Environmental action should not end with Powershift

Amy Plovnick | Op-Ed Submission

Over the weekend of Fall Break, I was part of a group from Washington University that attended the Missouri Power Shift Summit, an environmental conference for students from around the state. The three-day summit featured inspirational speakers, workshops about environmental issues, organizing strategies and solutions, and a passionate rally for clean energy legislation on the steps of City Hall.

Through all that I learned and experienced at Power Shift, my emotions shifted from fear and despair, to cautious hope, to ultimately a great desire to take action. First, I feared the dire consequences of continuing to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at the current rate. With the expected temperature rise caused by greenhouse gas emissions, we will see increasing frequency of severe weather events such as droughts and tropical storms, species extinction, and a sea level rise of four to six meters that would put several coastal cities underwater, creating millions of climate refugees.

I also felt despair because the U.S. government does not seem eager to pass the climate change legislation that is necessary to stop such problems from occurring. The United Nations will meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Dec. 7 to discuss a new global climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol. Since the United States is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, an international treaty depends on the United States’ actions.

The House passed a clean energy bill over the summer, and a similar piece of legislation has been introduced in the Senate. But with the country focused on health care reform and many politicians unwilling to support clean energy legislation because they receive support from coal and energy companies in their states, it will certainly be difficult to pass such a bill before December.

My experience at the Power Shift Summit showed me that we are in a tricky situation but not a hopeless one. The fact that so many senators, including Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., remain on the fence about this issue means that we have a great opportunity to influence policy. If the United States passes or is leaning toward passing legislation that greatly reduces our greenhouse gas emissions, other nations will see that it is economically and politically feasible for them to follow suit, resulting in a strong international climate treaty at Copenhagen.

Which brings me to my last feeling of the weekend: an urgent desire for action. There is not much time, but we do have the incredible opportunity to affect change. At Power Shift, several of the workshops and speakers discussed how to influence policymakers effectively. Those who attended the conference will certainly bring these skills back to campus to push Senator McCaskill to support clean energy legislation. In fact, students have already begun taking action by attending the 350 Action @ the Arch rally and the campus sustainability fair this Saturday.

As important as these events were, we cannot stop here. We need to let Senator McCaskill know that we need to pass clean energy legislation by calling her office, writing letters, writing editorials, and spreading the word about this important issue. Influencing the vote of one senator may not seem like a drastic enough action for the massive problem of climate change, but it is one small step toward creating a global climate treaty. Senator McCaskill may be the deciding vote in passing clean energy legislation in the Senate, and U.S. action may be the deciding factor in creating a strong international accord that will be able to curb global warming. Last November, students made history by voting in record numbers to elect Barack Obama as president. This fall, we can make history again by influencing the establishment of a global climate treaty.

Amy is a sophomore in Arts & Sciences. She can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

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