A letter to fellow youth climate leaders

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Dear friends—

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, star of Powershift, has challenged us. Asked why the President was not making more progress on his green agenda, she said that the rest of us were partly to blame. “They’re not marching on Washington the way they did on Earth Day in the 70s,” she said.

We think she’s on to something. Many of us helped elect the president—he swept the youth vote by unprecedented margins. But maybe we haven’t kept the pressure on him as we should have, demonstrated the necessary support for tough decisions. A few of us got to go the White House during Powershift, and that was part of the message we took home: show us your support.

That’s why we hope you’ll join us in what may turn out to the largest civil disobedience actions in the history of the U.S. climate change movement, outside the White House from late August till Labor Day weekend. We know it’s an inconvenient time—hot and humid in DC, and just the moment when many of you are heading back to school. But this is important—for a couple of reasons:

1) The issue couldn’t be more key. We’re joining with indigenous leaders, scientists, and others, to demand that the president block the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta. As the planet’s most important climatologist, James Hansen, said recently: exploiting the tar sands will mean ‘it’s essentially game over for the climate.’ It’s the dirtiest ‘dirty energy’ out there.

2) The president can actually block it all by himself. He doesn’t have to listen to the hopelessly divided and bought-off Congress—he, himself, can sign or refuse to sign a letter certifying that the proposed pipeline is ‘in the national interest.’ If he says no—then no pipeline. It would be a wonderfully clear-cut way of living up to his pledge that with his election ‘the rise of the oceans will begin to slow and the planet begin to heal.’

3) We don’t have to do it alone. The youth climate movement has often been in the forefront of this work. But here is a great chance to work with allies, from the indigenous peoples whose lands are being trashed in Canada, to the ranchers and farmers in Oklahoma and Nebraska where the pipeline will run (and doubtless spill). A call went out a few weeks ago, written by Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein and signed by a number of elders in this movement, from the author and farmer Wendell Berry to the Native American environmental leader Tom Goldtooth—they made it clear that they expected an older generation to scale up their leadership.

If you think you can get to Washington, please sign up here. You’ll only need to be there a couple of days—the plan is to have new people taking action each day, after they’ve gotten nonviolence training. The action will be as mellow as possible—the organizers are asking that people be “businesslike in dress and demeanor,” in an effort to demonstrate that anyone can take part—and that the real radicals in this fight are those who would spur catastrophic climate change.

We’ve long hoped that other parts of the environmental movement would follow our lead—not only by getting more urgent, but also by working without worrying too much about what group is in charge or who’s taking the lead. We’re very much looking forward to being in Washington in August—the weather may not be quite as nice as it was for Powershift, but the action should be just as powerful, and the mood every bit as sweet.


– Youth Climate Leaders of North America

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