Re-energize Texas Summit

Written by Giulia Giuffre
Megaphone Staff Writer

Last weekend, Feb.8-10, over 200 students from 28 schools all around Texas visited the University of Texas at Austin to be part of the Re-Energize Texas Summit.

The gathering was the biggest ever youth summit to address climate change and global warming in Texas.

Last July, Anna Pierce, Austin Campus Environmental Center and coach chair of the Sierra Student Coalition, and other organizers wanted to plan an event that would create a network of students for climate change.

With the aid of Praween Dayananda of the National Wildlife Federation, Trevor Lovell of Public Citizen, students and other organizers, the UT Campus Environmental Center was able to host the summit.

“We want to give a voice and power to students to create real change. Many youth today feel like they have to wait till they are adults to make a change. We want them to know that they can take action and make a change now as long as they are organized and work toward the goal,” Pierce said.

Some of the students involved in the summit, including Southwestern first-year Ursula James, were first introduced to the idea last summer during one of the Sierra Student Coalition’s summer environmental leadership programs.

Speakers at the summit included Mayor Will Wynn of Austin, the Rev. Lennoz Yearwood, Jr., Peter Illyn, IPCC author Dr. Camille Parmesan, Ted Glick, Br. ChiSing, Tom “Smitty” Smith, Stonyfield Farm CEO Gary Hirshberg and Jim Hightower.

“One of the most memorable speakers for me was Brother Chi Sing who spoke about taking care of ourselves and our spirits in order to keep a positive perspective on our activism,” James said.

Yearwood is a minister, community activist and on of the most influential people in hip-hop political life.

Hirshberg and Hightower are both well known and renowned activists.

A number of fun, interactive workshops and training activities were held during the summit.

These focused on climate change and national security, faith and climate, cutting emissions on campuses, green jobs, environmental justice, anti-coal and anti-nukes campaigning and other issues concerning the world, the environment, and the climate. Most of the training activities were organized by the Sierra Student Coalition.

Many see the current climate challenge facing the nation and the world as our generation’s biggest challenge and our biggest opportunity.

“It’s repeated time and again, but we are the ones inheriting the world, who have the voice and the power to make change that past generations obviously aren’t working for enough. Making connections with each other will keep our morale up and could lead to sharing of ideas and resources,” James said.

The summit is the beginning of a youth movement in Texas that cuts carbon emissions, protects our communities and creates millions of new “green-collar” jobs.

The new “green-collar jobs” will connect the people who most need the jobs with the jobs that most need to be done, helping to end poverty and global warming.

The company Alternative Energy describes green-collar jobs as those that “involve products & services that are environmentally-friendly.

Green-collar jobs include any that involve the design, manufacture, installation, operation, and/or maintenance of renewable energy and energy-efficiency technologies.”

The conference wanted students from all over the state to come together and share ideas and projects. This gathering gave students from all over Texas the opportunity to come together and create the momentum for change.

“It was great to meet other students from across the state this weekend, to hear their perspectives, and to see that there really are many people out there who feel as passionately as I do,” James said.

The summit wanted to attract people from all backgrounds because climate change is not just the interest of a few – it is a world-wide challenge that is interconnected with so many other problems of today.

By acting to stop global warming and finding a new clean-energy economy, America will find healthier, cleaner, more secure and sustainable communities.

Confronting risks posed by climate change will create millions of good jobs and lift millions out of poverty.

Goals of the summit include pushing Texas and the United States to cut emissions by 80 percent by 2050, 2 percent per year for the next 40 years, create 5,000,000 new green-collar jobs and ban new coal and nuclear power plants.

The summit also wants to encourage students to get their campus and their university’s president to make a commitment to reduce emissions on their campus.

In addition, the summit wants to encourage presidents from all institutions to sign the President’s Climate Commitment, as 10 universities’ presidents in Texas and 480 institutions’ presidents in the United States have already.

“We want to give a voice and power to students to create real change. Many youth today feel like they have to wait till they are adults to make a change. We want them to know that they can take action and make a change now as long as they are organized and work toward the goal,” Pierce said.

Currently, SEAK, Students for Environmental Activism and Knowledge, is one of the organizations on campus working to reduce emissions on campus and get President Jake Schrum more involved in making the campus environmentally friendly.

This week, the Student Peace Alliance and SEAK had a table in the concourse giving students the chance to write a Valentine to Schrum or their representative. Students could implore Schrum or their representative to embrace the changes needed to help the environment.

“Get involved in campus, express your sustainability needs to your administrators and officials, and get other students excited for the cause. Make your voice heard, and bring more people to the movement. If enough of us can come together, positive change can happen,” James said.

Some projects are in the works to reduce the carbon footprint left by the University. The new Center for Lifelong Learning will be an environmentally-friendly building on campus.

Members of SEAK have been working on improving conditions on campus, such as ending the use of Styrofoam in the Commons and getting a compost disposal. SEAK will also be hosting a High School Environmental Summit later this semester.

This summit will bring students from high schools within a 100-mile radius to Southwestern to discuss the environmental crisis and efforts to make a change. This will be similar to a Re-Energize Texas Summit for high school students at Southwestern University.

Citizens that attended the summit registered online before the event or at the door. Registration was $20 per person and included a free T-shirt and tote bag.

There were scholarships available for students who needed assistance in the payment of the registration fee, housing and transportation cost. Attendants of the summit had access to a keynote session, workshops, trainings and the Slam For Change, a poetry slam session.

During Slam For Change, some of Austin’s best poets expressed their thoughts on climate change and social change through poetry.

In the weeks approaching the summit e-mails were sent out reminding SU students to register and attend. There was also a registration party held by SEAK. The registration party included details about the summit, help registering for the summit, available carpooling and refreshments.

The Re-Energize Texas Summit builds on the momentum generated at Power Shift 2007, the first and largest national youth summit to confront the current climate crisis held in Washington D.C. last Nov.

Power Shift held three main goals; make the U.S. presidential candidates and Congress take global warming seriously, empower a truly diverse network of young leaders, and to achieve representation from across the United States.

These goals involve building a clean energy economy, achieving energy independence, and revitalize the American economy. Through Power Shift college students were able to share ideas, learn new skills and make new connections to help meet these goals.

Student organizers brought together over 6,000 young people from all over the United States – including some students from Southwestern – to attend Power Shift.

The Re-Energized Texas Summit hoped to do the same for the students of Texas. Similarly, last weekend, students in the Northwest gathered in Oregon, students from the Southeast gathered in Georgia, and students from Ohio gathered for their own state summits.

“We want the summit to launch a larger network of students, not just individuals on campus,” said Pierce. “Even with the summit over, we want students to follow up, keep energy and momentum from the summit up and stay engaged in the coalition. There are a lot of opportunities for campuses in the Austin area to work with public policy.”

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