In April, 10,000 young people converged on Washington, D.C., for the third Power Shift conference, a national summit of youth activists for the environment held every two years.
The mood was much different from that of the summits in 2007 and 2009. In an interview with Yes! magazine, Jessy Tolkan, a founder of the Energy Action Coalition, described the first as “like the coming out party for the youth climate movement.” During the second, after Barack Obama’s election, she said, “There was a bit of euphoria in the air.” But by 2011, the young environmentalists who had come to discuss organizing strategies were moved to take to the streets to denounce the pro-coal, pro-drilling, and pro-nuke policies of the president many had pounded pavement to elect. They supplemented their training sessions and sharing of stories about local and campus eco-campaigns with protests in front of the White House, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and BP offices.
The summit is one piece of evidence showing that today’s teens and young adults are the most environmentally aware generation in history. And they are on the move.
This past December at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Cancún, Mexico, young people of color led the way. Black, Asian American, and other representatives of Youth for Climate Justice and Grassroots Global Justice Alliance joined with La Via Campesina, a global federation of peasants, in a walkout to protest being shut out of the climate negotiations. They were critical of the conference’s resort location, its failure to include indigenous people, and its support for REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), a further commercialization of forests peddled as a solution to the crisis of forest loss.
Said African American organizer Kari Fulton of Youth for Climate Justice, “We are here to reclaim our futures, to make sure the voices of young people who will be most impacted by climate change are heard and are respected.” This is what the planet needs!