Seeking one million college students to vote for clean energy

Power Vote is taking campuses nationwide by storm, rallying for a greener, kinder platform in November

By Gina Pace

To renowned scientist James Hansen, it’s clear that climate change is going to unfairly effect today’s youth.

“Older generations didn’t mean harm, and want their children to have a better life,” says Hansen, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who has warned about greenhouse gas emissions for 20 years. “They didn’t know the long term effects of burning more and more fossil fuels, but now we know the danger for young people and nature.”

Hansen spoke during a teleconference Wednesday to a group of young leaders who are kicking off Power Vote, a new initiative to get one million youth voters to pledge to make clean energy policies their top priority in the upcoming election. Power Vote staffers and volunteers will canvas the country, visiting college campuses, concerts, festivals and rallies to gain pledge signatures, and then garner candidates’ attention by showing up at appearances and debates and demand to hear details about their policies.

“We need to identify candidates for office independent of political party,” says Hansen. “At times, we have thought politicians were the greenest but in many cases it was greenwash. You have a difficult job. You’ve got to ask the right questions and find out who is really going to support your future.”

The Power Vote campaign is run by the Energy Action Coalition, a four-year-old consortium of 48 nonprofit organizations and about 700 local groups across the United States and Canada that support responsible climate policies. The first major campaign of the Energy Action Coalition was the Campus Climate Challenge, which aims to pass policies such as getting a college president to commit the school to going carbon neutral or redesigning university transportation systems to use hybrids and biodiesel, according to Jessy Tolkan, a co-director of the Energy Action Coalition. Since the Campus Climate Challenge started about two and a half years ago, more than 550 campuses have made commitments to work towards becoming carbon neutral.

Reagan Richmond, a senior at the University of Tennessee, is a student leader with the Power Vote campaign. During the first week of school, Richmond and other volunteers have been talking to classes before they start and handing out pledge cards as well as holding on-campus events. Richmond is getting ready for the second presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she plans on a big Power Vote showing.

“We are going to get busloads of students from across the state to be there,” Richmond says. “We are calling on both presidential candidates to stop talking about coal and nuclear and offshore drilling and start talking about serious efficiency, investing in real renewable energy solutions and building up green jobs.”

Tolkan says that a key to getting youth involved in the climate movement is to educate them about its connection to other issues, such as how a green economy could create new jobs, the burning of fossil fuels causes health problems like asthma and cancer, and the dependence on foreign oil leads to international conflict.

“This is the most diverse generation. We are not just environmentalists, not just tree huggers anymore,” Tolkan says. “We are feeling and experiencing the impact of energy problems. We are the generation that is the most unemployed right now and could benefit from green jobs.”

Desire Grover is another leader working with Power Vote that is also involved in the Energy Justice Network, a grassroots group that works to fight environmental problems that disproportionably affect the poor and minorities.

“People of color are more likely to live in poor environmental conditions experiencing saturated pollution on a routine basis,” says Grover during the conference call this week. “The Power Vote campaign is just the tool we need to galvanize the youth.”

Hansen emphasized that the presidential election is not the only important one to decide climate change, and that races in the House and Senate are also key.

“I’ve been at both the Democratic and Republican conventions,” Tolkan says. “What I hear from a really diverse cross-section of young people is dissatisfaction across the board with what candidates are willing to say and commit to on an issue that is so urgent.”

But Tolkan is sure that young people will demand to hear concrete answers.

“I see the young people across the country as the truth squad,” she says. “We won’t be fooled by corporations that are greenwashing, or candidates that are greenwashing and want to waltz in to Washington, D.C.”

Richmond is excited about the challenge of signing up more pledges.

“At first I thought, ‘A million people across the U.S.? Can we do this?’ Now, I am absolutely sure there are more than 1 million young people across the country who are ready,” she says.


Cheers good idea the world wants green and the best way to gogreen is forget greed.Where we live in Ulan Australia we have the coalmine problem all around us at the moment they are forcing us out of our home but we have been fighting them on the land fighting them at the waters edge and fighting them in the courts.We will not give in we will fight till we have aone hundred percent power reformation when coal will be the new black asbestos if coal is not stopped we will all pay the price coal is akin to the black plague.