Welcome back, Badgers! Summer has come to an end, and soon a beautiful Wisconsin fall will settle in. As we watch the leaves change from Bascom some for the first time, some for the last, let us not forget one of the things that make Badgers special: a commitment to environmental protection.

Students here know there are many problems plaguing our environment. Locally, Lakes Mendota and Monona, two of Madison’s finest commodities, have accumulated so much toxic blue-green algae from agricultural pollution that they will remain virtually un-swimmable until after this year’s winter freeze. Furthermore, air pollution from cars and coal plants puts people and wildlife at risk for serious health problems.

Here in Madison, it’s easy to make a difference individually with simple things, like turning the lights off whenever they aren’t being used, composting whenever possible, recycling and buying local produce at the amazing Dane County Farmer’s Markets. But many students here at UW-Madison have found it is easier to accomplish bigger goals by working together to fix the physical and institutional problems with the environment.

Over the past few years, students with Big Red Go Green, a campaign of the Wisconsin Student Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG), have successfully pushed through environmental reforms. Recently, we helped stop a new coal plant from being built by petitioning door-to-door, phone banking, and turning out dozens of students and community members to testify at a public hearing in opposition to the plant. Just last semester Big Red Go Green was able to save the university a record high in energy savings (over $10,000) by teaching students how to cut their energy usage in the group’s annual month-long Residence Hall Energy Competition. And when a big clean energy bill was coming up for debate in the Senate, we generated over 700 phone calls from UW students into our senators’ offices asking them to support clean energy.

But the work isn’t over. This semester, students will be doing even more to change the way we use energy and resources. Students will conduct energy audits on campus buildings to lower their energy consumption, increase participation in the Residence Hall Energy Competition and cut down on bottled water usage to save resources and protect local and global water assets. We’ll even host a “CarnivOil” on campus to show how Big Oil is having a party at the expense of the environment (join us on Library Mall September 16 from 11-1 to play fun games like the Petroleum Wheel of Doom and Oil Executive Boxing — you could win a Tony Hayward action figure!)

Protecting the planet is a huge task and therefore requires the dedication of many. The leadership shown by students here at the University of Wisconsin is proof that we are heading in the right direction. While there is a lack of political will to accomplish our environmental goals at the legislative level, the driving force of this generation is ready to take on these issues here in Madison. Our state motto, “Forward,” represents a drive for leadership through progressivism. It will surely guide the state as well as the country in protecting the environment thanks to the work of students and student groups here at UW-Madison.

If you are interested in getting involved by interning or volunteering on these student-led projects, come to an info session at 10:15, 12:15 or 4:15 any day during the first two weeks of class in Suite 4430 of the Student Activities Center or sign up online at www.wispirgstudents.org. Together, we can make our campus and state a cleaner, more sustainable place.

Clay Thomas is sophomore majoring in soil science and political science and Campaign Coordinator of WISPIRG’s Big Red Go Green campaign. Tia Nowack is a junior majoring in strategic communications and environmental studies and the Grassroots Action Coordinator for Big Red Go Green.