On the environment, we are the people we've been waiting for

By Matt Kazinka

Last weekend, I joined over 60 Minnesotan students and countless others in cheering on Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar as she agreed to be a champion of the environmental movement. Apparently, such an event is too wild for the heavily-protected government buildings of Washington, D.C. As I was escorted out by security guards, I saw not only a radical scene of people power, but a glimpse into the environmental movement in its brightest and most efficient form: an alliance of proactive people, cutting across political borders and age differences to create solutions to global warming.Several Macalester students and I gathered in the D.C. area last weekend as a part of Powershift, the nation’s first youth climate action summit. More than 5,000 students came together to discuss the problems of rapid climate change, deforestation, mountaintop coal removal and environmental injustice. However, that was not the purpose of the summit; anyone can watch “An Inconvenient Truth” and know we’re in trouble. The fact that the climate is changing is no longer disputable. What Powershift did was bring the environmental movement to a palpable fruition.

The “environmental movement” might have once been only an ideal, and one that was considered elitist and inhuman by some, and it is somewhat true that while environmentalists have always had the welfare of the earth in mind, they have sometimes left behind the usual forgotten peoples: minorities and the poor. After all, buying organic foods and building solar panels is impossible on a low income, and polar bears, adorable as they are, have long received an exceedingly large amount of attention from the environmental community.

But whatever was left of that mode of environmental thinking shriveled up and died this weekend. Rather than simply restating the very real need for carbon neutrality, we called for solutions to poverty and injustice, such as a “green collar” workforce, which would give jobs to those who need them the most. We represent the interests of not only middle-class white college students, but of indigenous nations that survive off the dwindling land resources, Appalachian residents fighting for their mountains, and inner-city residents who are reshaping their communities to be sustainable and stronger than ever. We were, and are, all of these people, and we will be working together until our job is complete.

I use the term “we” quite intentionally here. Powershift was, more than anything else, the formalization of an already informal “we,” one that has been emerging on college campuses, in neighborhoods, and sporadically throughout institutions across the world. Even though this “we” had not met yet before this weekend, we were all in tune, because we had a common goal: positive action on a problem that has been overlooked for far too long. And rather than waiting around for a solution to appear, we are finding more and more that we are the solution.

“We” is also incredibly important because it is a term that is all-inclusive. I am only a part of it, and I can do little simply by myself. But with friends, teachers, coalition partners and, most importantly, you, “we” are an incredibly empowered source for change. You needn’t have gone to Powershift to be part of this. Heck, you needn’t know a single thing about the environment. We will teach you. There is no end to the number of tasks that we can and must do together. If you want to be part of the most massive new movement for humanity and the world, then please, join in. We’ve been waiting for you.

Matt Kazinka ’11 of Iowa City, Iowa, can be reached at [email protected]