A New Generation Shifts into Gear
30 Nov 2009
There is a shift taking place. Against the odds, climate change isbeing treated by an increasing amount of people, as something that canbe turned into a positive opportunity.
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“I think we live in a really exciting moment. We have the opportunityto do fantastic things. Because we have to. How often do we see peopleflourish in such a way because there’s a need for it to happen?” ñ Emma Biermann
Thereis a shift taking place. Against the odds, climate change is beingtreated by an increasing amount of people, as something that can beturned into a positive opportunity.
This became visible whenhundreds of young adults and teenagers from across the country,converged in London this autumn for Power Shift ’09. The aim was: “Toconnect young people and inspire and equip them to organise in theirlocal communities, raising the youth voice on climate change,“explained Amy Mount, the event’s media officer.
Located at theInstitute of Education, workshops took place over four days, alongsidemotivational talks from speakers, such as Ian Katz, deputy editor ofThe Guardian, Daniel Vockins, manager of the 10:10 campaign, actor Jason Isaacs and Shilpa Shah, the founder of an interfaithcarbon-cutting scheme, The Akashi Project.
The event culminatedwith a ‘flash-mob dance’ next to the London Eye and then outsideParliament. Waves of young people suddenly appeared, seemingly out ofnowhere, to perform a co-ordinated routine. With a public display ofsolidarity and celebration, they injected a note of creativity andpassion into the climate change debate.
“Doing the dances wasamazing,” said participant, 24 year-old Rosie Sullivan. “You’ve got tohave fun together and celebrate the fact that we are alive and live ina beautiful world, right now. It’s not completely dysfunctional.”
ThePower Shift weekend was run by UKYCC ñ UK Youth Climate Coalition,which was set up by co-directors Emma Biermann and Casper ter Kuile.Emma, age 23, is concerned about the emerging impacts of climatechange, such as potential mass displacements of people. She learned ofthe effects of forced migration through her mother, a war refugee fromCambodia: “She came over as a result of conflict in 1975. She couldn’tspeak English, her medical qualifications were not recognised and shelost all her family. If we create that type of situation for many morepeople, through man-made climate change, that’s just not cool.”
Emmaattended the UN climate change negotiations in Poland last year. “Itwas the most disempowering experience I’ve ever had,” she remembers. “Politicians in their 50s and 60s were discussing inadequate targetsfor 2050, when actually, they won’t be around to see the worstconsequences of climate change. This is not acceptable, because they’renegotiating our lives.”
In response, Power Shift was set up tomobilise young people and empowerment was its foundation. “We’re themoral reminder,” said Emma. “We’re prepared, co-ordinated, have all thetechnology we need and hold a vision for a world that is going to bemuch healthier.”
The central tool put forward was the power ofstories. Based on the techniques of Marshall Ganz ñ who designed thegrassroots campaign that led Barack Obama to victory ñ workshops helpedparticipants share their ‘Stories of Self’: personal accounts of howthey came to be concerned about climate change.
“You can look atthe subject from so many angles: policy, trade agreements, energy…“says Emma, “but the ‘Story of Self’ starts from your own experience andthat’s how you engage with people.”
Diversity was vital to thePower Shift agenda. “UKYCC is centred on being inclusive,” explainsEmma. “I think that, as the defining issue of our generation, climatechange is very much over-arching. You don’t have to be a ‘greenie’ tocare, because it’s about our jobs and future income and the welfare ofour families and friends.”
Speaking to the event’s audience,Kofi Hope, founder of Black Youth Coalition Against Violence, put iteloquently: “We are all connected to one struggle; to build properrelationships between human beings and proper relationships between usand our environment.”
A strong feeling of hope arose as theweekend progressed. “Climate change is a challenge for people to seetheir potential,” stated one of the ‘Power Shifters’, Claire Prizeman.The event highlighted, that due to the urgency of the climate crisis,now is a time of tremendous possibility. As Ashok Sinha from the StopClimate Chaos Coalition told the conference: “We can be the generationthat grasps the opportunity that no generation has had before ñ tocreate a better future.”
When the four days came to an end, theUK’s new youth climate movement dispersed from the capital, energisedand confident. “I feel positive about what we can achieve in theworld,” Rosie Sullivan said. “I’m filled with this great feeling ofjoy, that we have an opportunity to make changes happen, which we’veall been waiting for.” Power Shifter, Muyiwa Olufon agreed: “In 2050, wewon’t be toast. We will survive.”
Performing a flash-mob dance
Photo: © Robert vanWaarden
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