Thursday, October 20, 2011

Revitalized "Green Observer" promotes student engagement with environmental issues

Revitalized "Green Observer" promotes student engagement with environmental issues

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To be conscious of the environmental challenges people face as world population approaches seven billion is to grapple with the loss of hope now and again. If that’s where I left you with last week’s commentary, which focused on the IUCN "Red List of Threatened Species," this week, let me call your attention to a document with a more positive vibe.

It’s the just-published edition of “The Green Observer” magazine, which is available now at locations on and around the University of Illinois campus. If you’ve been around the U of I in recent years, you may remember seeing one or another of the earlier incarnations of the “Green Observer,” but the current model aims higher than any of those did.

The driving force behind the new “Green Observer” is editor-in-chief and designer Emily Cross, a third-year student pursuing majors in both Political Science and Earth, Society and Environment.

When we spoke recently, Cross said that one the goals of the magazine is to provide students with information that’s useful on a day-to-day basis. Toward that end, it contains a calendar of upcoming environmental events, for example, as well as articles with tips to help students reduce their own environmental impacts.

But Cross also emphasized that she hopes the “Green Observer” will help students to understand their roles on campus and in the world differently. “On a campus this size,” she said, “it’s easy to look around and think, ‘I can’t make a difference.’ But students have brought important changes to campus, and they continue to do that.”

Along those lines, one article in the current “Green Observer” tells the story of the eight-year effort by students to bring wind power to the U of I campus, which was finally cancelled this past spring. While the students involved did not achieve their ultimate goal, the story of their struggle provides an excellent reminder of just how much they brought to the table.

Other stories in the current issue encourage student engagement by reporting on activities few are even aware of. For example, one student writes about volunteering to help with a prairie burn at a University-owned natural area in northeast Urbana. In his words, “The smell of smoke and the sights and sounds of ten-foot high flames are simply unforgettable.”

I should emphasize that the “Green Observer” itself represents an opportunity for students to get involved. No fewer than 14 wrote articles for the current issue, and others provided artwork, photographs and more. Students involved with the “Green Observer” represent a wide range of disciplines, from earth systems, engineering and political science, to economics, business and a variety of others.

Cross reported that even in the short time since the current issue went into circulation, she has been contacted by a number of students who are eager to contribute to the next one.

Can the new “Green Observer” expand the cohort of students who are engaged with environmental concerns beyond the membership of existing green organizations? That’s a sincere hope of everyone involved, and it explains, in part, why the magazine is being distributed as a printed object, not just online.

The “Green Observer” is a program of the University YMCA, and you can pick up your own copy of it there. It’s also available at a number of campus businesses, or online at