Radical conclusions from Powershift

March 28, 2009

I attended Powershift 2009, which brought 10,000 young people together in Washington DC to demand serious action on climate change, and have a few observations to make about the North American youth climate movement.

Chiefly, the work being done is movement-based and focused on reforming the current political and economic system to adapt to sustainability.

However, capitalism is incapable of sustainability. A system that depends on perpetual economic growth and consumption is unsustainable in a world with finite resources.

The biggest issue at hand is that there is too much CO2 in the atmosphere.

We have surpassed a point where our ecosystem can tolerate the imbalance of this element in the atmosphere. This imbalance is altering the global climate, which is unfavourable for the majority of life on the planet.

There was a great focus on "climate justice" at Powershift, which I think was the most poignant issue raised.

There is a great disparity between communities affected by climate change. Rich, white neighbourhoods do not house toxic waste dumps. The cleanest water is in the communites that can most afford it. Lavish estates do not overlook mountaintop coal removal sites.

The richest are those who do the most polluting and face the least consequences for their actions.

At Powershift, there was also a big focus on how to legislate for the lowering of emissions. Attendees were trained on how to lobby government representatives and then spent a day in meetings with elected officials and their aides.

This approach, however, is inherently flawed.

Firstly, to lobby a politician without having anything to offer them except our vote if they comply is simply insufficient.

Obviously, corporate campaign contributions are a far greater motivation to action for our administration than science and facts.

This was made manifest at Powershift when it was announced that the previously coal-fired power plant that brings energy to the national government would soon be powered by natural gas.

This is another example of a superficial solution that will do little good in helping to solve the environmental crisis at hand.

The transportation of natural gas involves the construction of extensive underground tunnels, which can cause large ecological disruption. Ecological disturbances also occur when the inevitable gas leaks occur.

Natural gas still emits a large amount of CO2, even though it is touted as a cleaner and better alternative to coal.

By concluding with the "largest act of civil disobedience around coal" at Washington's Capitol Power Plant, we gained a symbolic victory against those who want us to shut up. We will not.

When Powershift comes to Australia, it will be essential that a socialist youth organisation like Resistance has a presence, because capitalism has no real solutions to climate change.

We will not be able to solve the climate crisis until democracy is applied to economics. The youth climate movement is taking off, and we need to ensure that real political change is the backbone of this movement. A socialist movement can address this.

[Lindsey Merkel is a member of Resistance and currently resides in the United States.]

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