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SLU student from Potsdam walks 100 miles to White House for climate change policy

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POTSDAM - Many college students take advantage of the summer to fit some relaxation into their schedule.

Others choose to put in hours of work at their summer job or complete an internship.

St. Lawrence University rising junior and Potsdam resident David Smith on the other hand took eight days out of his July schedule to walk 100 miles to the White House as part of an effort to urge President Barack Obama to enact his climate change policy by rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline.

The pipeline is 1,179 miles long and stretches from Alberta to the coast of Texas.

Mr. Smith is studying Environmental Studies and Geology and received an environmental fellowship from the university in May, prompting him to participate in the walk. The journey started on July 19 at Camp David in Sabillasville, Md. and concluded near the White House on July 27.

“It started with 25 people from around the country. They were mostly from North Carolina, but there was one woman from Seattle and a couple of us from New York. I was the only person from the area,” Mr. Smith said. “We met up with a lot of the rest of the group in Harper’s Ferry. We were comparing our current energy sources with the cheap energy sources of the 1800s. It was more of a smaller stop on the walk. By the end of the walk, there were 100 campers and 100 daywalkers. I wasn’t expecting that many of the walkers. It was nice for the group to grow and meet people. The group and the big turnout gave me hope.”

Shortly after receiving the environmental fellowship at the end of his sophomore year, Mr. Smith also joined the organization “Walk for Our Grandchildren.” According to the group’s Facebook page, they are committed to keeping fossil fuels in the ground and it all starts with the rejection of the pipeline.

Mr. Smith identified many reasons as to why he joined the organization and did the walk.

“The reason why I joined the march is because the (pipeline) is so bad for the environment and society. It won’t go toward our oil consumption,” Mr. Smith said. “Also, TransCanada has stated that it will be pumped down through Texas and then go overseas, which creates oil price raises in the Midwest. The type of oil going through the pipeline requires a lot more energy and extracting methods rather than conventional oil. It’s considered to be one of the dirtiest types of oil because of the carbon pollution.”

Highlights of the walk included sleeping on a Civil War battlefield, walking along the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal, and hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail.

“The weather was great. The first two days were the hottest. Once we got to Harper’s Ferry, we walked on the C&O canal and it was a lot cooler. We only ran across rain one night when we got to Harper’s Ferry. We camped out at this hostel there,” Mr. Smith said. “We participated in two local environmental events. One was in Williamsburg, Va. and the other in Myersville, Md. They gave us a potluck dinner; it was great and we had plenty of food.”

He added that the group spent multiple nights at different camp sites along the trail.

According to Mr. Smith, the decision on the issue has been continuously pushed back the last couple of years, but it is proposed to be decided in November or in early 2014.

While the ultimate result of this long journey will not be known for months, Mr. Smith looks back at this experience as a very positive one.

“It was a life-changing experience, meeting people and converging on one main cause. It was really powerful for me to walk 100 miles and urge President Obama to do this,” he said.

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