Thousands of young activists to attend 'Power Shift' environmental meeting in Pittsburgh

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For Nick Goodfellow, a 22-year-old communications major at the University of Pittsburgh and a board member of Free the Planet, a student environmental group, it was one in a steady stream of bleak reports on the consequences of climate change.

The article, which he read this past summer, concerned moose in the northern United States dying in large numbers as a result of massive tick infestations made possible by warmer winters.

"You read these articles online about one climate disaster after another and it seems like an impossible challenge," Mr. Goodfellow said. "It got me really depressed until I realized it's not just me against the world in this fight."

Mr. Goodfellow, originally from Washington, D.C., will be one of what are expected to be 10,000 young environmental activists coming to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center Friday through next Monday for Power Shift, four days of panels, speakers, music and organizing convened by the Energy Action Coalition, a network of "50 youth-led environmental and social justice organizations."

For the first time, the conference, which has been held every other year since 2007, will be held outside of Washington, D.C.

The conference's website calls Pittsburgh "a city at the crossroads of the fight for a clean and just energy future -- at the heart of building the green economy, yet directly in the crosshairs of the fracking industry."

Seth Bush, a 23-year-old Pitt graduate who works as a campus organizer for the Sierra Student Coalition, said the move away from the nation's capital also is symbolic of a shift from political lobbying to grass-roots organizing as a means to effect a broader shift in energy policy.

"The political angle we've been trying to take hasn't really been working," Mr. Bush said. "We're working on a better, cleaner, more just energy future and that could start here in Pittsburgh."

Whit Jones, a campaign director for the Energy Action Coalition, said that for thousands of the young activists expected to rally in Pittsburgh later this month, the reality of man-made global warming and the dangers of fossil fuel consumption and extraction, including the thousands of wells in Pennsylvania and other states tapped through a much-debated process called hydraulic fracturing, are settled questions.

"We hope Power Shift demonstrates that young people have woken up to climate change and understand the dangers of fracking," Mr. Jones said.

Among the main objectives of the conference is giving attendees the skills to organize and mount successful movements at their colleges or in their communities, such as the "divestment campaigns" students have led on campuses to make their universities give up coal-fired plants.

Speaking at the event will be Josh Fox, director of the controversial fracking documentary "Gasland;" Bill McKibben, an author, environmentalist and co-founder of 350.org; Mike Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club; Bill Peduto, a Pittsburgh city councilman and the presumptive next mayor; and other youth, environmental and social activists.

Those include Phillip Agnew, whose group, the Dream Defenders, led a 31-day occupation of Florida Gov. Rick Scott's office in the wake of the not guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman, who fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., sparking a national debate about "stand your ground" laws and race.

A "Day of Action" also is planned for next Monday, which Mr. Jones said will include a rally and march Downtown originating at Allegheny Landing near PNC Park.

"We need to be divesting from these dirty fossil fuels," Mr. Bush said. "It's our responsibility as young people to learn how to organize more effectively ... and pressure our decision makers to make this change."

neigh_city - environment

Robert Zullo: rzullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3909. First Published October 13, 2013 8:00 PM


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