Powershift: Save the Polar Bears, Save the Humans

[This is a guest post by Summer Rayne Oakes. -Ed.] "Ring, Ring," Elizabeth Martin-Perera, a Climate Policy Specialist with the NRDC's Climate Center picks up the phone. It's an acquaintance at BP. The voice on the other end asks, "What is this Power Shift thing that I keep hearing about. Is it something I should know about? Should I be concerned?"

Elizabeth, who spoke on the Climate Legislation panel at Power Shift a few days ago, chuckled at the sound of worry in the woman's voice. "And I'll just add that every single person on The Hill knows you are coming."

Damn straight they knew we were coming. Even Nancy Pelosi, who showed up to speak at Power Shift, was caught off guard. Sure she is an ally, but it was clear that she was debriefed about the event 5-minutes before she got to the stage. She was nervous. She had 6,000 teen and twenty-somethings staring back at her and she knew that we were hungry for something real. That would make anyone shake in their shoes. I turned to my friend, Dan Roth, and barked like a dog. "We're like dogs," I joked with him. "We can smell fear." He laughed. A girl in the front row turned around and shushed me, but pretty soon even she was screaming to the top of her lungs, "We want more! We want more. 80 by 2050, 80 by 2050!"

Yes Nancy, we weren't looking for the same old plan-in-the-can speech because we know the "business as usual" will not inspire real solutions and will not be able to solve the climate crisis. We want change. And change is what we will get.

That was the essence of Power Shift 07. The "First" and "Biggest" in a long list of things"

  • First-ever (inter)national youth summit to solve the climate crisis
  • Biggest U.S. Climate Summit/Conference on Climate Change
  • First time ever that youth have testified to the government on Global Warming
  • Biggest lobby day on the Hill for Climate Change, and one of the largest lobby days ever

Perhaps that is why "historic" was on the tongue of every speaker, every panelist, and every attendee. It was a coordinated effort that took 8 months to plan and build, but a lifetime of passion, and a clear, unified vision for the future to pull off.

Fifty states, 300 Congressional districts, hundreds of colleges and high schools, 20+ countries, thousands of Step it Up efforts throughout the nation, and a 6,000-person crowd armed with green hard hats and one hard-hitting message: We will end the Climate Crisis. That was Power Shift 07, in case you were one of the people to have missed it. But don't worry, you'll get replays of it on blogs, news networks, newspapers, and everything in between. The four-day event kicked off at the University of Maryland with workshops, training sessions, musical acts, and keynotes. Today we found ourselves in the Official Hearing to the Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. It was jam-packed. Standing room only — which felt more like the energy at a Terrapin basketball game with 2 points to win it in the final seconds rather than a stuffy C-Spanesque committee meeting. I cried. Billy Parish, founder of Energy Action and Cheryl Lockwood, a high-schooler from the Alaska Youth for Environmental Action moved the wall-to-wall crowd to tears.

"I am 26 years old," Parish said with strength and passion in his voice. "In four months I will be a father I urge you to consider what we say, not as politicians, but as fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters. This is our future. This is our lives. As Evon Peter said yesterday, 'The crisis that we are facing today is centuries old. We are not only in an economic and environmental crisis. This crisis is also a spiritual and cultural crisis that is occurring.'" Parish went on to say, "We will solve this, but we cannot do it without you. And if you do not join us, then find yourself another job. We are in the millions, and we are organizing. We put you in office and we will take you out of office. This is our lives at stake."

So that is how it was. And I left the hearing early to go to lobby my representatives with a tear-stained face. When I got to Senator Casey's office with 40 others to hear the Legislative assistant say, "Well, we are looking at "clean coal" technologies, because we know we can't keep on having regular coal as the status quo."

I gathered my energy and stood up. "I think I speak on behalf of everyone in this room, the 6,000 young people on the Hill today, and the millions of young people that we represent to say: All coal is the status quo "

Remember, remember the Fifth of November.

Here begins our journey. Here begins the Power Shift.

See also: ::Thousands of College Students Converge on Washington, D.C. to Lobby Against Climate Change

Tags: Summer Rayne Oakes