Friday, President Obama sat down with 12 youth climate activists who were representing the over 10,000 Powershift 2011 attendees.
“It was a real testament to President Obama’s commitment to young people that he met with youth clean energy leaders today, said Courtney Hight, Co-Director, Energy Action Coalition. “We are thankful he fought to save the Clean Air Act. That’s the man we elected and we need him to stand strong and stand up to big polluters and safeguard America’s public health.”
“We went in thinking we were meeting with senior staff and there walked in Barack Obama,” said Courtney Hight, co-director of Energy Action Coalition, “We got to share with him what we care about.”
The President’s decision to join the meeting was perhaps driven by Washington Post (and other) coverage highlighting the youth climate activists’ deepening disillusionment with inadequate action from Washington to deal with mounting climate disruption risks and realities and how that disillusionment could lead to reduced grassroots support for the President’s reelection campaign.
As Kate Sheppard put it in “Yoots to Obama: Listen Up!”
Will President Obama have a youth problem in 2012? In the 2008 election, young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 picked Obama over John McCain by a 2 to 1 margin. Energy and environment are two issues that young people cite as important electoral concerns much more regularly than older adults. And when it comes to energy and environment, the administration hasn’t had all that much luck getting things done.
At Powershift, last night, attendees talked about the pressure of sitting down at the table with the President of the United States and, with all due respect, telling him that they are not satisfied with his policies and approaches on climate change. Recognizing the very difficult political situation, these concerns include the President’s emphasis of “clean coal“, expanding U.S. oil production, natural gas, and other (highly) questionable policy choices amid his energy security speech and proposals.
As the press release put it,
The young people expressed concerns with aspects of Obama’s energy policy, particularly ongoing reliance on dirty energy sources like coal, nuclear, and natural gas. The young leaders also voiced concerns about continued subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.
Yet, there was more than one note of optimism.
Although there were differences in the details of energy policy, another organizer at the meeting saw the president return to his roots.
“We saw the community organizer side of President Obama come out in this meeting,” said Maura Cowley, co-director of Power Shift. “I think we’re hoping it’s the beginning of a dialogue.”
To a certain extent, after hearing from those in the room, the President’s reaction and guidance is in line with what he has told environmental activists and organizations over the past several years: ‘Create the political space in which I can act.’
That, in no small part, is why there are 10,000 committed youth from across the nation: to be trained to become more effective activists to help create real change on the ground in their communities (their universities and beyond) and to become more effective advocates for the broader changes that the nation should take to seize the clean energy revolution’s opportunities while taking serious measures to mitigate climate disruption.
“We’re conducting the largest grassroots organizing training in history, to prepare young leaders to go back to their communities and lead, and we’re calling on President Obama and Congress to join us in standing up to Big Polluters and creating a clean energy economy,” said Maura Cowley, Co-Director of Energy Action Coalition. “Young people know we need a clean energy policy not based on things that kill people, whether it’s dirty coal or dangerous nuclear,” Cowley added.
Eight Young Climate Activists Arrested for Interrupting Congress+ with the text of a climate activist version of the Star Spangled Banner.
Creating a Solar Mosaiic … discussing an innovative approach to deploying solar power announced by Van Jones at Power Shift Friday evening. And, for an excellent discussion of Van’s speech, see Van Jones At Power Shift 2011: ‘While They’re Stuck On Stupid In DC, Your Generation Is Rising’