beginning with CALS students. “Since a sustainability course would fit perfectly with CALS’ mission, it seems like a logical place to start,” von Reusner said.KyotoNOW! has been working with the administration, including Prof. Mike Hoffman, entomology, who is an associate dean at CALS, to get the requirement approved and implemented. Eventually, KyotoNOW! hopes to spread the requirement to other colleges as well. “I would personally love to see it implemented at the Engineering School,” Gore said.Despite a controversial beginning, KyotoNOW! has since fostered a relationship with the administration. “We’ve never had any issues speaking with the administration. They have a lot of respect for our ideas and opinions,” von Reusner said.The problem sometimes arises, however, when it comes time to implement ideas that alter the university’s status quo. “Everyone thinks it ‘s a great idea but when you get down to the nitty gritty no one wants to implement things because it isn’t easy to change things on a large scale in a large university,” von Reusner said.”Though implementation can pose challenges for KyotoNOW!, the group is determined to continue introducing new ideas that they believe will improve the University’s future. “The administration looks to us for a push and we’ve always been there to give it to them,” Gore said.

Original Author: Maria Minsker