Environmental stereotypes for a constructive tomorrow?

Rather than being constructive, CFACT hurts environmental discussions by resorting to ideological language.

by Holly Lahd

Environmental stereotypes and course registration. While it may seem too much of a stretch to relate these two topics, there is indeed a connection.

Registration for spring semester is just around the corner for many undergrad students, and along with it comes the important click. This “important click” is whether to add another $2.40 or $2.25 to your student account to support the student organizations Minnesota Public Interest Research Group or Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow, respectively.

My first semester here at the University I quickly became aware of MPIRG’s presence on campus by the plethora of signs advertising its meetings in Coffman and its many events. The only time I had ever heard CFACT was when registration time rolled around. After seeing the option at the time to give $4.13 towards the organization, I decided to look into its group on campus. While I was personally alarmed by its positions surrounding its belief in the uncertainties surrounding global warming, I felt that it still has a right to be funded. Although I wasn’t going to give it money, it should still have the opportunity to present different environmental ideas to our campus.

I originally planned to write on the topic of free market environmentalism, which is the idea of using free market forces to work towards solving, not contributing, to environmental problems. I decided to visit CFACT’s Web site (www.cfactcampus.org) for information on its philosophy on free market environmentalism and other topics. But the rhetoric used on its Web site was the thing I ended up spending most of my time reading.

On its Web site, CFACT advertised one of the previous events addressing the question “Are American Environmentalists killing children in Africa?” The speaker addressed the topic of African development and their need for electricity, insinuating that “extreme greens” are indeed killing children in Africa by advocating their ideas of renewable energy and opposition to DDT use against mosquitoes carrying malaria in Africa.

And on its student service fees application from last year, CFACT repeatedly describes itself as the opposite of the “leftist philosophy of MPIRG” and offering an alternative to the ideas of “left leaning proponents of environmentalism.” While CFACT’s 2006-2007 application has eight references to MPIRG, MPIRG’s application had zero references to CFACT.

CFACT became a registered student organization here in 2001. It is part of a larger national student group, CFACT campus, that has a sister organization in the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (also abbreviated as CFACT). Since its inception on campus, CFACT has had numerous battles with the student service fees committee, who sets the recommendations for what level the refusable/refundable fee is set at. This past spring, the student service fees committee initially recommended that they receive no funding. The final recommendation shows that its funding was reduced from $4.13 to $2.25.

According to the 2006-2007 student service fees application, some of CFACT’s planned 2006-2007 school year events include a sport utility vehicle security patrol, where CFACT members plan to add extra security to prevent eco-terrorism against SUVs on campus. Another upcoming event is part of “Conservative Awareness Week,” where Tuesday’s Environmentalism Day will be capped off with a screening of a South Park episode in the CFACT office. Do these type of events really justify the over $80,000 the organization received from students in 2005-2006?

Who is it talking about by using words like extreme greens and or liberal environmentalists? If it is addressing the fringes of the current environmental community, is it really adding constructive ideas to the mainstream discussion? And while its bridge panel that says “No, we don’t hug trees”, may be done tongue-in-cheek, its sentiment is not far from many of CFACT’s other statements.

In response to the initial student service fees committee recommendations last spring, CFACT adviser Bill Gilles compiled a spreadsheet that shows how many “liberal” groups compared to “conservative” groups are funded on campus. I put liberal in quotes because he included groups titled “Asians,” “International Students,” and “Disabled Students” in this category. When asked about this liberal label applied to cultural groups, Gilles replied that the groups aren’t inherently liberal, but the positions they take

are liberal. Perhaps when you are on the far right of the spectrum, everything else looks liberal.

CFACT President Andrew Larson, in response to a question I asked him about the role of partisanship around the environment, wrote to me that “Adding viewpoints such as ours, which often conflicts with those of MPIRG, is essential to not only the intellectual health of our school, but also helps students make the best decisions possible regarding the environment.” I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, the language that CFACT utilizes stereotypes environmentalists who disagree with them and distills these discussions to name-calling.

But don’t take my word alone on this topic. Before you register, please visit www.cfactcampus.org and read CFACT’s positions for yourself. Better yet, check out its meetings at 7 p.m. under the Dairy Queen. Be aware that the elevator is inaccessible to the public after 6 p.m., but good luck getting to the meeting despite this.

When you register, along with all the decisions about which courses to take and whether you will actually attend an 8 a.m. class, think about if you want to fund CFACT. Is it really adding constructive dialog to our campus environmental discussions? Or is it doing a disservice by injecting ideological language into a non-partisan issue?

Let your registration click answer these questions.

Holly Lahd welcomes comments at [email protected]