Climate Generation: A History of Energy Action (2005)

As a tribute to the inspiring Climate Generation series, I thought I would re-publish this early history of Energy Action, originally written in December 2005.

A History of Energy Action

We each arrived on the scene from different beginnings. Billy Parish, Adi Nochur, and Meg Boyle were taking time in and out of school to pull together a powerful new climate coalition in the Northeast U.S.. Maureen Cane, Arthur Coulston, and Marcia Winslade were establishing their own sustainability network in California after a major clean energy victory at one of the nations’ largest university systems. Lindsay Telfer and Jeca Glor-Bell were spearheading an innovative sustainable campuses initiative in Canada as part of the Sierra Youth Coalition. Nick Algee and Liz Veazey were storming through the American Southeast shouting “Green Power” in the heart of coal country. Tricia Feeney and I were building a national student clean energy campaign with the Student Environmental Action Coalition. We were joined by networks, campaigns, and individuals from all corners of the US and Canada, all committed to bringing about a clean energy revolution. With relatively little national organizing experience and few of us over the age of 25, we set out to tackle the beasts of global warming and dirty energy by creating a North American youth and student clean energy and climate coalition rooted in unified action.

Thanks to the efforts of more than 20 environmental networks and organizations and more than 300 student campaigns for clean energy across the United States and Canada, the student and youth clean energy movement has become a powerful force for change locally, regionally, nationally, and globally. As is so often the case with important movements, our network grew out of several small, but forceful local examples initiated by students and young people. In the mid to late 1990s, Middlebury College, Tufts University, Northland College, and University of Vermont all made significant clean energy achievements. Students played an important role at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 where the seeds were planted for a concerted international response to the problem of global warming. Between 1997 and 2001, University of Vermont, Tufts University, Cornell University, and Lewis and Clark College in Oregon had all committed to or achieved the greenhouse gas emission reduction levels called for in the Kyoto Protocol. By 2001, 55 colleges in New Jersey had committed to reducing greenhouse gas levels to 3.5% below 1990 levels. The student campaign, “Kyoto Now!” at Cornell was particularly important for the growth of the national movement.

In the spring of 2001, Cornell students staged rallies, sit-ins, and collected thousands of signatures in support of a resolution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with the standards of the Kyoto Protocol. Following their success in April, Cornell students took the campaign to the Student Environmental Action Coalition’s National Meeting in Berea, KY. At the January 2002 meeting, SEAC’s National Council adopted Kyoto Now! as one of its three national campaigns. Meanwhile, several other campuses had won monumental victories that changed the landscape for energy policy decisions of school administrators across the country. In 2001, the University of Pennsylvania, Penn State University, and Carnegie Mellon University made the three largest retail wind energy purchases in the U.S. In the Spring of 2001 students at the University of Colorado at Boulder set a new precedent for the student clean energy movement by agreeing to increase their own student fees by $1.00 per semester for the next four years to pay for clean energy. The funds were enough to purchase 2 MW of wind energy per year, or enough for a large industrial-size wind turbine.

By 2003, students were coming together in record numbers to address the problems of dirty energy and global warming. On the West Coast, students working with Greenpeace USA’s Clean Energy Now! Campaign won an enormous victory for solar power on July 17th, 2003 when the University of California Regents passed a resolution that mandates a purchase of 10 megawatts of onsite renewable energy for the entire UC system. In addition to having a dramatic impact on the renewable energy market, the UC victory has helped build a strong student coalition for clean energy led by Greenpeace and the new California Student Sustainability Coalition.

Also in 2003, a new coalition of six leading student environmental networks in the Northeast chose the “Climate Campaign” as their primary focus. The six networks, ECO-Northeast, Sierra Student Coalition, SEAC, Free the Planet!, Envirocitizen, and the Student PIRGS, have brought the often fractured student environmental movement together in a way that hasn’t been seen for years. In the Northeast, students are now hosting call-in days to their governors to push statewide Climate Action Plans, organizing conferences with hundreds of participants from around the Northeast and Eastern Canada, and communicating regularly through conference calls, listservs, and physical gatherings.

Last summer, youth organizers from SEAC’s national Kyoto Now! Campaign, now called “Youth Power Shift”, Greenpeace, and the Climate Campaign met in Detroit, Michigan during SEAC’s National Meeting to discuss bringing together the clean energy movement for a National Day of Action the coming Fall of 2003. Siting concerns about the many differences between local campaigns and the potential drawbacks of trying to pull off a day of action for clean energy when so much emphasis was placed on anti-war efforts, the group decided to keep goals modest. The November 13th National Day of Action for Clean Energy Campuses blew away all of our expectations. We far surpassed our initial goal of 25 campus actions with 65 groups ultimately participating in the Day of Action across the United States! In addition to bringing together dozens of student groups who had never been part of such an effort, the Day of Action signaled the birth of a new student and youth clean energy coalition. The November Day of Action was pulled together by a well-coordinated, respectful, and enthusiastic band of organizations including SEAC’s Youth Power Shift Campaign, Greenpeace, the Climate Campaign, the California Student Sustainability Coalition, Religious Witness for the Earth and NY PIRG.

Collaboration within our coalition has centered on monthly or bi-monthly conference calls and communication over our email listserv. This communication has led to the formation of temporary working groups to plan media strategy, newsletter publication, outreach, and other tasks related to pulling off a successful day of action. In February, 2004 the Climate Campaign and the overall coalition stepped up outreach and recruitment efforts to get over 350 students from around the Northeast and Eastern Canada to a Climate Conference at Harvard University. The Conference featured several workshops on strengthening campus campaigns and state-based strategy sessions for planning collaboration for the April 1st Day of Action. These strategy sessions proved a boon to the participation levels of the Day of Action as more than 50 of the 130 actions on April 1st came from groups in the Northeast.

Beginning with telephone discussions shortly after November 13th, the coalition developed a plan to promote a massive, more coordinated Day of Action for the spring. Early in 2004 the date of April 1st was chosen along with an April Fools Day theme related to moving beyond the foolishness of fossil fuels. With the success of November 13th behind us and plenty of time to reach out to new organizations and networks, the coalition set forth a lofty goal of involving 125 local campaigns in another Day of Action for clean energy. We knew that in order to reach this goal we had to expand the coalition to new parts of the country, involving groups with a strong base in those areas. The participation of Envirocitizen in the Pacific Northwest and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in the Southeast helped make this possible.

The development of a Southeast Climate Network by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and several local student groups planning the Southeast Renewable Energy Conference in Chapel Hill, NC was an important key to the success of April 1st. Outreach for the Southeast Renewable Energy Conference at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill held on April 2nd-4th coincided directly with outreach for the Day of Action. Adding to the enthusiasm of the Day of Action on April 1st were a series of monumental clean energy victories at University of Tennessee, Appalachian State University, and University of the South-Sewanee. In late March, UT became the largest purchaser of clean energy in the region. More than 300 students came together in Chapel Hill for the Conference as several partner organizations in our coalition made the trip and sat down to discuss plans for the future. It was in Chapel Hill where the groups decided to use a physical meeting in Washington D.C. in June 2004 to solidify plans for the fall and better establish the coalition physically and conceptually.

With the planning of our meeting in D.C., several more groups have stepped up their involvement beyond previous levels and put energy into the coalition. Clean energy and climate issues have become a major topic for youth and student groups across the US and Canada. This spring, Unity College in Maine and Western Washington University have made commitments to purchase 100% renewable electricity. Students at Illinois State University have launched a national campaign to resist the construction of several new nuclear reactors around the country, including a reactor only a few miles away in Clinton, IL. Canadian students have called on Prime Minister Paul Martin to set a clean energy target for Canada of 10% by 2012 and 20% by 2020. At the same time, Canadian students have called on their administrations to invest heavily in energy efficiency and green building practices. With an environmentally disasterous energy bill being considered in Congress, Russia ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, and millions of US citizens being turned on to the issue of climate change in this election year, the time for a heavy shift to cleaner, more just energy systems is upon us. This coalition now has a unique opportunity to channel the activism and creativity of grassroots youth and student initiatives into a powerful new vision for the future.

1 Response to “Climate Generation: A History of Energy Action (2005)”

  1. 1 Jim Feb 8th, 2010 at 2:44 am

    One thing that really stands out for me about the “New Student Environmental Movement”– the one described here– post 2003– is the incredible ethic of cooperation and collaboration. While details blur together, I think of Focus the Nation, Powershift, 350, Step It Up, AASHE, Van Jones and Green for All cross-mentioning each other (not always, I imagine, and there are some tiffs that I & many are mercifully not privy to. That too, says something, when it’s technologically easier to wash laundry in public–thanks to all who refrained).

    This is new. The Eighties weren’t like this, nor the Nineties. It’s wonderful. (I’m older) It lifts my spirit & the spirit of collaboration is infectious.

    In addition, there is a real recognition by a growing number of groups that global poverty and the environmental crisis need to be solved together– Greenpeace speaks out loudly on behalf of poor countries; Oxfam talks about cars & climate.
    This is new, too; and wonderful.

    Important in this is the development of technologies that weren’t there before: email, listservs, web pages, easy conference calls, skype, blogs, youtube, flickr, livestreaming (I couldn’t make the Powershift CD, but watched it live from hundreds of miles away), twitter. None of these were easily accessible when James Hansen testified in 1988 about global warming; even the first three only went so far.

    Thanks for going to all these meetings; thanks for writing this up. We live in interesting times; the many climate activists of whom you’ve written make them hopeful ones as well.

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About Josh

Josh Lynch works to bring people together for clean energy and green jobs. As Co-Founder of Energy Action Coalition, he was instrumental in building a diverse youth-led alliance that has become a force in U.S. politics. Serving as Campaign Manager for Green For All in 2008, he coordinated Green Jobs Now, the first national day of action for green collar jobs. In 2009 he led the Green Recovery For All Initiative, empowering low-income people and people of color to leverage stimulus dollars for green collar jobs and training. Josh graduated from the College of Wooster with a major in Philosophy. He now lives and works in Boston.

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