By Nathaniel Herz
As nations around the world prepare to negotiate a new international
climate change agreement in Copenhagen in December, youth activists are
gearing up to fight for passage of a “clean, bold, and just energy bill”
here in the United States.
This month, as part of a nationwide effort, students and young people
will come together in a series of eleven regional “Power Shift” summits on
energy and climate. According to organizers, the focus of these
conferences will be to put pressure on elected officials to pass new
climate legislation, as well as to provide training for youth activists
to allow them to continue building the movement’s momentum.
While climate change itself doesn’t give organizers the same obvious
foes like the burning rivers or massive oil spills that galvanized the
youth activists of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Power Shift’s
planners are still trying to get people involved by finding ways to make
the fight against global warming more immediate. They cite the massive
impact of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia and coal-burning
power plants in the Midwest.
“I don’t think the movement has done a good enough job at being
storytellers,” said Pete Griffin, campaign director for the Energy
Action Coalition, the organization behind Power Shift. “There are these
things that are happening, and there are these compelling stories–these
burning rivers that are happening–but [they’re] not getting out there.”
The 11 summits will include speakers, training sessions, and even live
entertainment. Brett Wiley, the organizer of the Missouri conference,
said that he hopes to have 750 people in attendance. At the Missouri
event, which will take place at St. Louis University on October 16
through 18, Wiley said that activities would range to basic climate
change education to skills training in non-violent action to a photo
booth, in which people can add to a “visual petition” of what they would
like to see accomplished at the international conference in Copenhagen.
The summit will culminate with a 750-strong march in downtown St. Louis
to push for congressional action.
The summits aren’t ignoring local politics, either. Wiley said that one
of the goals of the Missouri conference will be to convince Senator
Claire McCaskill to sign a clean energy bill, while the organizers of
the event in the Pacific Northwest are seeking to create a high-speed
rail line between Eugene, OR, and Vancouver, BC.
While the Obama administration has indicated that passage of new climate
change legislation is unlikely to happen before the Copenhagen meetings,
Wiley said that “we’re not going to accept that.”
“We need to have a leadership role in [the conference],” he said. “By
signing a clean energy bill before Copenhagen, it can validate our
leadership on an international stage and demonstrate that we’re active
on the climate change issue in the US”
For Griffin, it’s a matter of holding elected officials to the pledges
they made when they were campaigning.
“A lot of people in the White House and Congress were elected last
year because they made promises to young people that they were going to
move on this issue,” he said. “Right now it
doesn’t look like they’ve been living up to those promises.”