Panel on Youth and Climate Change

By Martin Macias Jr.

LISTEN to the Interview!

Here at the Democratic National Convention in Denver the organizing committee has adopted the “green” look and has claimed that they will produce the “Greenest Convention in History.” This means placing recycling and compost bins at various locations throughout the convention center, using “clean” energy whenever possible, and not having so much paper waste among other things.

In line with this green theme, the College Democrats of America and the Roosevelt Institute held a youth panel on climate change. Erica Williams, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Campus Progress, moderated the panel. Other speakers included: Billy Parish, co-founder of Energy Action Coalition, Majora Carter of Green For All & Sustainable South Bronx, Kal Penn (Harold and Kumar) who is famous for his work as an actor and is now a surrogate for the Obama Campaign, and Jessy Tolkan, Executive Direcor of the Energy Action Coalition and spearheading the Power Vote initiative.

The overall goal of the panel was to present to the audience and members of the press a few of the many advocacy groups that exist in this youth-driven movement to stop global warming. Erica Williams was careful about which direction the conversation was going, and was quick to create bridges into other related topics and make sure every member made their point. Someone in the crowd had asked the panelists what they though about the solutions to the climate crisis introduced by large corporations, specifically the auto industry and the line of hybrid cars and how the public would respond to that. Erica immediately related this to Kal’s perspective seeing as how he had access to see how Hollywood’s super rich responded. Kal proposed that upper class should have to buy hybrid vehicles since they can afford to. Erica also asked him how his celebrity could affect a movement that is specifically geared toward youth who can clearly identify with him.

The discussion began with one of the panelists sharing the stories that inspired her to get involved in this movement. Jessy Tolkan spoke about the power of the youth vote and the leverage that they posses in this election. She reminded us to look to our leaders for inspiration and direction but also to hold them accountable to ensure that they are looking out for our interests. Her final word was that on election day “only politicians lose” and that people never lose if we are demanding of our leaders. In a functioning democracy the people dictate the direction that country’s policies go toward. The main goal of her campaign PowerVote is to gather One Million youth voters who pledge to hold their elected president accountable for what happens in the national debate around clean energy.

One of the main concerns coming from the panelists was whether or not the leaders of the green/environmental justice movement are talking to the public about climate change in a way that would get them motivated to be a part of this movement. They concluded that in order to make this movement successful they would have to get everyone involved. Majora Carter interjected with a story of a Latina woman who had grown up poor and always lived in dilapidated areas of the Bronx. This woman had a family to support and had her own life to worry about but the idea that society’s pattern of polluting could have lasting health effects on not only her children but also other marginalized and oppressed people of the world. Majora concluded by stating that the movement would have to involve those very people who are innocent victims of the effects of climate change.

At the conclusion of the panel I posed a question to the people on the panel. Going back to what they had said about involving a multitude of people across cultural differences I wanted to challenge them to be critical of themselves even more. Is some of the language and rhetoric in the “Green Movement” such as: green jobs, climate change, clean power clearly communicating a message that is multicultural, and multilingual and speaks to what is happening to the planet on many different levels besides global warming?

Click here to listen to the panelists’ responses to the question on Youth Radio’s home page.



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