THE BLOG
11/20/2009 04:18 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Time Out: Youth Climate Leaders Must Change the Game

After an emotional week for the members of the youth climate movement, who have staked so much hope on the promise of passing legislation in congress this year and sealing a binding agreement in Copenhagen, we've had to deal with managing our expectations and reframing how we approach the opportunities that are still ahead of us.

I wrote on Monday that we would adamantly continue to play our unique role as the generation who will bear the brunt of the negative impact every time our leaders choose to delay decisive action on climate and energy. I still believe this is true, but I also believe we have an obligation to step back and celebrate the victories that will ultimately help us achieve our vision. Using the slower pace of the coming holiday weekend to regroup, as frustrating as it may seem to some passionate activists, can allow us to gain perspective that will allow us to continue to be relevant in the dialogue surrounding legislation - even if it winds up happening in April - and make the most of Copenhagen next month.

Foremost, we're lucky that President Obama is our teammate, as opposed to an administration that did not even acknowledge science and reality. The members of the Energy Action Coalition's partner organizations have called on him this month to provide leadership in our basketball-themed, "It's Game Time, Obama!" outreach effort, and I'm pleased to report that members of his administration are hearing us.

This morning I attended a forum at the White house with Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebilus and EPA administrator Lisa Jackson to explore the issues of health and a clean energy future. I was reminded of how fundamentally things have already changed, and was excited to imagine what else will follow. These two phenomenal leaders are articulating a vision for the future of this country that matches the aspirational ideals of our generation. There is more innovation, collaboration, and commitment to achieving true action on addressing our greatest health and environmental challenges than we've ever seen from a Presidential administration. Instead of checking out after young people checked their votes at the ballot boxes, as so often happens, the Obama team is in a position to engage us.

It was also a day worthy of celebration because despite what the pundits say about our so-called return to generational apathy, the young people in the grassroots are still in action. Some of us dressed up in basketball jerseys at the White House this morning before the meeting, led cheers, "shot hoops" with the leaders waiting in line to attend, and let them know how serious we are about our convictions. We told them about how more than 45,000 of us have called, tweeted, texted or rallied at a regional Power Shift conference in the last six weeks to tell the president and his staff that we're eager to mobilize with them. It was encouraging to see the smiles of seasoned political veterans, invigorated by our enthusiasm and creativity despite the difficult task of reaching a consensus on how to proceed that lies ahead of them.

Obviously, not everyone agrees on proposed solutions, and as young people we particularly expect bold leadership that will address the root causes of the problems with urgency. We are less inclined to respect those who tell us to be patient while politics play out, because we are passionate about stopping the injustices we see effecting our peers living in the shadows of coal mines and in communities where some groups bear a disproportionate and unfair amount of toxicity. We are sickened at the thought of endorsing an endless consumer culture that ensures our generation will continue to be dependent on dirty energy. What some label as idealistic, naïve or radical, we see as a responsibility that could fall directly on our shoulders if this nation's collective action problem persists in the face of unrealized promises.

It's important to not become frustrated and paralyzed by a real or perceived generational disconnect. This debate is long from over, and our role is growing more important by the day. I came of age in my own career as an activist where our only orientation was to fight against Bush and his policies. I pinch myself every day I have the privilege of walking in to meet with an administration that not only shares my values and my commitments, but an administration that my generation played such a critical role in putting there.

That said our role is not just to stand by and cheerlead. Our role is to ensure that we take seriously the asks that Candidate Obama made of us during the campaign, to stay engaged, to hold him and his administration accountable, and to be his partners in bringing hope and change to fruition. Without our help, without our work around the country, those aspirations will not have the same chance of seeing implementation.

So let's do now what we do best: Let's use the coming months to break convention, be bold and be visionary about the climate and energy future we will claim for ourselves.