By Kerry Kong
After finishing three consecutive exams last Friday, Brian Atkinson rushed to the parking lot ready to travel. Armed with nothing more than a backpack and a big resolve, his goal was the same as that of his fellow carpoolers -- to storm Capital Hill in hopes of making an impact on global climate change.
Some 50 Ohio University students converged on Washington, D.C., for the four-day Power Shift 2009 conference that concluded Monday. The event brought together 10,000 young people from across the nation in a rally for clean energy solutions.
"Power Shift is one of the biggest environmental events in history," said Atkinson, who coordinated the trip through the campus' Student Sierra Coalition. "You are meeting people from all over the country and even all over the world. It's pretty stressful to coordinate all these, but it's worth it."
Power Shift 2009 was organized by the Energy Action Coalition, a collaboration of 50 organizations, more than 700 local groups and hundreds of thousands of supporters. This year was the third occurrence of the annual event that sought to hold the country's elected officials accountable to climate and economic issues during the first 100 days of President Barack Obama's administration.
Highlights of Power Shift 2009 included addresses by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and other key politicians, a career fair, training in lobbying and a rally at the Capitol Building. On Monday, some of Ohio University's participants met with members of Congress to discuss actions that could be taken on the issue of climate change.
Rebekah Clark, vice president of Ohio University's Sierra Coalition, was encouraged by a meeting she had with a staff adviser to Congressman Alan Mollohan, whom she said supports the creation of 5 million green jobs.
"Our elected officials recognize how many of us want a bold bill to be passed addressing climate change, but they do not hear from us enough. They were very receptive to our ideas and suggestions for the future of our country," Clark said. "They told us to go home and mobilize our communities and encourage letter writing, e-mail and phone calls to their offices. I learned that most of them will back us if enough voices ask."
Months before Power Shift 2009, Power Vote T-shirts were a common sight across the Ohio University campus.
The Power Vote campaign, a national non-partisan effort also led by the Energy Action Coalition, garnered signatures from 341,127 young Americans nationwide. Signatories pledged to vote in support of "clean and just energy" in the 2008 presidential election.
By Election Day, 3,046 Ohio University students had pledged support for the Power Vote campaign -- the second most pledges of any college or university in the nation. Many of the Ohio University Power Vote organizers attended Power Shift, relishing a chance to rally around clean energy solutions in the company of fellow environmentalists.
Students aren't the only ones voicing concern on the issue of climate change at Ohio University.
In March 2007, President Roderick J. McDavis signed the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment, pledging to ultimately offset 100 percent of the university's greenhouse gas emissions. It's a goal that Sustainability Coordinator Sonia Marcus described as "very aggressive … but one that is achievable if we choose to prioritize it."
After all, she reasoned, "It is certainly our responsibility to address our own impact on climate change."