April 22, 2012

My story: Why I work in the youth climate movement

Cross posted from the Southern Energy Network blog.

I have a very distinct memory from high school the first time I ever thought about what it meant to be an environmentalist. I was staring at a photo of a polar bear in the section about global warming in my textbook, not paying attention to what my teacher was saying but instead focusing on this image in my head that I had seen of thousands of people marching in the streets for the first Earth Day in 1970. I don’t think I really understood what was happening when I first saw the photo, what the march meant or why it was happening, but I know that it stuck with me and that I wanted to be part of something like that one day.

Fast forward to my time at Eckerd College. I was an enthusiastic student, striving to learn the science and ecology of this planet, but not finding much satisfaction in the biology lab or my textbooks. As I learned more and more about the crisis we are facing – climate change, pollution from fossil fuels, and more – I started searching for some way I could do something about it. Luckily for me, I found one of the best opportunities around – Greenpeace’s Change It! program.

Change It! was the launching point of my life as a climate organizer. Ten days of intense, non-stop climate organizing training from students just like mewho were concerned about climate change and energy too. Ten days filled with a flurry of flip chart paper, power maps, and petitioning in the streets of Cambridge. It was one of the best experiences of my life.

But I remember getting back to campuswith all this knowledge and training and feeling this fear settle over me. How can I win all by myself? What will my parents think? What will my friends think? Can I really do this? Many of us experience these feelings of fear at some point, and I was almost paralyzed by them.I went back and helped out with the campus garden, did some environmental education, and kept learning the science. After a few months of this, I realized it was still not enough. This feeling of urgency settled over me, more frightening than what I thought my friends would say or the doubts I had about myself. Climate change is real, and we’ve got to do something about it.

When the chance came to work with Repower America to advocate for comprehensive climate legislation, I took it. While working on the ground in St. Petersburg, Florida to build power around the legislation and push it forward in Congress, I realized – if we succeed, we could actually see some real change come out of it.Unfortunately, the bill failed – but I was empowered to do more, to work harder, to take on these challenges – I was hopeful and confident that this was the way we could change things. Through Repower I started working with the Southern Energy Network, on campus with the Define Our Decade campaign and then later on Power Vote 2010.

Suddenly, I was connected to this movement in the Southeast that I never even realized existed. We face some of the most difficult challenges in these states – coal and nuclear plants threatening our air and water, climate change threatening our livelihoods, corrupt politicians letting Big Polluters get away with murder, and ignorance among many of the citizens. But the young people in the Southeast feel the urgency of climate change, and we are taking a stand. We know that if we don’t do something about it now, it’s going to be OUR homes, OUR lives, OUR childrenthat will suffer.

We are already doing amazing things in the region – we have organized and shut down coal plants, made sweeping changes on our campuses to begin building a just, clean energy economy, and have trained and empowered our peers to become leaders in this movement. I have never felt as hopeful as I do now - I see our power growing every day. Join me in building this movement, help us Clean Up the Dirty South, take a stand right now. Now is the only time.