Power Shift's Ring of Fire

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Midwest group march. photo: Christine Irvine

photo: Christine Irvine

What it took to get off my ass.
I didn’t get truly involved in the youth climate change movement until the beginning of this year. It wasn’t as if I didn’t know it was out there. On the contrary, I knew Billy Parish early on – when Energy Action and the Campus Climate Challenge were just a glimmer in his eye. We had our own paths – I was working on environmental issues – but aside from my work in mine reclamation, it was in an entirely different capacity. Our work was linked, but not necessarily collaborative or even synchronous.

Part of my work shifted in February 2008. I had more opportunities to work on climate change issues – through new clients and a growing base of friends and colleagues feverish for the issues.

I didn’t find the movement. The movement found me.

I wasn’t aware how big and how connected this entire movement was until I called Richard at Energy Action in February. I was specifically looking for a contact in Australia to fill me in on what universities were doing down under in regards to climate change. President Levin from Yale University had just finished speaking at DAVOS on Yale’s climate change policies and was headed to Australia to get other universities to follow their lead. It occurred to me that I knew very little of what was going on in Australia.

In enters Anna Rose, 24: a vivacious young woman and founder of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. Richard directed me to Energy Action’s Google excel sheet of Climate Change organizers and told me to reach out to her.

Perhaps a name and a contact on a virtual spreadsheet do not mean much in this day and age, but it wa
s at that point that I suddenly felt connected to the movement at large. All of a sudden my work for Yale in the U.S. was being connected to the work on the ground in Australia. For some that may not seem so huge, but for me it was a revelation: A revelation that the next greatest movement was underfoot and I had just dipped my toe in the water.

I’ve never met Anna Rose. One e-mail and one phone call with her, however, brought me a step closer to the movement. All of a sudden I started to feel…ownership.

A sense of ownership…That’s the key to revolutionary movements: tapping the power of peer relationships, feeling a sense of responsibility – like you are “one of the team.” If you’ve ever played sports, you’ll know what I mean. Did you ever miss the last basket – or conversely hit the three-point shot in the last two seconds – to win the game? That sense of loss or gain, that sense of camaraderie you felt with the other team members – is because you have stake in something that you care about.

My sense of ownership in the youth climate movement may have waned quickly if it weren’t for another significant moment. (Just goes to show you that sometimes you need a few kicks in the pants to get your ass out of bed). That particular event was an e-mail from Billy Parish. I wish I had saved it. It was simple. It was straightforward. Someone reading over my shoulder may have found it to be insignificant. I found it to be monumental. It was in regards to Power Shift. He and the group just decided that they couldn’t wait until next year to do the conference. The time was now. The e-mail said something like this:

“What would you do if you had 5,000 youth at your fingertips?”

Damn that Billy Parish. (And I mean that in the most loving of terms).

This is the stuff dreams are made of.
I met Billy in 2003. We both received Udall Scholarships that year and were flown along with seventy eight other scholars to Tucson, AZ for the awards ceremony. I remember him gathering about two or three dozen of us in the conference hall and telling us his desire to build a campus-wide climate change movement. I doubted him. I thought to myself: “Yeah, you say this now, but as the intoxication and energy from meeting everyone comes to an end and people go their separate ways, it’ll be a hard sell.” I was wrong.

The more I spoke with Billy, the more I realized he is a force of nature. I mean really, this kid dropped out of Yale because he was moved by this movement. He realized that this stuff isn’t going to wait for us to graduate.

Shit man, did you read the news today? The Northwest Passage is melted. Po
lar bears will be a dying species by 2050. Africa continues to get drier. Hurricanes continue to hit harder. It’s not a time to be lazy. It’s a time for action.

Energy Action and The Campus Climate Challenge, (whether you realize it or not), have emerged as a powerful force in this movement. Most of us in it don’t realize it yet. We don’t realize the capacity that we have – as individuals and as a revolutionary movement. I know my own energy and enthusiasm – transferred from Anna’s and Billy’s and others, has been passed on. I know I have given others a sense of empowerment, and in turn, other young leaders are emerging and their willpower and energy serve as fuel for other new leaders. It’s infectious. It’s contagious. It’s inevitable. That’s what keeps me waking up bright and early every day. That’s what makes me believe that this is what I was always meant to do. It’s the most powerful positive feedback loop I’ve ever seen and felt, except this one has the potential to spiral out to infinity.

I call Massimo (a good friend, climate change psychologist at CRED, and one of the members on Power Shift’s communication team) weekly and our energy and enthusiasm transfers so much back-and-forth over the phone that I’m afraid the both of us are going to hop out of our skins from excitement. You need people like this in your life because there are so many naysayers out there who tell you “No, No, No,” “I don’t know,” or “That’s probably not going to happen” all the time. It can wear you down. Frankly, I don’t even care if all of Massimo’s and my ideas get off the ground for Power Shift – but it’s the moment of dreaming up all the possibilities that are rejuvenating. All of them may not get done, but the few that will…are going to be spectacular.

This is the most important thing you will ever do in your life.
If you don’t believe that, then you don’t deserve to be in this movement.

I mean that.

I came to that conclusion over a Power Shift communications call a couple months ago. Someone (I don’t remember who) made the statement that we shouldn’t hold the march on Monday because students would have to go back to school. She wasn’t just speaking for herself, she was speaking for what was on the mind of other students like her. I can’t be angry at a statement like that, because I felt that way at some point in time too. But at that moment, however, I had a raging fit of passion that has not subsided because I have come to the conclusion that this is the most important thing that we will ever do in our lifetime. If you do not think that this is more important than an 8AM biology class, then what on God’s not-so-green earth are you doing? We have got to believe that this is significant because if we don’t, then who else will? How will we inspire others if we cannot lead by example? How will we get people to take ownership if we don’t show them that they can be a part of the solution?

I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the last eight months connecting with people, seeing more colleges sign up to the President’s Climate Commitment, watching the Power Shift story shapeshift with each contribution. The youth climate movement is roiling, boiling magma coursing deep underneath the technological crust of wikis, google docs, e-mail strings, and social networks. We are all little volcanoes – blogging, organizing, speaking, writing, lobbying – from Australia to North America, China to Europe – connected by this magmatic movement.

This is in real time. The movement is alive. It breathes. It’s a story and an action coursing through all of us, waiting to be unleashed. Think about all that untapped energy that lies in each of us still waiting to be opened like Pandora’s Box. My question to you: When will you wake up and realize that we are what fuels the change?

Power Shift is our opportunity to unleash what lays dormant inside of us. We are the movement. We are the people we have been waiting for. This is what we were meant to do.

November 2-5, 2007 – Maryland University, College Park; I’ll see you there.

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