By invitation: the White House
December 11, 2009
When Benjamin Stark got the first e-mail inviting him to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., he passed. “I didn’t understand exactly how it came to me, and the fact that it was a week away, and we were in the middle of exams and finals—I just kind of ruled it out,” explained the 19-year old Calvin pre-architecture student and co-leader of the Environmental Stewardship Coalition. When the second e-mail came from an organization called Restoring Eden, offering to pay for Stark’s transportation to and lodging in D.C., he changed his thinking.
One in a hundred
Stark, a Calvin sophomore from Grandville, Mich., was one of 100 students from around the nation who were invited to share their insights on climate change, clean energy and environmental stewardship at the Youth Clean Energy Economy Forum, held at the White House on Wednesday, December 2. “There were representatives of just a wide array of organizations that are in very, very different ways advocating for stewardship of the earth,” he said. “I think everyone in the room was in their twenties. This really is a youth movement.”
Before giving their input, the students heard about environmental issues from a panel composed of U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Administrator Lisa P. Jackson of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. Next, they were assigned to breakout sessions. Stark’s was moderated by Jon Carson, the Chief of Staff on the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
The students were asking some pretty tough questions, Stark said, questions like 'When will the Obama administration launch a bold vision for America like an Apollo Project for Clean Energy or a Green New Deal?' and 'When will the EPA deny the 79 permits for mountaintop removal?'
"I don’t know how to describe it," he reminisced. "It was exciting to know that you’re a part of this movement, and to know you’re being heard and that you’re in a room with the top officials of the White House.”
Earlier this year, Stark organized a group of students who drove to lobby Michigan Senator Carl Levin and other elected officials for cleaner energy. His was a good voice for the White House to hear, said ESC advisor Gail Heffner: “Ben has been an active student leader with ESC this year … It is an honor for a Calvin student to receive such an invitation and a great opportunity for Christians to make their voices heard on Capitol Hill in the on-going conversations about our energy future.”
Part of a movement
Stark, who majors in sociology and minors in both environmental and urban studies, felt honored to have a voice in the discussion. “For them to want me to come there and represent them along with all of those other youth leaders who are doing incredible things—it was really encouraging too and motivating … ,” he said. "There is a giant movement going on right now, and the little things we’re doing here aren’t insignificant. They’re part of a larger movement, and that’s going to keep growing and create the change that we want to see.”
He hasn’t always been sensitive to the needs of the environment, Stark confessed, and his wake-up call coincided with his enrollment at Calvin. During orientation his first year, Stark spotted a flyer for wilderness retreats and signed up for a backpacking trip in Lake Superior Provincial Park in Ontario. “It was really the first time I had been separated completely from society and in creation just as it was,” he said. “It opened my eyes to the beauty of it.” He honed his environmental awareness by working with the ESC and living on the Creation Care floor of the new van Reken residence hall.
After graduation, Stark plans to attend graduate school to study green architecture. “I’m not sure exactly what I’ll be doing, but I like the things Restoring Eden is doing, that is restoring the earth from a Christian background,” he said.
~by Myrna Anderson, communications and marketing