October 31, 2013

Power Shift Conference Reaffirms Cornell Student Activists’ Passion for Sustainability

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At least a dozen Cornellians joined thousands of others in Pittsburgh, Penn. from Oct. 18 to 21 to discuss issues of social and environmental sustainability at Power Shift, an annual youth summit.

Cole Norgaarden ’17, who attended the biannual conference, said the goal of Power Shift is to bring youth activists from every part of the country together to exchange ideas, learn about environmental issues and take action. He described the conference as an “environmental justice convergence.”

The conference helped him understand the complexity of the environmental issues — including fracking, divestment from fossil fuels and clean energy — facing his generation, Norgaarden said.

“By no means would the people … at Power Shift be able to agree on what the best thing would be to do in order to create positive change,” he said in an email. “The sheer multitude of problems that were raised and the even greater number of ways to go about solving them left me in a state of enlightened confusion.”

Despite facing uncertainty over how exactly to bring about positive change, Norgaarden said Power Shift confirmed the necessity and urgency of this movement for his generation.

“It just takes time to find out how exactly you fit into it,” Norgaarden said.

Another conference attendee, Alexander Ilich ’15, said the workshops and discussions at Power Shift emphasized how society needs to identify the sources of social and environmental justice issues.

“There was a large focus on how fossil fuel extraction often takes place in marginalized communities that have little political power to protect themselves from the pollution and health risks brought on by the extraction,” Ilich said in an email.

The conference also allowed participants to explore “the struggles of frontline communities — those directly facing the devastating effects of either intense extractive industry or climate change itself,” Norgaarden said.

Norgaarden and Ilich both became involved with Power Shift through Kyoto NOW!, an environmental justice club at Cornell. The student-led organization is currently undertaking a campaign called Divest NOW!, which hopes to get Cornell University to divest from fossil fuels by the year 2020, according to Illich.