Student Energy: As Practical as it is Renewable
By Erin Noonan, Beyond Oil campaign intern
As nearly 50,000 people shouted, "Hey Obama / We don't want no climate drama," I felt proud to be involved with last month's Forward on Climate rally, and to consider myself an environmental youth activist. Of the 140 buses that made the trip, nearly a third were packed with college students, representing universities from coast to coast. Student participation at the Forward on Climate Rally was crucial to its undeniable success that day. On February 17, students contributed the sustainable energy necessary to keep the crowd going in 25-degree weather. But what role will students play in the climate movement as we move forward?
Acting as a student organizer was not only rewarding—it also reminded me of the first Earth Day demonstration in 1970, still one of the most influential environmental rallies ever. Many of its organizers were also students, possessed of an attitude that was hopeful and ready for change. As college buses pulled up to the Forward on Climate rally site this month, I felt the same sense of hope and readiness for change that had ensured the lasting effects of Earth Day 1970.
When the Cornell University buses arrived, hands were waving from the windows; their excitement was visible. Excitement stemmed from not only the rally, but also from Cornell's recent decision to pass a call for divestment from oil. Their student assembly joined student groups at a growing number of universities across the country that have successfully prodded their schools to pass this resolution, taking the first steps that will eventually eliminate dependence on the fossil fuel industry. University divestment movements are a nationwide trend, and more and more campuses are stepping up and fearlessly advocating for divestment, positioning themself as climate leaders.
College institutions are agents of change, where young voices are not only heard, but where beliefs become materialized. Obama said, "I need you to push me." Who is better qualified to apply pressure than the youth who will one day inherit the earth the president is helping to shape—starting with his decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. This emphatic mindset is nothing new for rebellious youth. Historically, students have claimed their place at the forefront of social change. Speakers at the Forward on Climate rally, comparing the gathering to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s march on Washington, could not help but acknowledge a youthful presence, aware that it represents the beliefs of the future. Today, students' beliefs embody efficiency, innovation, and sustainability.
In a recent blog post, Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune spoke about how society must relinquish a gradualist approach to climate change. The engagement of youth in the climate movement exemplifies the confidence that Brune says all of us must bring to the battle against climate disruption. We are rallying for change, and we will continue to do so until change is made. Our relentless energy forbids us from sitting idly by, waiting for legislators and corporations to open their eyes to modern science.
This new generation of environmental advocates is running on the same type of energy we have seen demonstrated by youth in previous generations, but we bring to the table a new sense of urgency along with viable alternatives to the status quo. The combination of the two allows us embody an energy as necessary as it is renewable, much like the energy we are fighting for.