Voices from Hopenhagen: Jessy Tolkan
There have been times this year when “hope” was thrown around like a dirty word, spoken sarcastically as though the young people who wore it on T-shirts and showcased it on poster in their dorm rooms last year had somehow grown to despise it. Their fickle attention spans and casual attitudes were cited as signs that the generation did not in fact have the intestinal fortitude it would require to execute change, as opposed to just talking about it when it’s the cool thing to do.
As I prepare to travel to Copenhagen on Friday for the UN climate summit, I'm struck by how different an experience I’ve had as the executive director of the Energy Action Coalition, an alliance of more than 50 environmental groups run by young people, than the image that has been portrayed of my peers.
If “hope” was so 2008, then “relentless” is how I experienced 2009.
The activism and passion I saw from leaders in the youth climate movement was tremendous. In March, 12,000 young people descended on Washington for our Power Shift 09 summit, and told leaders that we want a bold and just climate and energy future. This fall, thousands took the same message back to their local communities for Regional Power Shift 09 summits in 11 states. On the year anniversary of the historical 2008 presidential election, we launched the “It’s Game Time, Obama!” initiative in which more than 50,000 actions were taken to ask the President to meet with youth leaders, give an address to the nation outlining his strategy and attend Copenhagen in person. All of this work culminates Wednesday in a meeting at the White House with senior officials to discuss our vision for next year and how we will reach consensus and achieve the goals we set for ourselves.
That’s hardly a T-shirt or a slogan. It’s a movement, and one that exhilarates me when I think about its potential.
It’s especially inspiring because so many people in my generation understand that this is the issue that will define us, and will set the standard for how much time, resources, thought and funding we can allocate to the other issues we care about. Investing in America—in health care, in education, in equality, in building new economies—begins when our dependence on dirty energy and the costly violence it incites comes to an end.
Some have discounted the effectiveness of Copenhagen because of reports that it will not yield a binding global deal. Their concern is valid, but the outcome is still ours to seize.
We are uniquely poised now, with the support of our barrier-breaking and visionary President, to chart an un-navigated course with innovation and sustainability as our guides. I am privileged and honored to travel to the summit on behalf of the generation that refuses to accept procrastination and paralysis on these issues.
I can say with full confidence that our commitment to change is renewable, and we’re ready to prove it.
Jessy Tolkan serves as the Executive Director for the Energy Action Coalition, a coalition of 50 leading youth organizations throughout the U.S. and Canada. The Energy Action Coalition leverages the power of young people to organize on college campuses, high schools, and in local communities to build models of the clean energy future.
Help turn Hopenhagen into Copenhagen at Hopenhagen.org.