Fifteen Gustavus students will be joining nearly 10,000 college students from across the country to attend the 2013 Power Shift Conference.
Power Shift is a conference that brings young people together to show their support for environmental justice issues. The conference will be held Oct. 18-21, opportunely during Gustavus’s Fall Break. The conference, typically held in Washington, D.C., has moved to Pittsburgh, Penn. this year due to the proximity of the location to this year’s key topics.
Senior Anna McDevitt has piloted the organization and funding of Gustavus students to participate in the event, after she heard about the Power Shift organization during her summer internship for a grass roots company.
Inspired by her study abroad semester in India which focused on social justice, McDevitt urged Gustavus students to travel with her to Pittsburgh. She has been working to organize a trip to the conference for much of the semester. In order to raise funds for the trip, the group organized a pasta dinner fundraiser at Patrick’s Bar and Grill, and collected individual donations which added up to a total of $725. Each student will pitch in some of their own funds as well.
The Power Shift group of 15 includes students from Environmental Science courses, the Gustavus Greens, as well as students who travelled to India for the Social Justice, Peace, and Development Project last fall.
“Right now, the way our system works is some humans are suffering so that other human beings can have energy, and that is just plain wrong. It doesn’t take anyone special to see that that’s wrong,” McDevitt said.
Each year, the conference focuses on a few key topics. This year’s topics are Induced Hydraulic Fracturing (or fracking) and divestment from fossil fuel companies. The first topic, fracking, is a way to collect natural gas in which a mixture of sand, water, and chemicals is injected into the ground in order to increase efficiency.
Criticism of the fracking industry, largely located in Pennsylvania, is becoming more and more prevalent as signs point to environmental damage, water and air contamination, and serious health issues.
The divestment aspect of the conference will focus on college investments. Many colleges currently hold investments in fossil fuel companies, but there is an increasing movement across the nation to push their schools to divest from these companies.
Over 400 colleges across the nation currently have divestment campaigns, including Gustavus.
“Here at Gustavus, part of our endowment is invested in a mutual fund that could include some of the world’s top 200 fossil fuel companies, and we’re asking that Gustavus divest from that mutual fund and move that one to two percent of it’s endowment over to a mutual fund that screens for those companies so that we are not funding climate change,” McDevitt said.
Jennifer Steffen, one of the students who will be travelling to the conference, shares the same general concern for the future.
“I am really passionate about trying to help mitigate climate change, because I feel that the politics of it are stagnant and it’s really frustrating to most environmentalists. We don’t want to make too much trouble, we don’t want to make enemies, you know, we just want to have an okay future,” Steffen said.
The three-day conference will consist of speakers, panels, workshops, as well as a job fair, and a concert. On the fourth day of the conference, 10,000 students will hit the streets in order to promote environmental justice.
Senior Reed McCalib hopes that this demonstration will make a big impact.
“When you get 10,000 people in one place, especially people of voting age, it’s going to draw the attention of politicians hopefully. So maybe they will take our cause more seriously if they see that there are so many people on board with this cause,” McCalib said.