September 20, 2011

“Let's be the generation that finally frees America from the tyranny of oil.”

Remember back when our President was an oil industry leader? Back in 2008, our country was at war with the Middle East, extreme weather events demonstrated the drastic effects of climate change, many Americans could not afford health care, the cost of education continued to rise, and our economy collapsed. We, as a generation, were labeled “apathetic” about politics. However this time, we wanted to defy odds and make a difference.

It turned out that we were captivated by a former grassroots organizer and civil rights lawyer whose enthusiastic, infectious, underdog campaign inspired us to mobilize. The progressive youth movement agreed with his platform and we were ready to vote for Barack Obama to be our next president; however, we decided to push our limits a little further. Thousands of us were staffers (field organizers, communications directors, finance directors, political directors) on the Obama Campaign for Change. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of progressive youth volunteered to canvass neighborhoods, phonebank, host house parties, design posters and t-shirts, Facebook and Tweet, whatever we could imagine could be of benefit for Obama to win the election.

The more we learned about Obama, the more emotionally invested we became in his campaign.  His “New Energy for America” plan outlined how he, if elected president, would:

  • Create 5 million green jobs by investing $150 billion in 10 years to develop clean energy technology
  • Reduce our dependence on foreign oil
  • Achieve for 25 percent of the US’s electricity to be generated from renewable resources
  • Devise a cap-and-trade system to reduce the US’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.  

Did Obama attend PowerShift 2007?  We campaigned for the same initiatives!

As time progressed, media outlets found more and more clips of Obama’s passion for the environment and climate.

He understood how clean resources connects to climate change, business, and sustainability, and would advocate for these values when elected president.  What more could we ask for?

What about his reputation as a climate advocate? Well, it turns out he had a very strong record of being a champion for the environment.  

On Tuesday, November 4, 2008, youth voted in record numbers to elect Barack Obama to be our next President, and he won!  “We [knew] the battle ahead [would] be long, but always remember[ed] that no matter what obstacles [stood] in our way, nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change.”  We were ready to support Obama set a moratorium on mountaintop removal, offshore drilling, uranium mining, and fracking because those systems establish a society that classifies people as being expendable for the comfort and convenience of our nation’s energy needs. The youth climate movement believed, “not just in [Obama’s] ability to bring about real change in Washington...[We] believed in [ours]." We and our President were going to work together to combat climate change and its cynics because:

“The issue of climate change is one that we ignore at our own peril...we can be scientifically certain of is that our continued use of fossil fuels is pushing us to a point of no return. And unless we free ourselves from a dependence on these fossil fuels and chart a new course on energy in this country, we are condemning future generations to global catastrophe.”

This year, there have been several attacks on environmental legislation that needed to be defended by a climate-conscious president. Currently, Obama has to decide on a proposal for a 1,700 mile-long tar sands pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico; if ruptured would dismantle communities by introducing cancer-causing toxins to our water systems and food supply, increasing carbon emissions, and detrimenting our human health. Clearly that won’t bring this country justice, equality, opportunity, prosperity, nor heal our nation. Obama said while accepting his Nobel Peace Prize, “We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it's easy, but when it is hard.” We know that fighting for the environment is hard, but we’ve seen Obama compromise for dirty energy. What happened to the former organizer, environmental advocate, civil right lawyer who agreed with the youth climate movement? In 2008, the Obama campaign was “warned against offering the people of this nation false hope”. Were we offered false hope?

We care because we want to see Obama succeed. We want to see Obama re-elected for another term as president because Obama does believe in climate science and typically supports the EPA, and the majority of the GOP candidates don’t agree with climate change science and will drastically curtail the EPA. We want to feel the passion and tenacity that we felt in 2008. However if Obama approves the Keystone XL pipeline, it will not only be “game over” for our climate and communities. It will also be “game over” for the youth climate movement to feel energized, excited, enthusiastic enough to devote our time, resources, skills, and recruit friends to break the voter registration and voter turnout records we established before. Please Obama, stop the Keystone XL pipeline.