I used to think that we could curb global warming fast enough so
that my grandchildren wouldn't face intense droughts and spreading
wildfires. But these impacts are already here, and if we don't act
fast, my daughters' generation will really pay the price.
My three daughters and their friends know that. They know their
future is at stake. The good news is they also know they can do
something about it. In the past few years, I have seen the number of
youth-lead efforts to tackle global warming expand dramatically. It is
one of the most hopeful signs I have come across in my work.
The day before inauguration, for instance, 5,000 young people attended the Youth Inaugural Conference,
all of them bright leaders eager to engage in the political process. I
was invited to speak about global warming, and students started
arriving 40 minutes before the talk began just to make sure they got
seats. That's right, young people were lining up to learn how to solve
This inspires me because I know that enacting a comprehensive
climate law will require impassioned, sustained, and creative political
pressure--the very things that youth movements excel at.
Even with President Obama's commitment to stopping global warming,
it will be a tough fight to get a climate bill through Congress. Our
lawmakers need to hear from American voters that creating a cleaner,
more sustainable energy future is a top priority.
This coming week, young people have several ways to make their voices heard. Starting Friday, February 27, the Energy Action Coalition is putting on a national youth summit called Power Shift '09 that will bring more than 10,000 young people to Washington.
Energy Action Coalition was co-founded by Billy Parish,
whom I met when he was a sophomore at Yale. Billy had come to the
realization that climate change was the defining issue of his
generation. Yet he noticed that there were no networks pulling together
youth efforts to stop global warming, so he decided to organize one.
The EAC now unites more than 45 youth climate organizations from around
the nation and Canada.
Soon after launching the network, Billy dropped out of school to
devote himself full time to organizing in the youth climate movement.
He traveled the country sleeping on couches, working tirelessly with
limited resources, and achieving amazing results. Now Energy Action
Coalition is led by Jessy Tolkan, another visionary leader and an extraordinarily talented young woman.
Jessy, Billy, and their partners have done a great job planning
Power Shift. There will be a day of lobbying, which Billy promises will
be the biggest lobby day in the first 100 days of the Obama
administration. But even more important, the event is designed to help
young people find their place in the climate movement. They will meet
with leaders from advocacy groups, businesses, government agencies, and
community-based groups and decide for themselves which route motivates
them the most. They will also get to hear from Van Jones, Nancy Pelosi,
and Ed Markey by day, and Santigold and The Roots by night.
Power Shift isn't the only option for communicating with lawmakers.
On March 2, thousands of people will gather in an act of civil
disobedience at the Capitol Power Plant--a coal-fired plant that fuels Congress with dirty energy. In a public letter, organizers Wendell Berry and Bill Mckibben wrote,
"This will be, to the extent that it depends on us, an entirely
peaceful demonstration, carried out in a spirit of hope and not rancor."
It might strike some as odd timing for a mass protest, now that the
President has pledged to stop climate change and Congress is drafting
climate bills at this moment. But Mckibben thinks the march will give
our leaders the political space to do the right thing. He writes,
"Barack Obama was a community organizer--he understands that major
change only comes when it's demanded, when there's some force noisy
enough to drown out the eternal hum of business as usual, or vested
interests, of inertia."
Young people have a variety of ways to generate noise about climate
solutions right now, from organizing their campuses to putting boots on
the ground in Washington.
Which ever route you take, I encourage you to reach out to your
elected officials along the way. Make sure they know that you expect
them to make global warming a thing of the past, and clean energy,
green collar jobs, and sustainability part of your future.
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