Launch the Summer of Solutions: Change the Story

This is a call.

On the basic level, it’s very simple; it’s a call for youth leaders all across the country who are ready to dig down into the grassroots and work with people in their communities to create solutions. We’re looking for leaders who want to plan a summer program next summer that will start, grow, and expand green ventures at the community level that meet the needs of our neighbors (food, housing, transit, energy, jobs), show the world what is possible, and start to out-compete the dirty energy systems that run our world.

You’re in? Just find a friend who agrees and APPLY HERE. Priority deadline midnight 10/24 – just give us a heads up if it will take a bit longer.

Need more background? Check out this video by my co-worker Matt Kazinka, read the background info in the application, or check us out at www.summerofsolutions.org

But really, this is about a lot more than running a cool program next summer. This is  a call about changing the game for our economy, our communities, and our climate.

As solutionaries, we’re calling for our peers, a rising generation that is the largest and most diverse in United States history, to step up to the challenge ahead of us:

Our generation is the hardest hit by the ongoing recession – we are most likely to be unemployed, especially those of us from minority and low-income communities.

Our generation faces the global peak in fossil energy, a dangerous and uncertain climate future, a polarized yet globalized society, and the hard economic times that such moments bring.

Our generation is working in partnership with others to reignite and redefine the traditions of collaboration and innovation that have sustained humanity for thousands of years. We are more likely to see across traditional divides, more interconnected, and more socially-conscious. Through how we choose to create new opportunities and work together across differences, we hold the future in our hands.

For the past few years, the climate movement has followed a predictable narrative about how change will be made. This story got lead out of gasoline and sulfur out of (some) smokestacks, so it does have a track record. Here’s how the story goes: A lot of people get really pissed (in a righteous kind of way) about these big problems. They tell the people in charge that something needs to be done. They get loud enough, and serious enough, and sooner or later the people in charge get the feeling that they’d better solve the problem or they’re going to be in much bigger trouble. So they solve the problem. This is a pretty simple story, but it has been funded to the tune of over a billion dollars over the past few years in the form of electoral and policy advocacy campaigns to get the country to pass bold and comprehensive legislation controlling climate change.

This story if very addictive, since according to it, if you are failing, it just means that the public pressure has not gotten loud enough, serious enough, or threatening enough and we need to try harder. Failure implies that the same approach should be repeated with even more force.

With all due respect to the great people who  have worked so hard to fulfill this story, I think this story is a lie and is leading us astray. In my view the fact that progressive legislators are now on the political defensive and that bold climate action now seems either further away backs up my point. Frames are notoriously addictive, but – my dear climate movement -PLEASE LET THIS STORY GO!

I see at least two key conditions critical to this story making any sense that are demonstrably not the case:

  1. There is an effective, known solution to the problem
  2. It is clear to the vast majority of people that the problem is important and solving it is in their best interest

On point 1, a lot of people will say they know how to solve the problem – for example specific policies like increasing CAFE standards or passing Renewable Electricity Standards. It’s pretty clear to me that the vast majority of existing approaches are tinkering at the margins and/or bolstering and strengthening underlying infrastructures that support dirty energy. An example is that Renewable Energy Standards of ~30% will prevent the growth of additional fossil energy infrastructure, but on the current energy grid with monopolized utility control, it pretty much ensures that their development will increase reliance on existing dirty energy back-up filling the other 70% or so. In other words, they entrench a system that prevents us from getting to a majority-clean energy grid. I gave this and a number of other examples in my post earlier this year. There are a number of good strategies for transforming all of these systems, but it’s not really clear how they all fit together. I suspect that will take a while.

On point 2, while we may celebrate that now a modest majority of people understand that climate change is real and a bad thing, we have to face the cold hard facts that the vast majority:

  • don’t really understand the problem or the solutions,
  • see the issue as separate from, much less important than, and in many cases in conflict with more pressing issues such as the economy, and/or
  • generally think that doing something about the problem is going to cost them.

Together, these two features of reality stop the conventional story in its tracks. Paralyzing debate over how to solve the problem sets in, muddied by those who don’t want to see it solved at all, and the issue gets swept to the side in the face of more pressing concerns. Whenever it is seen as in conflict with top priorities like economic recovery (opponents of action love to hype up this frame), supporters of climate action get backlash from the voters. In the movement, I’ve been chilled to see the impact this dead-lock has had on our movement – more and more young activists getting burnt out, disillusioned, and moving on to more “realistic” life goals.

Except that the conventional options for our generation are declining.

Here’s another story.

People face adversity because the current ways of meeting our needs (food, energy, housing, transit, jobs, health, etc.) are breaking down, resources seem to be getting scarcer, and even greater future challenges threaten.  People start working together to create new ways (or re-creating old ones) of meeting their needs that out-compete the old strategies (further weakening them) and create opportunity and resources for those that adopt them. These ideas spread, aided by the collaboration and networking of the innovators and collaborators who catalyze them. The solutions get clearer as successful models emerge, and people begin to understand how to address the root causes of the multi-faceted threats facing them. More and more people (and broader cultural, institutional and economic entities) perceive the solution as both vitally important and immediately in their self-interest (helps meet their needs and protects them from the threats of the old model), and start directing their resources and power towards them. As a new political consensus emerges, old markets collapse, new ones emerge, and the political infrastructure to institutionalize the new systems is implemented.

What I have just described is the game plan of the inter-organizational program, the Summer of Solutions and Grand Aspirations, the new, youth-led organization that supports it. We support local leaders build and run programs that help each participant become ready, willing, and able to:

  1. Sustain themselves materially, emotionally, etc. through a green career that they shape.
  2. Create a ripple effect in sustainable livelihood benefits (income streams, reduced cost of living, improved quality of life, and attractive careers) in their communities.
  3. Teach and mentor others to do the same

That’s why you should join in by launching a program in your community (APPLY HERE). From whatever location and with whatever background, affiliations, and experience you bring, we’re excited to work together. Because it’s by innovating together that we make it happen.


About Timothy


Timothy is a youth climate leader based in St. Paul. He's all about people power, and being the changes we actually want to see. I've been heavily involved in community development and using climate solutions as incredible opportunities for local economic activity, collective empowerment, and self-determination. Timothy is a recent graduate of Macalester College, where he did exciting work on revolving funds, carbon neutrality, and cross-campus sustainability leadership development. He now helps run a community energy efficiency and community-based energy cooperative and is core driver of Grand Aspirations and the Summer of Solutions. He does lots of network building with buddies in the youth movement as well as labor, faith, agricultural, small business, and neighborhood groups.

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