The 2013 Power Shift Conference in Pittsburgh, PA over Fall Break left Gustavus attendees more than enthused upon their return to campus.
The four-day conference focused on current climate issues with an emphasis on environmental justice. The conference consisted of keynote speakers, workshops, training events, and protests in the streets of Pittsburgh. Planner of the trip, Senior Anna McDevitt, was impressed with the conference.
“I think my favorite part was just the feeling of being there. It was so empowering to be surrounded by 7,000 of the next generation’s leaders, all rising to the challenge and demanding bolder action on climate justice and environmental justice,” McDevitt said.
Two celebrities of the environmental advocacy sphere, Bill McKibben and Josh Fox, spoke at the conference. Over 200 workshops were offered to the attendees, including state break out sessions. These sessions, which organized groups by state, focused on what can be done to facilitate climate change locally.
The speaker that stood out to Senior Reed McCalib was Timothy Denherder-Thomas, the leader of Minneapolis Energy Options Coalition.
“He really talked about the feasibility of localized energy in Minneapolis,” McCalib said.
For Senior Erik Anderson, who hopes to go into the medical field, the conference was reassuring.
“For me, sometimes it’s hard to completely see where my place will be in the environmental justice movement beyond college. There was a panel there on how to engage people who are in health care in the environmental justice movement. It was really cool to see all the different ways in which people in health care can really help further this cause and really work towards it,” Anderson said.
The focus on environmental justice at the conference was an eye-opening surprise to Junior Michaela Rice.
“Our actions at Gustavus and across the United States negatively affect so many people, and the choices that we make cause other people to die, and we’re not aware of the consequences that we put on other people due to our decisions,” Rice said.
Traveling to a city that is directly affected by environmental justice issues may have been unsettling to some of the group’s members.
“I think right now, especially as students of Gustavus, we have this really privileged position in society where we don’t need to worry a lot. I mean there’s not a coal plant at Gustavus. We’re not affected by environmental justice issues such as that, and we’re not going to be the first ones that are going to suffer from climate change, because we are not as vulnerable as other people are,” McDevitt said.
As a result of the conference, the group has decided to form an on-campus activist group, entitled “Power Shifters.” The group is open to all and will meet Friday mornings at 10 a.m. in The Dive. The group’s goal is to take on the divestment campaign, which focuses on Gustavus’ investments in mutual funds that include some of the world’s top fossil fuel companies.
Although the group will focus on the negative issues affecting the globe, they are confident in their ability to make a difference.
“We have the technology to harness renewables such as wind and solar, and our next step is just to do that. We know how to do it, let’s use it,” McDevitt said.