By John Williams

Students from across the UC system collaborated to try to improve the burgeoning movement centered around environmental sustainability during a retreat May 24-26 held at the Mentalphysics Institute in Joshua Tree California.

The Institute of Reverential Ecology (IRE), which has helped to plan the retreat for the past six years, chose “Envisioning and Designing Hot Age Communities” as the retreat’s focus.

Bob Philips, who works for the IRE, spoke with City on a Hill Press about the choice for this year’s theme.

“Climate change has already begun to wreak havoc on earth through an increase in desertification, temperature, and heightened droughts in communities like those in Southern California,” he said.

UC representatives at the event were a part of the California Student Sustainability Coalition (CSSC), a statewide body that has organized the Education for Sustainable Living Program (ESLP) at schools across the UC system.

At UC Santa Cruz, ESLP is a community studies course that is centered around creating sustainable communities.

Some of the student projects developed by UCSC students include working hand-in-hand with homeless youth to promote involvement in the arts and developing local media outlets through mediums like radio, television and newspapers.

Kai Sawyer is a UCSC alumnus and a founding organizer of CCSC and ESLP. This was his fifth year attending the retreat.

“The annual retreat is a chance for us to look back at our movement and focus inwards to see what we can change,” he said. “It’s also a time for us to take a break and learn some new things ourselves.”

The retreat included speakers from a variety of movements. Some of the speakers included agro-activists working in urban food development, water harvesting, seed reclamation, and tree repopulation.

Speaker Andy Lipkis has been organizing forest repopulation since the age of 15. He is the founder of Treepeople, a Los-Angeles-based nonprofit that works to create sustainable urban communities.

“I found I had a passion for the environment, and I’ve just never been able to quit working to fix it,” Lipkis said. “It wasn’t like I was always passionate. I’d get frustrated and quit all the time, but I could never stay away from the movement for long.”

Students at the conference also addressed the future of the sustainability movement, but some students felt the conference failed to cover pressing issues that affect us in the present.

Lauren Undgren, another conference participant, felt that the time could have been better spent examining the problems that the movement is facing in organizing.

“The environmental movement has a really hard time involving people across racial, cultural, and economic lines,” Undgren said. “This is something we’re trying to focus on here at Santa Cruz, but it was not clearly addressed in Joshua Tree.”