Oberlin Blogs

When nature calls, students organize. Part 1.

November 12, 2009

Last year, student activists from all over the country traveled to Washington, DC, to participate in Power Shift, a summit on combating climate change. This year, the organizers of Power Shift decided to hold regional summits, to make it more accessible to the country.

Would it surprise you to learn that the Ohio Power Shift was held right here in Oberlin?

Hundreds of students from colleges and universities throughout Ohio convened here in Oberlin this past weekend, which also happened to be Parents Weekend, to attend educational workshops and rousing speeches.

Though I would have liked to see more Oberlin students actually attend the summit (I guess people had to spend time with their parents), many of us welcomed our fellow environmentalists into our homes for the weekend. My housemates and I hosted eight students from Hiram College, one of whom led a workshop called "Radical Ornithology: The Importance of Biodiversity and a Radical Introduction to Birdwatching."

Indeed, the selection of workshops was broad, ranging from eclectic to mainstream, local to global, and theoretical to practical. Unfortunately I didn't get myself together in time to go to the radical birdwatching workshop, but I did attend two others, out of the 52 total (all the workshops were split into four time periods, with about 13 in each -- you had to choose carefully).

When I got to Oberlin High School, where all the workshops were, I was torn between "The Role and Prospects for Federal Climate & Energy Legislation," "Revitalizing the Rust Belt with Green Jobs," and the Beehive Collective's "The True Cost of Coal." I finally chose the Green Jobs panel, wanting to go with something practical and political but not as frustrating as I expected the legislation discussion would be.

The Green Jobs panel featured a rep from the NAACP, an Ohio state representative, a member of the women's labor group Hard Hatted Women, a rep from the Blue Green Alliance, an AFL-CIO labor leader, and a female construction worker.

The main idea I took away from the panel was that Ohio is steadily working towards a diverse energy portfolio that will gather more of its electricity (at least 12.5% by 2025) from renewable sources like wind and solar power, and that Ohio's dormant industrial infrastructure can be used to revitalize the economy if it focuses on green jobs. All encouraging news, though I would love to see more ambitious energy efficiency goals. There's a lot of coal in Ohio, which means carbon sequestration -- euphemistically referred to as "clean coal" -- will be a major part of our energy portfolio for the foreseeable future. The research on how safe it is to bury carbon dioxide emissions in the ground is not very well-developed, but it just doesn't sit well with me.

My next difficult decision was between "Working to Rid North East Ohio of Mountaintop Removal Coal," "Building a Campaign: Goals, Strategies and Tactics," "Kicking Dirty Energy Money Out of Politics," and "False Solutions (and Real Solutions!) to the Climate Crisis." I ended up choosing the latter, a kind of catch-all info session on the pros and cons of all kinds of energy sources, presented by Mike Ewall from the Energy Justice Network.

The main point of Ewall's presentation was that supporting certain energy resources is complicated; they all have upsides and downsides, seen and unseen, that affect the earth differently over time and space.

The first example Ewall gave may have been a dig at Oberlin, which is considering phasing out its coal power dependence and starting to capture energy from natural gases already being emitted at the local landfill. He talked about how a lot of students want their schools to give up coal-based energy, which is known to be dirty, for things like landfill gas, which is sometimes assumed to be cleaner but often contains equally dirty components such as methane.

Among other things, he also talked about the fact that nuclear power doesn't immediately produce greenhouse gases, but over time its waste releases not only radiation but also greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. Then he brought up a topic so obscure and terrifying that it seemed to border on conspiracy theory -- the prospect of geo-engineering. Apparently technology is being explored that would aim to reduce the power of the sun's rays on the earth by pumping sulfur into the air, which would filter sun rays... and instantly kill 500,000 people.

Overall it was an educational, if somewhat depressing day. But the people I met at Power Shift didn't seem like the type to let some bad news about the current state of affairs stop them from acting for what they support. I truly feel that the next generation of leaders was among us that day.

In Part 2, the current generation of leaders galvanizes the Power Shift crowd later that night. Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher OC '73 inspires, then angers the crowd; anti-coal activist Elisa Young saddens and energizes us; and political activist Elizabeth Kucinich (wife of Dennis) talks about taking real action. She also brings a surprise...

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Responses to this Entry

Doesn't the phrase "when nature calls" refer to having to go to the bathroom?

I'm just teasing...good post!

Posted by: Alice on November 12, 2009 10:26 PM

Two things entirely unrelated to this post, which looks good, in addition to the extensive feature on it in the Review....

1. Is your picture from Spain?

2. I'm REALLY glad you're coming to ECO tonight. See you in 7 hours!

Posted by: Anna on November 15, 2009 11:18 AM

Sam - Great post. It is imperative to keep this issue in front of your readers. This is the Century of Realization and it may take that long to figure it all out with the multitude of the competing interests. I will be long gone but it's up to your generation to figure it all out and make it happen. The good news - It couldn't be in better hands.

Posted by: Steve Berg on November 18, 2009 10:14 PM

Indeed, the picture is from Cordoba, in Plaza Tendillas! I don't know if you ever tempted the pigeons there, but they are brave creatures. Or just really hungry...

Posted by: Sam on November 19, 2009 10:36 PM

Earlier, I was trying to get the RSS Feed for your site and for some reason it ain't properly displaying in Google Chrome. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Posted by: Jefferson Rois on May 31, 2010 5:24 AM

absolutely incredible! "aim to reduce the power of the sun's rays on the earth by pumping sulfur into the air, which would filter sun rays". How in the world do lawmakers try to get stiff like this past people. People have to stay on their toes each week with initiatives like this. seriously, who would actually say yes to putting more sulphur into the air to stop the sun's rays. so there is truth to global warming..really? I never thought with the tearing down of rainforests, increased HDTVs, India & China rising in social class using more gas-operated transportation, possible bee extinction, polar bear, bengal tigers..etc.

Posted by: Reid on December 3, 2010 3:06 PM

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