Local collegiates - led by the SUNY Fredonia Campus Climate Challenge - are headed to the nation's capital to demand urgent action on pressing climate, energy and economic issues.
Recently, 43 SUNY Fredonia students joined more than 10,000 other college and high school students from across the country in Washington, D.C. for the 2009 Power Shift Conference. During the four-day summit, from Feb. 27 to March 6, the nation's youth will push President Barack Obama and Congress to pass bold climate and energy policies which prioritize renewable energy, green job creation, and an agressive cap on carbon emissions.
"I am extremely excited to be able to bring such a high number of youths from a relatively small school that are excited and motivated to continue to help America and the world make the changes necessary to combat global warming and solve the energy crisis," Alex Staunch, president of the Campus Climate Challenge group at SUNY Fredonia, said prior to the conference.
Power Shift 2009 was organized by the Energy Action Coalition which includes 50 national organizations, more than 700 local groups, and hundreds of thousands of young people eager to fight for clean energy solutions and the creation of a new, green economy. In addition to a "day of action" when thousands of youth will converge on the Capitol building to lobby Congressional representatives, the conference will include a series of seminars, panels and workshops, a green career fair, and legislative briefings and activist training.
"Before the election, during our fall semester, our group worked extremely hard to promote environmental and energy policy awareness among the student population," Adam Malcoff, president of the Student Association's Department of Environmental Affairs, explained.
"Through a series of on and off campus educational events and face-to-face conversations, we collected over 800 written pledges from students to vote on the issue of environment and energy reform. Power Shift 2009 is a great payoff for the group and will help us keep motivated to do more great work this semester."
Joseph McGrath, publicity chair for the Campus Climate Challenge, agreed the fall semester at SUNY Fredonia was an extremely exciting and productive time for the group and the student body as a whole.
In addition to collecting the more than 800 pledges from campus students as part of the Energy Action Coalition's Power Vote program - an initiative to encourage youth to make environmentally conscious votes - the Campus Climate Challenge held a voter registration drive in cooperation with the Fredonia College Democrats, Political Science Association, and Fredonia College Republicans, registering 1,065 voters and citing a campus turnout rate of 88 percent.
"We don't want all of our hard work last semester to be wasted," McGrath said. "We want the changes we voted for to be made. Power Shift 2009 provides our group with an outlet to directly lobby and rally in our nation's capital."
In particular, McGrath said SUNY Fredonia students are eager to use the conference as a means of gathering more information on the coal-burning plant in Jamestown. Students will also use the opportunity to push for more money, through the federal stimulus package, for clean energy technology in New York state, as well as funding to help SUNY Fredonia live up to the "President's Climate Committment."
In April 2008, the SUNY Fredonia Campus Climate Challenge movement succeeded in having President Dennis Hefner sign and support the "President's Climate Commitment" which aimed at reducing energy usage and consumption on campus as well as making facilities more energy efficient. This semester, students are also helping clean up the campus by removing garbage and recycleables from outside of the sports facilities after hockey and basketball games.
"(Power Shift 2009 will) open up ways we can make differences in the community and on campus," McGrath summed up.
During the conference, Robin Hoepfinger, a senior Chemistry Education major and former president of the SA Department of Environmental Affairs at SUNY Fredonia, will be leading a training seminar on lobbying and campus activism - focusing primarily on the "President's Climate Committment." Afterward, SUNY Fredonia students will meet with Congressional representatives from Western New York to discuss local and national issues.
The training, McGrath expects, will provide local students and other Power Shift youth with the necessary skills to be effective in those meetings.
Overall, McGrath said he views the conference as a broader, more tangible validation of student efforts throughout the school year. In addition, he said he hopes it will inspire increased participation in ongoing campus movements, and provide further opportunities for action by students.
"Our campus came alive with activism during the fall semester," he said, "and Power Shift will be a great way to keep students involved and informed on how to make positive environmental changes in our community and country."
For more information on Power Shift 2009, visit www.powershift09.org.
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