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Students from 720 campuses rally for energy, climate change

By Liz Dennerlein (USA Today) - October 25, 2013

Students from more than 720 campuses and communities attended Power Shift 2013 last weekend in order to discuss climate, energy and environmental justice issues.

Power Shift, hosted by Energy Action Coalition, is a biannual convergence of young activists that seeks to help further the movement to end fracking (the process of fracturing rock layers very deep within the earth in order to extract natural gas or oil), create a clean energy future and divest for fossil fuels.

For the first time, Power Shift was held in Pittsburgh rather than its usual location in Washington D.C.

The weekend offered workshops, keynote speakers and more than 200 panels on how to run campaigns that promote a clean and just energy economy on their own campuses or within their own communities.

For 28-year-old Whit Jones, campaign director for Energy Action Coalition, Power Shift is a time in which the young generation can make its voices heard.

“Our generation has the opportunity to lead our movement and our country into a clean energy economy,” Jones says. “Right now we have both urgent crises around climate change and our economic crisis. If our generation can lead the way into a cleaner economy we can both help stop climate change and also create millions of jobs for our generation.”

Jasmine Ruddy, a junior environmental health science major at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, was one of the thousands of young activists who attended Power Shift.

“It’s been incredible — I’ve been inspired,” Ruddy says. “It’s a really cool feeling to be in a room with thousands of other people who care about the same issues as you do.”

Making a difference

Ruddy’s interest in the environment goes beyond this past weekend at Power Shift 2013. It stems back to her freshman year at UNC when she became involved in Sierra Student Coalition’s UNC Beyond Coal campaign.

For the past two years, Ruddy along with other members of UNC’s Beyond Coal Campaign, struggled to schedule a meeting with the university’s board of trustees to discuss ways in which UNC could stop depending on coal-generated electricity.

“When universities are investing in fossil fuel companies that are fueling climate change and are destroying the planet — that’s almost a slap in the face to [students]. They’re saying ‘we don’t care about your future,’ ” Ruddy says.

Sept. 25 of this year, members of UNC’s Beyond Coal Campaign were finally able to sit down with the BOT to discuss divestment, which Ruddy says went well.

When it comes to environmental issues and divestment, specifically, it’s difficult to get universities on board because it’s all about defying the status quo, Ruddy says.

“With environment issues in general it takes a long time to get folks on board because a lot of it is about changing your lifestyle — changing things that we do every day,” Ruddy says. “It’s about making people realize that those things are necessary to fight against climate change and if in the end we don’t act it’s going to be worse.”

Similar to Ruddy, Annie Wang — a sophomore philosophy major at Georgetown University — has also found her passion in climate change issues.

Wang, who is a part of Georgetown Energy (a student-run clean energy action group), is currently working on a committee focused on placing tiles in the dining halls that create energy when walked on by students.

She spent months leading up to Power Shift 2013 recruiting students who would be interested in attending the conference.

“Climate change is effecting us at such a rapid pace and it’s going to be something that we have to deal with very quickly when we become adults and take on new positions,” Wang says. “It’s important to get involved in climate change, but also going to these types of conferences — it’s not just for fun. It’s also really informative and you get to meet a lot of different kinds of people who have a lot of different ideas.”

The last day of Power Shift 2013, always takes form in a day of action.

More than 2,500 activists marched through the streets of Pittsburgh, making it known to local elected officials that they do not want to see fracking, Jones says.

“Just having all those people together with their incredible energy and ideas — it was super inspirational,” Jones says. “We had tons of great training packed with people eager to learn and take the movement back home.”