More than 12,000 young people, mostly high school and college students, from around the US traveled to Washington D.C., last Friday Feb. 27 to take part in a four-day-long convention involving a youth-led conference known as Powershift. Paul Wapner, director of the Global Environmental Politics Program at American University, agreed that the weekend will likely be the largest activism event on climate change in U.S. history. The annual event began in 2007 and serves to lobby legislators for climate-friendly bills and immediate environmental action. The gatherings are intended to capture President Barack Obama's attention and demand that Congress pass a climate change bill this year. Jessy Tolkan, president of the Energy Action Coalition, a network of youth activists who organized Powershift stated "we absolutely expect and demand that climate legislation gets passed in 2009." According to the conference's Web site Power Shift's goal is to "hold our elected officials accountable for rebuilding our economy and reclaiming our future through bold climate and clean energy policy."
The conference includes a focus on environmental justice, the belief that human rights include the right to a clean environment and access to critical natural resources. Climate change endangered indigenous communities from Alaska exemplify the many groups that traveled long distances to have their voices heard in the nation’s capitol. This is only one example of the many grass-roots initiatives worldwide seeking to mobilize governments and the public to deal with climate change. According to the new report from the WorldWatch Institute, called the State of the World 2009, “local struggles for climate change justice connect at the international level with a shared understanding that in addition to accelerating environmental degradation and species loss, global climate change will jeopardize human rights and exacerbate socioeconomic inequities.”