Climate change is the subject of Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies, local and state legislation, international treaties, scientific consensus and a misinformed or simply malicious opposition. What’s missing from this list?

On Aug. 16, former Vice President Al Gore was quoted in Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times column as saying, “I can’t understand why there aren’t rings of young people blocking bulldozers . and preventing them from constructing coal-fired power plants.” He was right in asking, “Where are the young people?” but he missed the mark in defining our role in bringing about climate justice.

As an advocate for climate justice, I’ve heard mutterings over the past year of a brewing movement among the youth. Last weekend, 38 University of Michigan students traveled to Washington, D.C. for Power Shift 2007 – the first-ever conference on climate change organized for youth, by youth.

Six thousand students converged on the nation’s capitol for Power Shift 2007, not to chain ourselves to trees or blockade dirty coal plants but to lobby every member of Congress for an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, for the creation of 5 million new green-collar jobs and for a moratorium on all new coal plants.

Young people are uniquely situated to create this change. The effects of climate change – unprecedented wild fires, droughts and stronger hurricanes – are already here and will only intensify as our generation ages. When the 38 University students joined 127 students from the state to lobby Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) for climate justice, we lobbied for a secure future that every member of our generation will share.

Building a sustainable and just future for ourselves and our children requires students to transcend traditional modes of activism. Last year, activists demanded that the University purchase 100 percent of its energy from clean renewable sources, such as wind and solar power, by 2015. For this demand to be fulfilled, however, there must be sufficient sources of clean renewable energy available for purchase from the state grid. Recognizing the current lack of supply, the climate justice movement at the University united the 14 campuses in the Michigan Student Sustainability Coalition to leverage our collective power at the statewide level.

On the weekend of Sept. 28, 140 students from 13 campuses met in East Lansing to explore issues of environmental justice and to acquire the skills to create change in their communities. Over that weekend, our coalition bonded as a community in action. In the month leading up to Power Shift 2007, students from each campus worked closely with each other to bring 250 Michigan students to Washington, D.C. As a result of our united planning, Michigan brought more students to the capitol than any state other than Maryland and Virginia.

On Nov. 3, the first full day of Power Shift 2007- as Spartans and Wolverines clashed on the football field- 38 Wolverines, 60 Spartans and 150 other Michiganders sat down together to outline the steps for creating a power shift in Michigan. On March 19, we will bring our vision of an ecologically sound, socially just and economically secure Michigan to the halls of the state legislature. In conjunction with the grassroots organizing we do in our home communities, this will catalyze Michigan’s overdue transition to sustainability.

There is a bronze plaque dedicating a maple tree outside the School of Natural Resources and Environment on the Diag. The plaque reads, “In the future may we not have to be concerned over global warming. May efforts to reforest, recycle, and conserve energy eliminate this escalating crisis.” This maple tree was planted on the eve of Earth Day 1989, the same year most of the class of 2011 was born. The time for business-as-usual solutions has passed. Young people across Michigan and the nation have awakened to the challenge.

Andrew Munn is coordinator of the University chapter of the Sierra Student Coalition and a senior in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance.

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