Columbia isn’t the only New York school with an activist, environmentalist campus. Well, okay, maybe. NYU Diarist W.M. Akers ponders the not-so-radical nature of environmental activism below 14th street.

We can probably pinpoint
the moment when environmentalism went mainstream to Al Gore’s Oscar acceptance speech. From then on, it was a steady march to bio-degradeable mouthwash and organic Agent Orange. The movement had never been composed strictly of surly hippies, but it was “An Inconvenient Truth” that brought it into the limelight. Even if her concern for the planet predates the Florida recount, NYU’s Julie Goodness could still be called a mainstream environmentalist, if only because her attitude is so moderate.

“I’m not so much the angry activist,” she said last week. “There’s no reward from it, or any direction, or problem solving. I’d rather do earth activism stuff where you’re actually able to make a difference.” Goodness is the president of Earth Matters, an NYU student activism group that is not so much Weather Underground as Weather Channel, though it was behind the semi-nude Bare Energy Frolic that kicked off Earth Month a few weeks ago.

The group’s programming for Earth Week, which began with a large outdoor concert last Saturday, has been informative rather than confrontational. It included a panel on how to start riding bikes in New York, films about global warming, and a used clothing swap. At a meeting last Thursday the topics ranged from co-ordinating cupcakes to hanging a banner in the student center. “We don’t have permission,” said highly radical co-chair Maggie Craig, “but we can do it anyway.”

Sam Caravello, the other co-chair, was less cavalier. “I don’t think it works that way,” she said. “I don’t want to put the effort into making a poster if we don’t have permission.”

Doing anything noticeable at NYU takes coordination and imagination, and permission never hurts. The University’s problem with energy reform is its size, something that Goodness is inclined to view as a challenge. “Other schools don’t have buses,” she said. “They don’t have ten dorms to deal with, they don’t have multiple dining locations, they don’t have so many different school offices using endless amounts of paper or their own copy center.”

Earth Week ended last night, with an event on freeganism, an ideology of stinginess whose name is inexplicably tied to a diet. Like Earth Matters, freeganism is a little bit radical without being confrontational: a practice of using other people’s leftovers that falls short of Sherwood Forest-style banditry. Of course, they’re not storming student centers. And it takes class to present freeganism without sounding like a filthy hippie. And it was Goodness and her cupcake cronies that were classy about their environmentalism in the same way that Al Gore was, by not being filthy in the first place.