Taking action for the environment
By Angela Nixon
Clemson senior Gabriel Fair is a man of action. The co-president of Students for Environmental Action (SEA) is not content to sit back and wait for change to happen. He wants to make it happen.
From an early age, Fair says he had an interest in leadership. In middle school, he participated in the Teen Leadership Connection program, which showed kids how to be leaders for their peers, in his hometown of Easley. As a high school student, he stayed involved with the program as a counselor and passed down what he had learned to new students in the program.
But while Fair was excited about leadership, he didn’t develop a passion about saving the environment until he saw Al Gore’s 2006 documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.”
“Growing up, I was completely unaware of what was happening with the environment,” Fair said. “It wasn’t something we ever talked about in school.”
After Gore’s film opened his eyes to issues of climate change and human impact on the earth, Fair had a new focus for his leadership skills — social change and sustainability.
Fair doesn’t just talk the talk about sustainability; he walks the walk to make his own lifestyle as green as possible. He’s a vegetarian, recycles everything he can, rides his bike around campus and makes an effort to conserve electricity, including not running heat in his apartment, something that he says his roommates don’t mind.
“I once took an online test to determine my carbon footprint score. I scored a three, while the average score for an American was 27,” he said.
Because he grew up in the area and because his father is a Clemson alum, Fair said he always knew he wanted to go to Clemson.
“As a child, I would tour the campus and imagine myself one day being a student. I would see students and I wanted to be like them,” he said. “I felt that Clemson was a place where I could not only grow and mature but also a place where I could leave an impact on the world.”
Upon coming to Clemson, Fair saw the need for a more active environmental student organization. He joined SEA — which was then called Students for Environmental Awareness — with the goal of increasing its presence and involvement on campus. Under his leadership, SEA underwent a name change as well as a change in philosophy.
“I wanted SEA to be an organization focused on student involvement, beyond just raising awareness,” Fair said. “College students need to be the backbone of social change or progress on any issue. Every social change movement that I’m aware of started out on a college campus. We’re not going to begin to address our generation’s environmental issues until we start focusing on action.”
Fair said he is fortunate to belong to a group of students who feel as strongly about the environment as he does. SEA’s active membership is about 80 students, but it reaches out to more than 700 people via its e-mail listserv.
“I am blessed to have found other students on campus who want to see the same change to Clemson as I do,” he said. “Everyone is really dedicated to working creatively together to make Clemson even more amazing.”
SEA has planned or participated in a number of events during the past few years, such as Picture Green, an art show focused on sustainability; Farm Aid, a fundraiser to benefit the Clemson Student Organic Farm; screenings of documentaries about environmental issues; and Clemson’s first official Earth Day Festival, held last year on the Littlejohn Coliseum lawn.
SEA also has been an integral part of the Clemson University Environmental Teach-In, which is scheduled for Feb. 22. This will mark the fourth environmental teach-in at Clemson, and this year Fair is leading the planning committee. The teach-in’s goal is to have faculty members in all disciplines incorporate discussions about the environment into their classes for the day. The day will also include a speaker series and Green Expo from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Hendrix Student Center.
“Sustainability involves every human on the planet and impacts students in every major,” Fair said. “We want students and faculty across campus to engage in dialogue on environmental stewardship and sustainability that day or during the course of that week. We want all students to be informed.”
As a computer science major, Fair said his discipline addresses sustainability by looking at ways to design more energy efficient computing. He said there are ways to talk about the environment in every major, from an architecture professor talking about green building design to a marketing class discussing how to market a more sustainable culture to health science majors talking about organic foods and the benefits of buying local produce.
The speaker series for the teach-in will begin with an address from President Jim Barker on Clemson’s overall sustainability efforts, followed by a presentation of the University’s sustainability plan by the President’s Commission on Sustainability. Throughout the day, other Clemson faculty will share their research and expertise on various topics related to the environment and work that is being done at Clemson to address those issues.
“Clemson has made giant strides toward sustainability the past few years, and I’m very proud of the University’s efforts,” Fair said. “The President’s Commission and President Barker have shown great leadership in bringing sustainability to Clemson’s mission and goals.”
Fair believes that sustainability is truly part of Clemson’s DNA and always has been.
“Sustainability was part of Thomas Green Clemson’s goals from the start,” he said. “Mr. Clemson wanted to provide farmers with the necessary education so that farming in South Carolina could continue for the future. I am sure if Mr. Clemson were alive today, he would be proud to see our bold efforts on environmental sustainability.”
To learn more about SEA, visit the group’s online newsletter: http://clemsonsea.org/newsletter.
Know a determined Clemson spirit who you’d like to see us write about? Contact University writer Crystal Boyles at email@example.com.