By Philip Finkelstein
Young people, more than anyone else, have a vested interest in climate change and the decisions made in response to it. Environmentalist Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish girl, has made headlines this year rightly pointing this out—although older policymakers are the ones in charge, it’s the young people of the world that have the most to lose.
This sentiment is prompting more and more interest and climate advocacy on college campuses. Regina Pistilli, a member of the CCL Salt Lake City chapter who works on higher education outreach, has not only noticed this trend but has actively bolstered engagement with local students.
Working closely with a student environmental group, Regina recently led her second capstone course at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, and is also in the process of starting up a new student group at the University of Utah. Last year, the capstone class Regina taught partnered with the Salt Lake City CCL chapter to develop an environmentally and economically sound sustainability plan for Carbon County, Utah. During her course this year, three of her graduating Environmental Studies seniors organized a climate aid concert and art show on campus to raise awareness of climate change and the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 763).
The event, sponsored by the local CCL chapter and the Associated Students of Westminster, was an uplifting success with over 100 students attending and dancing for three hours to a bluegrass band. The event was decorated with environment-themed art exhibits. During the evening, the attending students wrote more than 50 letters to Congress advocating for climate action.
The host students also did a brief presentation about the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, which according to Regina really excited the crowd. “It was incredible to see some 50 students’ hands go up in the air with a cheer when our student presenter announced that EICDA would reduce carbon by 40% in 12 years and 90% by 2050,” she said.
The event clearly made a lasting impact on some of those in attendance. The following week, several students came up to the CCL booth at a tabling event and said, “Hey! CCL, I know you guys—I danced three hours to your music.” It’s because of this type of response that Regina hopes their effort can inspire others across the country to help further activate the youth into learning about climate change and acting to make a difference. Regina believes that it’s crucial that young people realize the power of their political voice. Having witnessed firsthand at lobby meetings the effect younger constituents can have on staff members and legislators, she sees great opportunity in exerting real influence over Congress.
When speaking with young people about specific examples of their political power in action, Regina points to the story of the Utah State Senate bill, called the Concurrent Resolution on Environmental and Economic Stewardship (HCR 007). This bill, which outlined our responsibility to be good stewards of the earth and the steps needed to mitigate the effects of climate change and offset its economic costs, was passed nearly unanimously due to the efforts of a group of high school students. Thanks largely in part to this bill, Utah is now one of the few states with concrete legislation for taking action against climate change.
The younger generation has the power to make a huge difference on this topic, so engaging students is key. CCL’s Higher Education efforts offer lots of ways for students to get involved: internships, fellowships, campus leadership opportunities, and more. Connecting with CCL’s Higher Education team can energize and inspire action on campuses, as Regina’s course demonstrates.
Thinking of her nieces and nephews, Regina understands the urgency of this issue, and she’s hopeful that with enough awareness and progress the political scales will start tipping in our favor. “We must plant the seed and be persistent,” she says. A winning strategy can be straightforward. The more people aware of climate solutions like a strong price on carbon pollution, the more political will we can build. Students are especially receptive to the cause given the threat climate change poses to their future. And there’s no better way to get a student’s attention than by throwing a great party.