Thursday, Aug 21, 2014 04:13 am est

NYU alumnus leaves inspiring legacy for environmental advocacy

Posted on November 28, 2012 | by Lesley Greenberg

A recent study released by 20 governments around the world estimates that climate change, drought increases, desertification, higher sea levels, extreme storms and other disruptions will lead to 100 million deaths by 2030. The study also predicts a 3.2 percent drop in global GDP unless there are dramatic reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and investments in resilient infrastructure.

Michael Sandmel, a 2012 Gallatin graduate, is working to prevent this from happening. For Sandmel, the statistics represent a world he does not want himself nor his children to grow up in.

“As young people in the world’s richest country, it’s our moral obligation to stand up to the political power of the fossil fuel industry and to the stubbornness of those who would sell out our futures for a quick fix,” Sandmel said.

After graduating last May, Sandmel went to Brazil with SustainUS to attend the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. It was his first experience in the world of international negotiations.

SustainUS is a grassroots, nonprofit organization of young people that encourages people to recognize the interdependence of social, economic and environmental sustainability.  They send young people from all the over the country to U.N. summits on sustainable development to lobby U.S. negotiators and educate the world about sustainability.

Sandmel said studying ecology and economics at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study helped him understand the interaction between the economy and the environment. While attending NYU, he worked in the NYU Office of Sustainability. Sandmel also founded and managed the NYU Bike Share program.

“I was so lucky to be a part of a community that included so many brilliant researchers, activists and social entrepreneurs working so hard to find solutions to the climate challenge,” Sandmel said.

Although he commends many of NYU’s efforts on sustainability and going green, Sandmel stated that there is room for improvement.

“I also think that NYU undermines its mission of being a private university in the public service when it fails to consider the hidden climate costs involved in how the school’s endowment gets invested,” Sandmel said.

Kayla Santosuosso, coordinator of Communications Conservation and Engagement in the NYU Office of Sustainability,  encouraged students to gauge their academics toward sustainability efforts.

“The first step for students at NYU can be fusing their academic study with sustainability, whether in research or practice,” Santosuosso said. “If we’re going to combat climate change on a global scale, we’re going to need an all-hands-on-deck effort that involves all businesses and occupations.”

Next week, Sandmel will attend the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, where he will try to amplify the voices of young people. Sandmel said this year’s summit is building toward the goal of a binding treaty by 2015.

“We don’t have a choice between growth and conservation,” Sandmel said. “We have a choice between following the status quo and thereby accepting increased vulnerability, destabilization and misery, or transitioning to a model of sustainable prosperity and thriving in a green global age.”

Sandmel also stressed the importance of a strong stance from President Obama.

“This is a critical moment for the president to show us whether his allegiances are to big oil or to the long-term interests of the American people and people all over the world,” Sandmel said.

Although Sandmel has graduated, he left a model of sustainability for current students to follow and is remembered fondly for his efforts
at NYU.

“Most young organizers and activists struggle with how to be radically committed to systemic change and yet still pursue a professional career,” said David Seaward, coordinator of the Green Grants Program at the NYU Office of Sustainability. “[Sandmel] handled that with the grace of someone twice as experienced.”

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Nov. 28 print edition. Lesley Greenburg is a staff writer. Email her at


profile portrait
Felipe De La Hoz

Multimedia Editor | Felipe De La Hoz is a Colombian national studying journalism at the College of Arts and Sciences. Having been born in Colombia and raised in the United States, Mexico and Brazil, Felipe is a trilingual travel aficionado and enjoys working in varied and difficult environments. Apart from his photography, Felipe enjoys investigative reporting and interviews, interviewing the likes of Colombian ex-M-19 guerrilla fighters and controversial politician Jimmy McMillan. He has covered everything from governmental conferences to full-blown riots, as well as portraiture shoots and dining photography. Having worked under Brazilian photojournalists for Reuters and AFP, Felipe hopes to one day work on demanding journalistic projects and contribute to the global news cycle.

Ann Schmidt

News Editor | Ann is a liberal studies sophomore who lived in Florence during her freshman year. She plans on double-majoring in journalism and political science and is always busy. She is constantly making lists and she loves to laugh.


Daniel Yeom

Daniel started at the Features desk of WSN last Spring, writing restaurant reviews whilst indulging on free food and consequently getting fat. Last Fall, he was the dining editor, and he this semester he is senior editor. Daniel is in Gallatin (living the dream) studying Food & Travel Narratives, incorporating aspects of Food Studies, Journalism, and Media, Culture, and Communication. He loves food more than life itself.

Hannah Luu

Deputy Multimedia Editor | Hannah Luu is a ridiculously great Deputy Multimedia Editor. She is a sophomore from Northern California. If you think Northern California means San Francisco you might need to closely examine a map. She is passionate about NPR and being half Asian.

  • How to join:

    The Washington Square News holds open weekly budget meetings at its office located at 838 Broadway every Sunday. All are welcome to attend, no matter your background in journalism, writing, or reporting. Specific times for meetings by desk are listed below. If you wish to talk to an editor before you attend, feel free to check out the Staff page.

    5 P.M. 6 P.M. 6 P.M. 6:30 P.M. 6:30 P.M. 7 P.M.

    Applying for an editor position: Applications for editor positions during the fall or spring semesters are available twice each academic year and can be found here when posted. Applications for the Fall 2012 semester are closed, but check back for Spring 2013. Those who wish to apply are urged to publish pieces in the newspaper and contact current editors for shadowing.

    History of the Washington Square News:

    The Washington Square News is the official daily student newspaper of New York University and serves the NYU, Greenwich Village, and East Village communities. Founded as an independent newspaper in 1973, the WSN allows its undergraduate writers and photographers to cover campus and city news and continues to grow its strong body of award-winning journalists and photographers.

  • The WSN has a circulation of about 60,000 and can be found in over a hundred purple bins distributed throughout campus. It is published Monday through Thursday during the fall and spring semesters and online on Friday, with additional special issues published in the summer. The newspaper recently revamped its website during the Fall 2012 semester.

    Like few campus newspapers in the country, the paper is editorially and financially independent from the university and is solely responsible for selling advertisements to fund its production. The WSN, including its senior staff, is run solely by current undergraduate students and the business-division is largely student-operated as well.

    A Board of Directors comprised of alumni, NYU professors and working news media professionals serves as advisors to the paper. Board members have no control in the WSN's editorial policy or newsroom operations. Alumni of the newspaper are established and leading journalists in such news organizations as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NBC news, ABC news, Fox News, and USA Today.