Young Leaders Gather in DC to Demand Clean Energy and Green Jobs

This weekend more than 10,000 young people will converge on Washington to stand up for a clean energy future. They are gathering for the Power Shift 2011 conference, part of a national movement to train and mobilize a wave climate champions.

I have great respect for these young leaders. They know their future is at stake, and they are trying to make it a better one.

Not only are they graduating off a cliff into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depressions, but they are also on the front lines of the climate crisis. Their generation will face more costly droughts, storms, and wildfires than any generation before them.

But the Power Shift participants recognize they can solve both problems at once. The same clean energy solutions that will reduce carbon pollution will also generate millions of jobs.

Instead of waiting for change to come, these young people are out there fighting for it. And they are savvy about it.

They know that as millennials, they wield considerable political power. Theirs is the largest, most diverse generation in American history. Their cohort played a critical role in bringing President Obama to office in 2008, and though they went quiet in the midterm elections, they are poised to take on the 2012 cycle.

But they aren’t waiting until then. On campuses and in communities across the nation, they are already building a movement and campaigning for the green economy. They push college administrations and local mayors to embrace clean energy solutions. And they stay connected and share strategies through the Energy Action Coalition, a coalition of 50 youth-led environmental and social justice groups, originally founded by Billy Parish when he was a sophomore at Yale.

They don’t just operate at the local level. They also bring their collective energy to the national stage. The organizers of the Power Shift conference, for instance, have planned a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill. That’s a level of sophistication most of my peers simply didn’t have in our college days.

Power Shift is making sure this generation of climate champions has the tools it needs to pass laws and secure policies. The conference will include speeches by Al Gore, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, NRDC Trustee Van Jones, and Founder Bill McKibben. But it will also provide training sessions in lobbying, canvassing, nonviolent direct action, and other forms of advocacy.

NRDC’s Campaign Director Melissa Waage will lead a session on organizing, drawing from her experience fighting against mountaintop removal coal mining. Another NRDC advocate, Lucy LaFlamme will speak on a panel about our campaign to protect the Clean Air Act from attack in the current Congress. She will describe about how NRDC is galvanizing people in the Senators’ and Representatives’ home states in order to influence their decisions in Washington.

Anyone watching Congress these days knows how hard it is to advance new policies. Yet the stakes are too high to wait. We must keep pushing for the clean energy solutions that will reduce carbon pollution, create jobs, and protect our health.

Young climate champions bring a burst of passion and intensity to this fight. Indeed, their dedication to creating a more sustainable future is one of the most hopeful signs I have come across in my work. For what they will achieve will benefit us all.