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Young People Storm DC For Action on Global Warming

From the radio newsmagazine

Distributed by Squeaky Wheel Productions

Young People Storm U.S. Capital Demanding Action on Global Warming

Interview with Jessy Tolkan, executive director of programs with Energy Action Action, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Listen to Jessy Tolkan's interview in RealAudio:

The issue of global warming was again thrust into the spotlight with the Nov. 17 release of a report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report, written by hundreds of top scientists, warns that unless the world ends its growth of carbon emissions within seven years and phases out carbon emitting technologies within four decades, the planet could see the extinction of as many as 25 percent of all species.

Illustrating the growing urgency on the climate crisis, 6,000 young people met at the University of Maryland for the largest gathering on global warming in U.S. history Nov. 3 through 5. The conference was organized by the Energy Action Coalition, which is made up of 46 youth organizations from the U.S. and Canada, with a focus on the environment and social justice issues. The coalition includes environmental groups like the Sierra Student Coalition, as well as groups representing youth of color, like the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Environmental Justice Climate Change Initiative.

The conference, titled, "Power Shift," brought young people together for panels and workshops. On the last day of the gathering, 2,000 to 3,000 of them spent the day on Capitol Hill, lobbying their elected officials to take strong action on climate change. Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Jessy Tolkan, executive director of programs with the Energy Action Coalition. She describes her reaction to the lobbying by Power Shift participants and explains the kind of legislation the coalition is pressing for.

JESSY TOLKAN: I was quite honestly blown away at how powerful these meetings were. I had the opportunity to sit in on a number of them. These students walked into these meetings incredibly well prepared and with a very clear message. And their message to members of the House and Senate and their staffs was: "We no longer want to talk with you about what you think is politically possible. We're here to tell you what we know is scientifically necessary and necessary to protect our future as the generation that's going to inherit this planet. And I think these young folks made it clear they're voting in 2008, in higher numbers than they have before, and if you want to get re-elected in 2008, you need to have a strong position on global warming."

BETWEEN THE LINES: I'm not surprised at how well the young people made their case. But how did the congressional staffers or officials themselves respond?

JESSY TOLKAN: It certainly varied depending on which representative we were speaking with. We certainly have strong champions who understand the urgency and need to solve global warming in a bold way. We asked for things that go further than any existing organization is talking about right now: We're asking for a moratorium on coal plants in this country; creation of five million new green jobs, and 80 percent carbon reduction by 2050, with a 30 percent reduction by 2020. I think overall, though, if I had to summarize the reaction, it would be that I think members of the House and Senate were a bit surprised at just how much these young people know; how well they're organized, and just how many of them there are out there, because so many of our students went to great lengths to talk about the number of people they represent back in their community and their campus. So I think it was a successful event; I think they made a strong impact, and the students aren't going anywhere – they've already begun calling their members on current pieces of pending legislation. So I think these folks are a force that will need to be contended with for awhile to come.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Jessy Tolkan, can you say a little about the similarities and differences your movement has with political movements of decades and even generations past?

JESSY TOLKAN: We honor, respect and are inspired by the movements of the past and are taking some very important lessons from those movements. Many of those movements were led by the parents of folks that were at Power Shift 2007. I think the most important lesson that our movement is currently taking is that to be an effective movement you need to be a diverse movement. If you take a look at the attendance from Power Shift 2007, we look very different than the environmental movement of the past. We had indigenous students and students from the South Bronx, and we had students from everywhere from Alaska to Florida and everywhere in between. So that's certainly a very strong lesson that we take from movements of the past, to really create change you need to have a broad movement.

We are a bit different. We're connected in different ways from movements in the past. It is true we rely on our ability to organize the Internet a lot more, but we're not just sending emails. We got 6,000 people to Power Shift using partially an Internet strategy, and I think it's important to point out that Internet strategies do convert to people on the ground.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Say on the issue of the two different energy bills that were passed last summer, we're now hearing that to get a bill out of conference committee, the Dems are talking about dropping the energy-efficient standard that is a fundamental part of the House bill…

JESSY TOLKAN: We started mobilizing folks a couple of days ago. This is a top priority for the Energy Action Coalition now. We are very concerned about the energy bill. We kind of went into our lobby day saying it was essential to pass a strong energy bill as at least a first down payment to solving our climate crisis. Our students have already started dialing the phones and plan to do some in-district visits over the course of the next two weeks to make it very clear to members of the House of Representatives and the Senate as well that we demand an energy bill be passed with a strong renewable energy standard, with at least a 35 mpg CAFÉ standard, with the elimination of subsidies for coal and nuclear, which is another really contentious issue, and also with the inclusion of a Green Jobs act to begin our investment in green jobs.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Does the Energy Action Coalition have a position on the Warner/Lieberman global warming bill that's working its way through the Senate?

JESSY TOLKAN: The Energy Action Coalition has endorsed a set of principles called the 1 Sky Principles, and those are the principles I mentioned earlier, and the Warner-Lieberman bill, quite frankly, falls incredibly short of those principles. We are trying incredibly hard to put pressure on the U.S. Senate as they debate this issue to recognize that global warming is a crisis. This is an issue that people are facing in the here and now. We had young people testifying in front of a House committee from the coal regions of this country, from Alaska, whose current way of life is being disrupted, and we don't want to have a discussion about passing bills that are so far from where we need to be, where the science says we need to be, to solve global warming. We'd like to get on pace with the European Union that's committed to cutting carbon 30 percent by 2020. I guess what I can say about the Warner-Lieberman bill is, I hope once it makes it onto the floor, we start to see the really strong kinds of amendments we would need to turn this bill into a bill that takes us far enough and fast enough to actually solve global warming.

Contact Energy Action Coalition's D.C. office at (202) 536-2845 or visit their website at

Related links:


Melinda Tuhus is a producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 40 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending Nov. 30, 2007. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.

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