March 5, 2009

Powershift Brings Students to D.C. To Rally for Climate

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This week, thousands of students, including some 80 Cornell students, joined forces inside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. in an effort to solve the global climate crisis. The second national youth summit of its kind, Powershift 2009 was a four-day statement calling for bold, immediate action towards enacting green-friendly legislation.
Energy Action, a coalition of over 50 organizations, hosted Powershift 2009. Energy Action was founded in 2004 in response to the threat of global warming as a way to ensure a sustainable energy future. Their stated platform on climate and energy includes demands for green jobs, a clean energy economy, the end of global warming pollution and taking “dirty money” out of politics by refusing the support of contributors who have interests in coal and oil.
All of these topics were addressed in many of Powershift’s 200-plus panels and workshops delivered by Energy Action-trained professionals. Also on the agenda were career fairs, a graduate school opportunities fair and a movie screening of various titles ranging from “Burning the Future: Coal in America” to “The Youngest Candidate.” In addition, the registered participants of Powershift 2009 were addressed by a number of dignitaries including Congressman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-Md.). The conference ended with over 350 Energy Action lobby visits scheduled with individual members of Congress or their representatives.
Anne-Lise Cossart ’09, traveled to Washington for the conference and attended one of the scheduled lobby visits.
“It was fun walking through the congressional buildings; I talked to the staff members of a senator and two congressman,” Cossart said.
Maxwell Kraft ’09, another student attendee of Powershift 2009, said, “[Powershift] ran training sessions to get everyone mass prepared. I went to the training and it was definitely one of the more impressive parts of the weekend. [Powershift] had people who were familiar with lobbying to talk to us about it, so we were not just walking in cold turkey.”
In the speech given by Markey at Powershift, he said, “We have a chance this year to pass the law that puts a cap on greenhouse gases and begin the process of saving the planet from the pollution that has been sent up for the past 200 years … On every one of the issues which is being debated in this country, there is one thing that separates the oil industry, the coal industry, the utility industry and the automotive industry from the people in this room on every one of those issues: [the people in this room] are right and [these industries] are wrong.”
Markey continued to emphasize what he perceived as the gravity of the situation by likening the “green revolution” to historic events such as the protest at Tiananmen Square in 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
However not all of the people involved in Powershift believe in the implications of the comparison.
“I am pretty non-confrontational, so I think that it’s a little bit overdramatic to liken [global climate issues] to the Holocaust or the massacre at Tiananmen; it is too long-term to liken to one short-term occurrence,” Kraft said.
Consistent with Energy Action’s three-year goals, specifically the goal of “empowering lifelong leaders for the climate and a just energy future,” the conference was as much an educational forum for the exchange of ideas as it was a rally for green interests. Many panels and workshops were specifically geared towards providing students and young people with the tools they need to take ownership of the cause. The career fair enabled students to investigate jobs related to climate control and clean energy.
Sometimes ownership of the cause means acts of mass civil disobedience. Joshua Russel, member of the steering committee for Energy Action, blogged about his experience on March 2 when thousands of young people converged to effectively shut down the capitol power plant, a coal plant that provides steam and cooled water to the U.S. Capitol among other buildings in Washington. Serving the capitol since 1910, the capitol power plant has been a center of controversy within the “Greening the Capitol” initiative of the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Ideally, Energy Action enthusiasts would like to see the capital be carbon neutral. The seizure of the plant was a demonstration of that demand and it was intended to reinforce the need to build outside pressure, political will and a sense of urgency over the situation. Pelosi was scheduled to give a guest speech at Powershift but was unable to attend due to weather.
Despite the broad goals associated with Energy Action, Communications Director Brianna Cotter said, “We are already creating incredible change, and there is no doubt in my mind that we can pass bold federal energy and climate legislation this year. In the absence of federal leadership over the last few years, young leaders have been working on their campuses, communities and in their states to create significant changes.”
Despite the pressure that Powershift and Energy Action are placing on the government, people like Russel continue to emphasize the importance of taking what has happened on the national level and bringing it home to the community level.
In regards to the urgency of the situation and the manner in which the goals are actually being accomplished by Energy Action and by others at the community level, Kraft said “The whole point of [Powershift] was to be like, we are constituents who care about this, as something that is important and matters to us. This movement is here and growing. It is just the beginning.”
Kraft continued, “It is important to show support. I have two exams this week and two papers due; I could have been just like another Cornell student and said my life is too busy for this, but it is important to get out and get involved, beyond just getting an A in class.”