Youth Climate Movement Gathers Steam

By Nick Engelfried of Forest Grove, Oregon. Nick is a student at Pacific University, where he helps run an environmental group that is pushing the student government to endorse the Cascade Climate Declaration. Previously he contributed "Going green in Washington County".

Though largely unnoticed by the mainstream media, the youth climate movement has swelled to a torrent here in the Northwest. Its most impressive manifestation may have been “Cascade Powershift” – a gathering of over 200 students from colleges and universities across Washington and Oregon, which converged on the University of Oregon campus February 8-11th. Three days of activism workshops, keynote speakers, and exchanging ideas for change were followed up on the 11th by sending delegations of students to Salem and Olympia, to lobby for firm action on global warming in their respective state capitals. Writes Jesse Jenkins, co-founder of the Cascade Climate Network, these few days “pulled together [young] people from across the region for a blow-out event aimed at training, engaging and activating hundreds of youth….to take on the most important challenge and opportunity of our generation: climate change.”

Cascade Powershift was part of a much larger movement that’s been brewing here for months. Just two weeks before the summit, close to fifty schools in the Northwest participated in Focus the Nation – a nation-wide “teach-in” designed to raise the profile of global warming in politics through public education and outreach. Meanwhile, at individual college campuses, students are running campaigns to reduce energy consumption and tap into renewable power for college buildings. At the same time, as we did at the closing of Powershit, student groups are pressuring elected officials—representatives from the local to the national level—to support policies that curb greenhouse emissions and decrease our reliance on fossil fuels. We are fighting new coal plants and Liquefied Natural Gas terminals, pushing forward sustainability initiatives city governenments, and visiting our members of Congress to show them this is an issue of importance to youth. At a time when the climate movement is too-often casually equated with Al Gore, student groups are playing a more and more important role in a tide of diverse voices demanding action to stop global warming.

Instrumental in orchestrating the Northwest’s youth climate movement has been the Cascade Climate Network, which sponsored the Powershift summit. The Nework also drafted the Cascade Climate Declaration – a document calling for strong action on global warming that has now been endorsed by student governments from eight Northwest campuses. Those colleges and universities represent about 122,750 youth, and we are working on getting many more on board. The Declaration is used as evidence of the level of student concern about climate change; members of the Cascade Climate Network have cited it when testifying before the Oregon and Washington state legislatures, and have delivered the document with its list of signatories to Governor Ted Kulongoski’s Environmental Advisor.

From rising sea levels, to bigger wildfires, to Dead Zones off the Oregon Coast, global climate change will affect the youth of today for decades. What we do (or don’t do) about this issue today is going to determine the outlook for peace and prosperity in the remainder of the twenty-first century. We young people involved in the climate movement are acutely aware of this fact, and realize the consequences of not acting will be catastrophic for our own generation. So we are organizing, in hopes that older generations will soon follow us in our push for change. The one certainty is that there is no time to lose as we confront this crisis; we cannot wait until after graduation – so we rise to the challenge now.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    We are not going to solve global warming without the help of China, India, Russia, Brazil, and the whole list of countries trying to lift themselves out of poverty. I am an advocate of more Mandarin and study abroad in China programs in Oregon's public schools K-16 because China is key to solving so many global problems, including global warming. So, after having read the Cascade Climate Declaration, I have a question: Is it fair to say that the Cascade Climate Declaration, and the assembled students that developed it, do not have a strategy for dealing with climate change in China (and other foreign nations) other than the example we could set in the Northwest?

  • The Bandit (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I tip my hat to the student movement. It is nice to see that there are people actually doing something to help problem-solve, encouraging all levels of government to adopt helpful policies. Thank you for your activism.

  • The Bandit (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I tip my hat to the student movement. It is nice to see that there are people actually doing something to help problem-solve, encouraging all levels of government to adopt helpful policies. Thank you for your activism.

  • Anthony Stine (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Nice piece, Nick -- and it's been a long time since we've spoken in any way. The last time we did was when we both served on student government in one capacity or another at PCC-Rock Creek. It's good to see that you're still active out there in Forest Grove.

guest column

connect with blueoregon