Yalies talk energy on Capitol Hill

Photo by 350.org.

Climate change presents the biggest human rights issue of our generation, said 18 Yale students who traveled to the nation’s capital this past weekend to listen, present and protest at a conference.

Rick Herron ’13 led the group of 16 Yale undergraduates and two graduate students to Powershift 2011, a conference of 10,000 young people discussing climate and environmental activism, where several Yalies hosted a panel on the future displacement of hundreds of millions of people in developing nations. The four-day conference, held by the Energy Action Coalition, an umbrella organization of over 50 youth environmental groups, featured speakers such as Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson, environmental justice advocate Van Jones, Al Gore, and writer and environmentalist Bill McKibben.

“Don’t wait to be the leaders of tomorrow, tomorrow is not promised; be the leaders of today,” Herron said Van Jones told Powershift attendees.

In addition to rousing speeches, Powershift included workshops, panels and film screenings that ranged from campus sustainability to broader policy efforts, Herron said. The Yale panel was led by five undergraduate founders of the nongovernmental organization Climate Voices, which addresses what Max Webster ’12, who founded Climate Voices, predicts will be the biggest human rights crisis of our time — the human fallout that will result from climate change.

“The conference is about realizing that being right is not enough,” Webster said.

The regional Powershift coordinator reached out to the students when she was on campus in February and the group successfully applied to host a panel at the D.C. conference, Webster said. Through the opportunity to share information about the global crisis, Webster said the group, which was founded in the fall, hopes to build popular momentum and encourage local action. Gilad Tanay GRD ’11, who guided the creation of the organization after serving as the teaching assistant of some its members in Thomas Pogge’s philosophy and political science class last fall, accompanied the group to Powershift.

Tanay, who said he was proud of his ex-students, also said that he was thrilled by the energy and intelligence of the conference’s attendees. Tanay said he, as a native Israeli, saw the qualities he admires most in Americans at work in the conference, both in his students and in the other attendees.

“It’s a truly democratic spirit in which having the force of the better argument does not mean that you separate yourself from your fellow man, or lock yourself in a tower,” he said.

Powershift was about planning action, not just talking, Tanay, Herron and Justin Haaheim DIV ’10, who also attended, agreed. The stakes are high enough to warrant drastic action, said Haaheim, who works for the environmental activism group Act New Haven and 350.org, a grassroots movement against climate change.

“There’s no time to waste, no time to lose, we have to give everything we have,” Haaheim said.

And indeed, Haaheim gave it all he had this weekend. On Monday he took part in a nonviolent protest against coal use in the lobby of the Department of the Interior. Storming the lobby, Haaheim and his more than 100 fellow protesters, he said, blocked the department’s exits, but instead of speaking to the Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, 21 people were arrested by police officers. Haaheim was not among those arrested.

The next step for the Yale Powershift attendees will be to reinvigorate a state coalition of students, Haaheim and Herron said.

The past weekend’s conference was the largest Powershift event yet. The two prior conferences took place in 2007 and 2009.


  • blueyes1119

    Quote: “several Yalies hosted a panel on the future displacement of hundreds of millions of people in developing nations.” I would be interested in knowing if population control and re-forestation were mentioned in this forum. If anyone is concerned about global climate, carbon or greenhouse gasses, these are the two most effective and inexpensive ways to deal with the problem. World population has doubled in the last 40 years, unfortunately mostly in those “developing nations”. That means half the world’s population is of reproductive age or younger. That’s the crisis, not energy dense fuels. Humans don’t need to blow up mountains and clearcut forests in northern New England to erect useless wind turbines in a feckless efforts to combat global warming. We need to give nature a helping hand with massive re-forestation efforts which will result in cooling and carbon sequestration. Greater positive results at a fraction of the costs.

  • timemachinist

    Its great to see the youth care about the future of energy as key to the future of the planet. The population crisis noted in the above comment will abate only as economic development and urbanization transform the poor countries, decreasing the birth rate as women find more opportunities in their societies. Conservation of forests is essential not only for climate stability but also habitat preservation –the Age of Man has already been a major extinction event in the geologic history of Earth, and our destruction to habitats and species is accelerating. As for those proposed wind turbines, we need MANY of them!

    ALL energy sources are dirty or dangerous in some form, and the problems with wind are tiny compared to fossil fuels or nukes. Unfortunately, the NIMBY mentality allows us to use lots of energy locally but demand the environmental and social costs be externalized, that is, these costs are left to be borne by the dead species and destroyed habitats and resource wars all occuring far from my backyard. Nuclear accidents are something that only happen to other countries, and oil spills and global warming disturb habitats far from Colebrook, so let’s pretend to care about the environment by opposing wind power in our backyard and hope the problems of local energy use will be solved by other people in other places. That is absurd.

    Also ignored are the resource wars and global military empire required to briefly sustain our unsustainable oil addiction. Add these costs in blood and treasure to your existing energy system. Wind turbines made in America will solve many of our problems at once.

    By the way, I visited some huge wind turbines in Vermont, which had been built despite the NIMBY phony environmentalists there. The turbines were practically silent, very graceful. The beauty is also in their being the concrete form of American sustainable energy solutions.

    Take a look at Fukushima and the look at the oil-soaked birds of any oilspill (there are over 50 million gallons of oil spilled into the ocean every year in oil production and shipping spills). Then tell us how environmentally bad windmills are IN COMPARISON. Wind will then be shown to be the better choice. Combined with solar, wave and water power, the future of the planet (not to mention the American economy too) depends on a New Manhattan Project to transition to 100% sustainable energy sources ASAP.




  • dalet5770

    Bio Butinol could easily solve our energy problems since it can be fed through the system without any modification to our current infrastructure and can replace crude oil 100% and its energy rating is the same as gasoline – unlike Ethanol which has 25% decreased energy force – hence worse gas mileage . Hydroponics means that everyone can be the solution to the growing energy problem as well, and with Bio Butinol we can capture air pollution and inject it into our plastics

  • electric38

    Better hurry the utilities and energy companies are making a huge grab for the solar farming industry. Bureau of Land Management is taking a few more weeks to accept public comment before handing over millions of acres to developers. Handing this industry to the corporate giants is a big mistake and will result in transmission losses and excess profit and overhead levels.
    These solar units need to be on the rooftops of peoples homes and small businesses. Especially for the low income, senior and disabled population. They need the free energy from the sun to assist in their economic situations. The extra $300-400 a month from energy savings will help with many other expenses they incur. It will also help in building the long term economy. Building and maintaining these systems creates many more jobs for now and the future. A solar farm is more or less a one shot deal as far as jobs are concerned.
    It is great to see so much student activism helping to guide the future benefits of this important resource, so that it gets into the hands of those that need it the most.
    Are there any countrywide/campus organizations that feature an informational point for other interested persons?