By Hiroko Sato
LOWELL -- UMass Lowell, which has gone all out in recent years for energy efficiency to save money and reduce its carbon footprint, could soon face scrutiny on a new front: its investment portfolio.
Devan Hawkins, an epidemiology graduate student at UMass Lowell, wants to know if the state university system invests in the oil industry. He is joining fellow members of 350.org, a global network of climate activists led by journalist-turned-activist Bill McKibben, in urging U.S. universities and colleges to divest their endowments of the fossil-fuel industry.
Hawkins also hopes to picket outside the White House early next year to protest against TransCanada's Keystone XL oil sands pipeline project.
Direct activism is the most effective action that people of his generation can take to influence national environmental policies, Hawkins said. It's the conviction by which the 22-year-old Pepperell native lives after attending the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The event was held from Nov. 23-Dec. 3 in Doha, Qatar.
Hawkins said he saw how the opinions of ordinary citizens, especially those of the younger generation, often don't count in policymaking.
"Cards are stacked against young people" in getting their voice heard, Hawkins said. "We have to be relentless."
Hawkins recently watched 195 countries negotiate the nitty-gritty of the international climate treaty at the U.N. Conference. He was one of 15 youth delegates from SustainUS, a nonprofit comprising college students and 20-somethings working to promote sustainable development.
Hawkins is passionate about protecting the environment from the harmful effects of greenhouse-gas emissions. He said he was hoping the conference, held on the verge of the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol, would result in a more stringent treaty.
The Doha agreement extended the Kyoto Protocol until 2020, requiring participating countries to enter into a new agreement by 2015. But Hawkins said the agreement does not reduce carbon emissions nearly as aggressively as he had hoped.
During the conference, Hawkins and fellow SustainUS delegates met with Jonathan Pershing, one of the treaty negotiators representing the United States. Pershing listened as delegates encouraged him to negotiate ambitiously, Hawkins said. Pershing acknowledged many of their points but told them to be patient with the process.
Hawkins paid for the trip to the U.N. Conference out of his own pocket. He said it gave him valuable insight into the reality of the global efforts -- or, the lack of efforts, in his view -- to slow climate change.
Hawkins said he found fewer American media outlets covering the event than their counterparts from other developed countries.
Hawkins became interested in climate change when his teacher at North Middlesex Regional High School showed Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, in the class.
As a UMass Lowell undergraduate student he participated in "Climate Change: Science communication and solution," a special course led by Juliette Rooney-Varga, associate professor of biological sciences and director of Climate Change Initiative at UMass Lowell. In the class, students create videos to help educate the public about climate change.
Hawkins said most Americans are concerned about the world's future environment. He cited a Yale University project on Climate Change Communication in September that showed 70 percent of those surveyed believe climate change is real.
"There is always a disconnection between what the government does and what people think," Hawkins said.
Hawkins believes direct activism is the best way to help narrow that gap between the public's vision and governmental policies.