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.”