Loyola students go to D.C. to ask for a greener nation

A group of 40 students from Loyola University Chicago leaves tonight for a Powershift ’09, a four-day climate change conference in Washington, D.C., where they will join 8,000 young people from across the country demanding action from President Obama and Congress regarding global warming and energy policy.

This is the first time Loyola University Chicago has brought students to a Powershift summit. The student organizers say the interest in this conference and the number of Loyola students attending exceeded their expectations.

“At first we thought we could only get 10 people,” says 22-year-old Lauryn Burkhalter, an environmental studies major and co-president of the Student Environmental Alliance. “Then it grew from 10 to 40 people, to the point that we have a wait list.”

Alex Tuchman, 18, is one of the attendees. He said he is attending the conference to get informed and to get ideas at the seminars, panels and workshops.

“The environment is what I want to do with my life,” he says. “Global warming is one of the issues of our generation. This is my first step to combating the issue and getting knowledge to know how to do it.”

Loyola’s Center for Urban Environmental Research and Policy (CUERP) sponsored the trip, but students also did their own fund-raising to bring the trip’s total cost down to 40 dollars per person. To help with transportation, CUERP offered to let the students take the school’s 10-seater biodiesel van, which runs on fuel that is made in Loyola laboratories.

“We take cafeteria fryer oil used to cook chicken wings and fries and we convert it into fuel in one of the classes here,” said Peter Hoy, 21, also an environmental studies major and volunteer coordinator of the trip. “Rather than buying gas from the pump which has serious environmental implications, we can drive to D.C. on something significantly less harmful to the environment.”

“I mean, it is a climate change conference,” he added.

Powershift ‘09 culminates in a lobbying day and a rally at the Capitol on March 22, at which Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will address the students. Burkhalter said she has high hopes for their voices to be heard by the nation’s leadership.

“The unthinkable happened, and we have a new president," says Burkhalter. "The youth that put him in office are a big part of his constituency and we’re demanding green energy policy and green jobs. It’s going to be hard to ignore us. We’re coming out in force and passion."