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Taking advantage of the ‘innovative’ years

At a talk on campus Wednesday night, consumer advocate Ralph Nader urged students to become more civically engaged. Photo by Gustav Hoiland.

During his lecture on campus Wednesday night, consumer crusader and environmentalist Ralph Nader asked audience members to raise their hand if they regularly see television commercials for new cars. Then he asked how many have seen one commercial for public transportation. Not nearly as many hands shot up.

The exercise highlighted two of Nader’s core themes throughout the evening: the corporate power in American society today and his plea for students to become more civically engaged on issues that benefit both society and the environment.

“[This] is the most innovative decade of your lives,” Nader told several hundred people who packed the Blackman Auditorium on Wednesday night, many of whom were students. “You will never be as imaginative, as pioneering as you will be in your 20s.”

The Husky Environmental Action Committee (HEAT) — a Northeastern student group focused on environmental sustainability and carbon neutrality — sponsored the event.

Throughout his career, Nader has launched presidential campaigns and played a crucial role in the creation of numerous consumer protection laws and the establishment of organizations such as the Public Interest Research Group. His latest book is entitled “Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism.”

During his lecture, he decried the corporate influence on society.

He also noted the story of Ray Anderson, the founder of the carpet manufacturing company Interface. In 1994, Anderson, who died last year, made a conscious effort to reduce his company’s carbon footprint while still turning a profit.

Nader called him “one of the greatest corporate executives in American history,” but lamented the fact that his eco-friendly approach has not caught on in corporate America.

On the other hand, environmental action on college campuses is stronger than ever, noted Nader, who hailed HEAT and other student groups for promoting recycling and energy efficiency.

He noted, however, that college students of past generations had “more fire in their belly” than those today.

Nader encouraged students to use new technology to make a difference in their communities and take a stand on issues of national and global significance.

He even urged students to head into their co-op experiences armed with the confidence and ambition to bring their own ideas to the table.

Students, he said, should not let the negative rhetoric of political campaigns turn off their passion for politics.” The more you’ve turned off politics, the more politics will turn on you,” he said.