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Power Shift ’09: 12,000+ Students Attend Largest Youth Summit on Climate Change in US History

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This weekend, an estimated 12,000 young people were at the D.C. Convention Center for Power Shift ’09, the largest youth summit on climate change in history. College and high school students from all fifty states, all Canadian provinces, as well as a dozen countries, came together to discuss organizing for a clean energy revolution on the local and national levels. We hear some of their voices. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Van Jones. He was one of the major speakers this weekend, coal, of course, a key focus of the discussions at this weekend’s Power Shift conference. Van Jones is the author of The Green Collar Economy.

    VAN JONES: All that clean coal stuff, all that clean coal stuff — no, I’m going to tell you right now, we could have clean coal. I’m for clean coal. But I’ll tell you what. If we’re going to have clean coal, let’s have a couple other things. We could have clean coal, or — we can power the country with clean coal, or we could have unicorns pull our cars for us, you know, all day. We could have that, too. Equally fictitious, equally fantastical, equally ludicrous. You know? So, you know, we could have the tooth fairy bring us our energy at night. I mean, equally ludicrous. There is no such thing as the tooth fairy, there is no such thing as unicorns, and there is no such thing as clean coal. So let’s be clear about that. Let’s be clear about that.

AMY GOODMAN: Van Jones, author of Green Collar Economy, speaking at this weekend’s Power Shift conference. It took place at the Washington Convention Center. An estimated 12,000 young people were there for the conference, the largest youth summit on climate change in history. College and high school students from all fifty states, Canadian provinces, as well as a dozen countries, came together to discuss organizing for a clean energy revolution on the local and national levels.

Well, Democracy Now!’s own producer Nicole Salazar headed down as well and spoke with some of the students about why they came to Power Shift ’09.

    MARTIN MACIAS, JR.: Hey, what’s up? My name is Martin Macias, Jr. I’m nineteen years old from Chicago, Illinois. I live about two miles away from two of the biggest coal power plants in the Midwest region and the only two coal power plants in Chicago. It’s responsible for about fifty deaths a year in my neighborhood, and it’s responsible for toxic air, toxic soil. If you look at the demographics of these communities, it’s mostly Latino working-class immigrants. It doesn’t employ anyone from our neighborhood, and we don’t get any energy.

    NIKKI MOTSON: In Michigan right now, we’re in a very strong battle over the future that Michigan is going to take. We currently have nineteen coal-fired power plants, three nuclear power plants. We have declining energy needs, and yet there’s somehow an idea that there’s an energy crisis and we need to move forward with eight new coal-fired power plants immediately in order to make sure the lights don’t go off, which is absolutely a fallacy.

    Michigan is home to nearly 20 percent of global fresh water. We’ve got fishing advisories on all of our fish in the Great Lakes, as well as our 1,100 inland lakes, and definitely the largest single source of mercury contamination, for example, just to take one element of the contamination. It’s from the coal-fired power plants.

    We don’t have any coal in Michigan, so we do import all of it, which is a huge cost to our state. A lot of the people who have made investments in renewables are upset they’ve got to go to Canada or other states or Germany to buy the parts, when we’ve got all the manpower we need in Michigan and all the empty factory space to be doing that work there.

    JAMES DOUGLAS NOBLE: My name is James Douglas Noble. I’m from Hazard, Kentucky. The issues in my county are the reason I’m here, is mainly coal mining or mountaintop removal or deep mining, either one. My whole entire family, they work in the — mainly on the strip mines or the surface mines. And I’ve actually seen two of my friends die in the coal mines, because of like — they had a — there was a cave-in one time, and one guy died. Another guy, he just died because of lung complications. I feel that we need to give them something else other than coal and bring in a sustainable energy, or a sustainable job, at least, because coal runs out.

    KIM SMITH: My name is Kim Smith. I’m from Arizona. They did uranium mining on the Navajo Nation for over thirty years. And when Navajo people were working in these uranium mines, they weren’t given any protection, they weren’t given any information on the hazards of uranium mining. And so, right now, there are a lot of people who were working in those uranium mining, and they have cancer. And so, they’re trying to be compensated for that, and they’re just learning about what the hazards really are. And they had a uranium spill in the ’70s, and to this day we’re not able to use that water where the uranium spill happened.

    JUAN REYNOSA: Hobbs is just a small rural town right on the edge of Texas. It’s, I’d say, 95 percent dominated by oil and gas industry. But with the decline of oil production, the industries that they’ve decided to bring in to help jumpstart our economy are a prison, a casino, and more recently, the one that worries me the most is a nuclear enrichment plant, which, I learned about last night, they received their first shipment of uranium last night.

    A lot of my friends and my father have worked there in the refineries, and, you know, they’ve gotten injured. And, you know, it’s just not the most safe work environment. If they don’t have that good of an education, but they want to be able to support their families with a good career, they choose to do this. But the unfortunate thing is a lot of times that work doesn’t have much career mobility. You know, my father’s been working in the oil industry for thirty years, he’s an awesome worker, yet they’ve hardly given him any opportunities to move up in the career ladder. And I know he would be doing a fantastic job if he had had that opportunity.

    JARED SMITH: Essentially, when you look at, you know, African Americans as a whole, you can certainly see that, you know, as the movements are happening, African Americans simply aren’t getting the knowledge that’s necessary. So we aren’t understanding the facts that climate change is a real threat, and people aren’t basically telling them that climate change is an actual threat, that it’s common in their communities. For instance, during the summertime, in areas known as heat islands, African Americans are more likely to live in those areas and, as a result, get adverse health issues. And Howard University, being an HBCU, we see it as our duty to make sure we spearhead this and make sure that African Americans are more informed of these issues.

    AVISPA MAHAPATRA: There were two reasons why I wanted to be here at Power Shift: one, to learn how an event of such a scale can be held, how to get people there, how to get people working, and how best to achieve what you want to achieve; and secondly, to see if such a thing could be emulated perhaps in India.

    And to that end, that was — and also to contribute my bit as a representative from the Global South. In India, it’s — for a lot of people, it’s the question of survival. A lot of people still don’t get electricity. So, for them, it’s not a question of getting clean electricity or not. For them, they need — if they are in the mountains, what they need is light, what they need is heat. We want to eliminate this misconception that clean energy has to be expensive. In a country like India, where we have a lot of sun, a lot of wind, solar and wind power are great, and if they connect it to the grid, then, of course, things can be done. And, yeah, we are trying our best.

    FRANCISCO: In Puerto Rico, we have great waste management issues. We do not have proper facilities to store all the waste that we produce, or landfills have not been properly constructed. And because of this, we have great issues with the place that they are established in. And currently, we have three —- only three landfills for an island of seventy-eight municipalities and over four million people. So -—

    ADRIANA: And also, we have no real complete global recycling programs, that there’s some in a few areas, but not everyone has it. And we want that everyone that — you know, that basic aspect that everyone says, “Oh, of course, recycling is the first thing,” we don’t have that.

    FRANCISCO: Even though we’re young, we only have seventeen, sixteen years of age, we are gaining conscience, and we want to make a change, and we want a promising future for our nation.

AMY GOODMAN: Francisco and Adriana from Puerto Rico, some of the 12,000 young people who attended the Power Shift ’09 conference in Washington, D.C. Producer Nicole Salazar of Democracy Now! went down to speak with folks there.

When we come back from break, another major conference this weekend on the state of black America. Six thousand people joined together in Los Angeles. The founder of the convention that took place, Tavis Smiley, he joins us from LA. Stay with us.

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