National / News / February 11, 2009

National Teach-In on global warming

The National Teach-In on global warming is a project that was put together by the top minds in today’s field of environmental studies. On Feb. 5, the National Teach-In was held in hundreds of colleges nationwide, including a viewing of the National Teach-In video at Knox in SMC E-117, followed by a student-led discussion.

The teach-in centered around a video that included interviews with prominent members of organizations like Energy Action Coalition and Center for a New American Dream, organizations that are promoting and encouraging the switch to sustainable methods of living. Titled “Solutions for the First 100 Days,” the video focused on the power of young people in America to reinforce the focus of environmental sustainability in Obama’s new administration. Eban Goodstein, the teach-in co-director, prefaced the video by saying, “If you’re under 30, you’re a part of the greatest generation that will ever inhabit the earth,” because this generation is the one that will have to stop global warming. Stress was put on the importance of starting the change during the first 100 days of Obama’s office. The message of the video also stressed the importance of leadership from community members in any part of America working in conjunction with action from Washington D.C.

Jessy Tolkan, co-director of Energy Action Coalition, was also interviewed for the video, commenting on the power of young people in the nation.

“We know these young people have a real vision for what this country needs to look like,” she said. “[Young people] are not just voters. They’re activists.” [pull quote.] The tone of the video was one of hope and ambition; that if the American people as well as Congress take action immediately, in the first 100 days with Obama, there is still a chance to save the environment. If the American people and Congress do not act within that time, however, the consequences will be more severe.

The video raised a question about how the economy and the environment can benefit from what needs to be done to save both.

“There will be some gradual job loss as well as the nation shifts out of dirty fuels,” said Goodstein. The problem, though jobs in green technology will present themselves eventually, is how to prevent job losses during this switch. One idea mentioned was that the government might instate a system of permits for companies that want to sell oil, coal, or gas. Each company would need a permit to sell their product, and over time, the amount of permits in circulation would decrease and they would be given out to companies with lower emission rates. They would auction the permits when there are lower numbers of them and give the revenue generated from auctions to lower or middle class families, sustaining the economy during the transition to green technology and the jobs promised with it.

One of the biggest environmental efforts mentioned in the video that is aimed at getting young people involved is the Power Shift conference in Washington D.C. at the end of February. From Feb. 27 to March 2, students who attend will have the chance to hear from keynote speakers about opportunities that might be presented within the new green economy. “We will gather on the west lawn of the nation’s Capitol and participate in the largest lobby on climate change that this nation has ever seen,” said Tolkan. “I think we have a lot to look forward to in 2020. It means pathways out of poverty that have been created with millions of new green jobs across the country. The United States has once again been viewed internationally as a true leader in this fight and many others.”

As the video ended, the group of students and faculty watching then began a round-table style discussion about their thoughts on the video. Many strongly disagreed with the idea of the U.S. being a “true leader in this fight,” as Tolkan said. Senior Alissa Burger said, “They kept talking about how America used to be a beacon, but in all seriousness, we’re the last ones to get on this thing, so by no means are we the first. There are plenty of other places that demonstrate sustainability. That’s what got me the most, that America is gonna lead this, because if anything, we’re running to catch the train.” To this, junior Bryce Parsons-Tweston replied, “I don’t think it’s a healthy idea of America running to get on top and beat everyone again.”

Though the aim of sustainability is a common one for these students, there were doubts about the ways Congress and the video mentioned doing it. The video promotes cap and trade policies, which essentially means that companies that need to increase their emission allowance must buy credits from companies that pollute less. Though some argue that this is a method of lowering pollution rates in a cost-effective way, others disagree.

Professor of Environmental Studies Peter Schwartzman said, “Personally I have a real issue with the cap and trade philosophy. One example is that a coal company exists next to a neighborhood. Those people are suffering the burden of that pollution. In a global warming scenario, we get some equality [from cap and trade], but in global health, we have no equality. I was very surprised that that was not addressed at all in the video.”

Students also commented about how “we are the minority” at Knox, in the context of being environmentally-minded. They said that most people do not understand the importance of changes to sustainability until it affects them economically in a direct, personal way, such as the recent increase in gas prices. It is at points such as those that people will notice a need for change.

Talking about her plans to attend Power Shift 2009, junior Abby Pardick said, “I feel it’s worthwhile. As much as we might not want to rely on the government to get things done for us, that is a very strong center of our society to get things done. [We can] present ideas from the younger generation; we need to correct the older generation’s wrongdoing.”

Annie Zak

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