Climate Change Power Shift Thousands of students came together to infuse the largest citizen conference ever to address climate change with energy, enthusiasm and a new vision for the future.
Nearly 6,000 young global warming activists from across the country have converged on the University of Maryland-College Park, and they all have about forty minutes to grab lunch at the Stamp Student Union. Many resort to the union’s convenience store. The student behind me in line is holding a box of PopTarts and a foil-wrapped King Cone. He explains that he’s a vegetarian.
There will be time for organic greens and brown rice later. Fast results could have been the weekend’s motto. Power Shift 2007, from November 2 to 5, was not only the largest student conference but the largest citizen conference ever to address the single issue of climate change, and its agenda was both pragmatic and urgent. If these youth succeed at even a fraction of what they’ve set out to do, they’ll transform our environment and our economy while redefining the environmental movement in a mainstream and populist direction. But first they’ll have to transform the perception of their own generation.
Power Shift drew its platform from the 1Sky campaign, a new attempt–officially launching next month–to build a broadbased nationwide movement around three policy changes, or “asks”: 1) The creation of a 5 million-strong Clean Energy Job Corps, 2) The reduction of greenhouse gases to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, which scientists say is the baseline for mitigating the worst effects of global warming, and 3) A moratorium on new coal plants and divestment from fossil fuel and highway subsidies.
The actions sound radical but the movement, by and large, is not. On Monday, Power Shift culminated not in mass civil disobedience on the White House lawn but in an official hearing before a highly sympathetic Ed Markey, chair of Congress’s Select Committee on Global Warming. A thousand students clad in green hard hats then lobbied their senators and representatives, asking for support for their platform as already contained in existing legislation: the Sanders-Boxer Global Warming Reduction Act in the Senate and the Waxman Safe Climate Act in the House. (As of this same weekend, when Hillary unveiled her environmental platform, these commitments are the positions of each Democratic presidential front-runner as well.)
As Markey told the students, on climate change, “You are right and they [corporations, recalcitrant politicians] are wrong!” The mandate of these youth leaders, as they communicated it to each other this weekend, is to organize the largest living generation, turn themselves out to vote, and keep the pressure on politicians to uphold their commitments to solve the biggest problem facing the earth.
“I feel like we are emerging from Power Shift with really clear goals and messages as a movement,” said Billy Parish, the 25-year-old coordinator of Energy Action, the largest student environmental coalition, which organized Power Shift and is a cofounder of 1Sky. “Young people as a whole are overwhelmingly progressive, and they’ve craving a vision that takes in the environmental movement, ending the war, and economic opportunities. They’re savvy enough to see the movement building potential of this 1 sky strategy. Every speaker emphasized the three clear planks of 1Sky. Every speaker emphasized the potential of the youth movement and our power. I bet you can grab anybody here and they’ll tell you it’s been a lifechanging experience for them.”