Student Concern Powers SEAC

Environmental Group Helps Connect Resources

In 1988, a group of students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill placed a small message in Greenpeace’s magazine asking if anyone would be interested in forming a student-based environmental coalition. Students from more than 200 U.S. campuses replied. Today, the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) has more than 30,000 members on 1,500 campuses.

forest conservation and climate change mitigation

“With a little more outreach after that first message, the interest just flooded in,” said Eric Odell, editor of SEAC’s newsletter, Threshold. “At the time, there was a growing surge of interest in environmental activism on campuses. SEAC began at just the right time to harness that surge.”

The organization serves as a source of communication — linking different student environmental groups around the country to create a more integrated movement. SEAC gives students a sense of connection to a national environmental movement, Odell said.

SEAC is now calling for a new American environmental agenda that includes the issues of race, class and poverty — along with the traditional goals of conservation and preservation.

“SEAC challenges its members to see the connections between social and environmental problems,” Odell said. “Our environment is dying not just because humans abuse the earth, but because we abuse each other. To be strong, our movement must cross lines of gender, race and class.”

One of the organization’s latest campaigns is aimed at trying to stop a huge hydroelectric project in Quebec called James Bay II. SEAC chapters have been working with labor groups to fight the project, which will displace thousands of native Indians and flood Canadian wilderness.

To finance the project, Quebec has been signing power contracts with U.S. utilities. However, SEAC recently helped win a battle when the New York state government decided not to sign a $13 billion contract to buy power from the project. Instead, the state will support a campaign to reduce energy use and promote economic development in the state, Odell said.

“It was clear that this victory came partly as a result of SEAC’s efforts on this issue,” he said. “We worked to build coalitions with labor groups to show that billions of dollars flowing out of New York would hurt the state and cost jobs. Getting the support of organized labor was a key in changing the state’s mind.”

In the future, SEAC will continue to try and broaden the definition of the environment to include social factors along with conservation issues, Odell said. And by doing so, the largest student-run environmental organization on American campuses today should continue to grow.

Earth Fact: SEAC operates with a paid staff of 12 and a $500,000 annual budget, raised through grants from various foundations.

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