While scientists point to recent severe global weather events as evidence of climate change, energy policy-makers have become polarized. It’s our youth who will suffer the consequences, and young people today are taking action for a cleaner environment and a healthier world. They will wait no longer for grownups to clean up their mess. And policy-makers are taking notice.
• Abigail Borah is a student at Middlebury College in Vermont and an advocate with SustainUS
• Adarsha Shivakumar is a Standard student, a litigation plaintiff against the state of California, and also a winner of the Brower Youth Award
Their backgrounds differ, their methods differ, but today’s young guests agree that youth has a major stake in impacting policy to affect change.
For Tania Pulido, it was a personal journey from a troubled life to environmental activism. While in high school, she realized that so many others in her community of Richmond, California, were having similar problems. The community is dominated by a large oil refinery—“the single largest greenhouse emitter in California,” she learned. Unfortunately, the community wasn’t interested in the refinery, “because there were other pressing issues in their lives, such as poverty and drug abuse and violence,” she explained. But food, everyone was interested in that. So she created a community garden, which now serves as hub where people come together to talk about larger issues while sharing the intimate experience of eating.
When Adarsha Shivakumar was thirteen, he wanted to help poor farmers in southern India. He used money he won in a spelling bee to provide farmers with seeds to plant an economically and environmentally sustainable biofuel. That was the beginning of what is now an international nonprofit, currently focusing on environment education and tree planting in Haiti and in the Oakland/Hayward area. In the meantime, Shivakumar joined a suit against the state of California to classify the atmosphere as a public trust, like water, so that emissions—greenhouse gases, for example—would be more strictly regulated. “I think that the government was kind of surprised,” he said. They realized that these young people are the future voting constituent. “They are starting to noticing us.”
While a college freshman, Abigail Borah was disillusioned with the results of the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. She became involved in working on energy politics in Vermont, then went to Mexico for the UN conference in 2010, and to South Africa in 2011. While in South Africa, Borah, found herself having to answer for the lack of US leadership on the climate issue. “We felt we had to call our country out and let people know that we didn’t think the government was speaking on our behalf.” And that she did, making international news as she shouted out, interrupting the US negotiator. “The moderator said ‘no one is listening to you.’ But I think the response is that people were listening, and that when young people speak up, people do listen.”
As can be expected, social media is huge in the lives of these young people. That’s where they get their news and how they connect quickly on a large scale. They do, however, see connecting on a personal level as critical as well.
For environmental reasons, all three panelists are against the Keystone Pipeline project. According to Borah, “When we see that the majority of Americans oppose the pipeline, or three-fourths of Americans want to invest in renewable technologies, and our politicians are going against that and siding with big oil, gas, coal, I think we need to hold them accountable.” And she added, “It’s just another example of how corporate dollars are influencing our politicians.”
In concluding, the three panelists agreed that youth will be heard.
– Lucy Sanna
Photo: Ed Ritger Climate One, The Commonwealth Club HQ, San Francisco (March 26, 2012)