“We want more! Eighty percent by 2050!” This was the call which greeted Nancy Pelosi, the speaker – or presiding officer – of the United States House of Representatives. Pelosi had turned up to address over 5,000 students and young people at Powershift, the largest conference ever held in the US to address the climate-change crisis. The tide has turned in the US, traditionally regarded as a global warming villain on the international stage due to the intransigence of its current administration. US citizens are demanding action before it’s too late – and students and youth are leading the way.
From the youth-led Energy Action Coalition (whose 26-year-old head, Billy Parish, has been named one of the year’s sexiest men) to Campus Greening efforts to testify before Congress, American young people are disproving the “Generation Quiet” label given by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. A delegation from SustainUS, the US Youth Network for Sustainable Development, will even be dogging the heels of their government’s delegation to the ongoing international climate change negotiations in Bali, Indonesia.
Bali is a key moment for international climate-change negotiations which will help to shape global policy for years to come. Key issues are determining a framework for further global greenhouse-gas reductions (after the current phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012), an Adaptation Fund to help the most vulnerable countries endure the hardships of a changing climate, and measures to reduce deforestation – a key cause of rising carbon emissions.
The buzz of activity from US youth at the negotiations, demanding that their government take immediate, decisive action including participation in the Kyoto Protocol, is in marked contrast to the general perception of Americans as ostrich-like consumers, blithely shopping while the Earth burns. Young people in many other high-emitting countries are also taking the lead. China is often vilified for its coal-burning power plants (despite the fact that on a per capita basis China emits one-third as much carbon as Europe, or one-sixth as much as North America). Yet China leads the world in solar technologies and, as Peng Li has pointed out on chinadialogue, environmental degradation is a key issue for China’s students. Two students at Tsinghua University have even created a podcast blog to tell the world about China’s green initiatives.
It is time for young people in the countries that are major emitters to stand up against climate change – our generation didn’t make this mess, but we are the ones who have to clean it up. Bali is only the next fight in the long battle to save our planet. You can support the Canadian, American, Australian, and Solar Generation youth delegations to Bali by signing this petition at Avaaz.org.
What’s more, you can also keep track of the US youth delegation at Bali Buzz blog and It’s Getting Hot in Here, and chinadialogue will be featuring future posts from young Chinese activists in Bali. If we’re going to avoid climate chaos, it’s time for action!
Erin Condit-Bergren is originally from Los Angeles and has worked on climate change and sustainability campaigns in six countries. She is a PhD candidate in Society & the Environment at the University of California, Berkeley.