Published on
The Guardian/UK

Power Shift: Global Youth Climate Movement Comes of Age

Obama's first big test on climate change - the largest eco protest in history

Casper ter Kuile

We're now well into Obama's first 100 days as president, and as is obvious from his trip to Canada, his green credentials are being seriously challenged.

His biggest test yet will be how to deal with an event that will represent the largest mass civil disobedience on climate change the world has ever seen. For the last eight months, organisers have been bringing together over 70 conservation, public health, labour, social justice and faith-based organisations along with figureheads of the climate movement like Bill McKibben and Dr James Hansen.

On 2 March, over 10,000 people will join a sit-in at the coal-power plant that literally powers the congressional building in Washington DC. For many, it is a national symbol for the stranglehold that dirty energy sources have over their communities, their climate and their future. Just this week, Hansen released a public broadcast explaining why he will be taking part.

Thousands of those making history in this action will be youth climate organisers from all over the US. This Friday, they will themselves be forming the largest ever youth climate event in history – Power Shift. From every single state, young adults will be coming for three intense days of training, strategising and action to build the climate movement. The organisers, the Energy Action Coalition, have already mobilised 340,000 young people to vote on climate change during last year's presidential election – so this is by no means a group of enthusiastic idealists to be patronised. This is a highly skilled, highly organised movement of young people who will not let vested economic interests destroy what the future holds for them.

As organisers of Power Shift UK this September, we have been invited to work with them over the next week. We'll be joining the last frantic efforts to house and feed the incoming flood of participants, learning from their incredible recruitment drive and building our vision of what Power Shift will mean to young people in the UK. Although sitting in a metal sausage thousands of feet above the ocean isn't what I like doing, we will have to fly to America. But because we know what it takes to build a social movement, we know that learning from other's success is absolutely vital.

It's important to realise that what's happening in Washington next week is only one part of a booming global youth climate movement. The Indian Youth Climate Network have just completed their epic Climate Solutions Road Tourthat received rapturous praise from Tom Friedman in the New York Times, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition are organising their Power Shift for June, and European youth groups are already planning mass mobilisation around the milestone Copenhagen climate negotiations in December.

I'm constantly reminded of Al Gore famously saying that he couldn't understand why there aren't rings of young people blocking bulldozers and preventing them from constructing coal-fired power plants. Well, his call is about to be answered.

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Casper ter Kuile is the co-director of the UK Youth Climate Coalition

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