Commentary: How Young People Are Rallying for Climate Action and Justice

HBCU students gathered at Powershift 2013 to talk solutions to climate change.

Posted: 10/24/2013 04:00 PM EDT

It’s been said that the movement of this generation is the fight against climate change. And there is no better evidence of that than Powershift—an energetic gathering of more than 6,000 students and activists from around the country with a vision of a healthier planet and a clean energy economy.

This year, students and activists of color played a huge role. More than 100 HBCU students went to Pittsburgh for the event, and added their voices to the chorus calling for solutions to climate change. They were joined by activists from around the country—including a number of Green For All Fellows—who are working in local communities to promote sustainability, prosperity, and resilience.

It wasn’t just powerful. It was also fun. A panel titled, “Green is the New Everything” addressed the power of music and arts to engage people in movements for social change. Among those sharing ideas about how musicians and artists can drive positive solutions were Green For All Fellows Tem Blessed, AshEl Eldridge, and Ietef Vita. They joined Markese Bryant, founder of Fight For Light, an organization that leverages the creative power of student leaders to address sustainability issues on their campuses and in surrounding communities.

But it doesn’t stop there. Throughout the decades, much of the successful gains we’ve made toward creating a better world have been driven by faith. At a panel on EcoTheology, Green For All Fellow Ambrose Carroll joined others in discussing how religion and spirituality can contribute to a successful climate movement, and promote good stewardship of the earth.

We also heard from on-the-ground heroes who work block by block to build stronger communities and a better world. Keynote speaker Luis Perales, a Green For All Fellow, spoke about his innovative work in Tucson to help cultivate local community leaders for a more sustainable and just planet.

Meanwhile, at a panel on Green Economy Careers, Green For All Fellows Tanya Fields, Natasha Soto, and Elizabeth Reynoso spoke about the problem of high unemployment among recent college grads, and how young people can make the most of opportunities in clean energy and other sustainable industries.

Finally, Shamar Bibbins, Green For All’s Director of National Partnerships, moderated a panel titled “From Your House to the White House.” The panel included speakers from NAACP, The Sierra Club, and a former senior policy adviser in the Obama administration, who focused on the Climate Action Plan that President Obama rolled out earlier this year—and what we can do to ensure that the plan addresses the needs of folks who are on the front lines. 

This is important, because as our leaders take steps to combat climate change, we need to make sure they also address the unique vulnerabilities of communities of color and low-income Americans. 

We know that when it comes to disasters, low-income communities and people of color are hit first and worst. Just look at what happened with Katrina—when a big storm strikes, folks with the fewest resources have a harder time preparing, escaping, and recovering. Meanwhile, communities of color tend to be located closer to power plants and other polluting facilities, putting them at higher risk for asthma and other preventable disease.

We need our leaders to address this disproportionate vulnerability—and they won’t do it unless we ask them to. Powershift is an unparalleled opportunity to do just that.

Visit Powershift for more information about how to get involved.

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins is CEO of Green for All, a national organization working to build an inclusive green economy. 

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Courtesy Green For All)

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