By Yardain Amron, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 8, 2013
As University students count down the days to Fall Break, about 50 students have their hearts set on the weekend after, when they will carpool to Pittsburgh to join 10,000 fellow youth leaders from across the nation for the Powershift conference.
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The biannual youth summit is aimed at training and educating the next generation on climate change and demanding from leaders a shift in policy from fossil fuels to clean energy. From Oct. 18 to Oct. 21, registered youth leaders will hear from keynote speakers and participate in panel and workshop trainings on a range of environmental and social issues. Participants will also enjoy concerts featuring artists such as Big K.R.I.T. and Talib Kweli.
Created and organized by the youth-led Energy Action Coalition, the conference entered the international scene in 2007, when a few hundred youth leaders converging on Washington, D.C. quickly grew to 6,000. That number doubled to almost 12,000 by 2009.
This year will mark the University’s first sizeable presence at the conference. Public Policy junior Marissa Solomon was still a high-school senior and aspiring rabbi when she attended Powershift in April 2011.
Having already been accepted to the University, Solomon noticed a lack of Wolverines at the summit. There were only two, to be exact, perhaps due to the April conference’s concurrence with finals week. In comparison, she said there were 50 students from Ohio State University, another 50 from Michigan State University and 20 from Kalamazoo College.
While this year’s conference does not coincide with finals, Solomon and her team still confronted many hurdles. Funding remained the biggest issue. EAC charges a registration fee that has risen from $50 to $80 — a fee many students are unable to afford.
Solomon responded by raising more than $1,130 through a private donation website — most coming in from family and friends of her team.
An additional $600 of funding was granted by a Central Student Government resolution passed late Tuesday night by a unanimous vote. The resolution requires attendees to present a report to the assembly on the conference and further sustainability initiatives the University can pursue.
Results from the Powershift conference can be seen on several U.S. campuses. The “Divest and Invest” campaign — which Solomon helped start at the University — began just two years ago after a workshop hosted by two universities at Powershift 2011.
According to Michigan’s Student Sustainability Coalition, the University has almost $1 billion dollars invested in fossil fuel industries, which accounts for 5 percent of total fossil-fuel investments from U.S. universities.
In addition to “Divest and Invest,” this year’s conference will focus on environmental justice, which is a growing part of the environmental movement.
“How our environment is affecting the people — a lot of time that is ignored in national campaigns,” Solomon said. “People don’t look at the people aspect of it and that is so important to motivate other people.”
The group initially reached out to churches for lodging, but many were already booked, and others unwilling to accommodate.
“You don’t want a bunch of college students sleeping on your floor when you’re not there and you have services to run Sunday morning,” she said. “It’s a big ask.”
Solomon said she is optimistic they will find friends at nearby schools that can squeeze 10 people on the floor, and will consider couch-surfing or camping, if it comes down to it.