This is a guest post by Garett Brennan, executive director, Focus the Nation
Youth-led Clean Energy Forums are underway across the country this spring as part of Focus the Nation’s fourth national civic engagement campaign. Focus the Nation has been working this with youth leaders to help ‘focus’ communities across the upper Midwest, Maine, and Arkansas on the intensifying global clean energy race and the tangible steps these communities and their elected officials can take to capture the economic potential of a competitive clean energy economy.
This past weekend, Focus the Nation teams in Arkansas, Maine, and Wisconsin hosted Clean Energy Forums on Jobs and the Clean Energy Race. After last Saturday’s event, Focus organizer and student president of Arkansas State University, Ryan Beaird, reported that people in his community are realizing that the time is now to join the race to create clean energy jobs and industries. “The quicker we do it, the quicker we’ll become a leader and the quicker we’ll get returns on our investment,” said Beaird. “Our economy needs that right now. The future of Arkansas depends on it.” Watch part of the Arkansas Clean Energy Forum here.
More Clean Energy Forums took place Apr. 8 in Fargo, N.D. and Apr. 10 in Sioux Falls, S.D., Bloomington, Ind., St. Paul, Minn., East Lansing, Mich., and Chicago, Ill.
After working hard in the build-up to Copenhagen to spur U.S. clean energy leadership and international collaboration, Focus Organizers are now working even harder to ensure that we achieve real change in our local communities today. That is why Focus the Nation is working directly in key areas of our country that directly connect to our manufacturing muscle in the global market and the battle for legislative leadership in Washington. We are taking a hard look at clean energy job generation in the states where events are taking place: Maine, Arkansas, Indiana, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Illinois.
The slow moving Senate, while deeply concerning, does not mean that our communities and states have to stop moving forward on solutions. That’s what these Clean Energy Forums are designed for: while Congress is mired in debate, young leaders across the country are convening forums that are helping their communities get educated, engaged and connected to efforts to build a competitive and prosperous U.S. clean energy economy. No matter how old you are, there’s something totally amazing about seeing a young person moderate a panel of business and elected leaders on this issue. The presence of a highly articulate, passionate young person driving the discussion achieves a certain gravitas about how incredibly critical this is for generations to come.
If we’re serious about solutions, we need people in power to get serious about investment in clean energy research, development, and adoption, and then empower young entrepreneurs with tools to unleash their creativity. Climate change is NOT the defining issue of our generation. After all, today’s ‘millennials’ didn’t put all that global warming pollution up there. But building a clean and prosperous energy economy that averts the risks of climate change — and leading that effort in a way that inspires people in diverse communities across the country to take part in that collective effort — this is the defining issue of our generation.
In Wisconsin this past weekend, Focus Organizer Jamie Racine led an event at the American Legion Post in South Milwaukee. At the Wisconsin Forum, the participants identified the solutions and roadblocks facing their state and communities. One of the more interesting solutions that surfaced was a discovery that strong partnerships already exist between federal and state governments and technical colleges in the area: every graduate coming out of tech school in manufacturing is trained for renewable energy installation. And according to panelist Amy Heart from the Midwest Renewable Energy Association, Wisconsin has the capacity to produce more than five times as much energy as it needs from renewable sources alone! With a whole crop of trained technicians each year and plenty of renewable energy potential in the area, it didn’t take long for participants to agree that investing in the growth of manufacturing and installation businesses seemed like a good thing to advocate for when they visit their elected leaders in the coming month and share their clean energy priorities. Watch part of the Wisconsin Clean Energy Forum here.
Also included on Jamie’s panel was Robin Eckstein, an Iraq war veteran and volunteer with Operation Free. Robin delivered an impassioned first-hand account of why we need to start investing in clean, local sources of energy:
The military is taking this seriously, whether it’s the fact that we’re completely vulnerable because of the finite source of energy, or because of climate change, or the fact that we’re funding both sides of the war. Former Senior CIA director James Walsey specifically stated that this is the second time in American history we’re fighting both sides of the war, the first being the Civil War. Every time we go to the gas pump, we are helping to fuel terrorists. We are buying that fuel, that money is going into the hands of countries who do not have our best interest at hand. We have our troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and the bullets flying back at them are coming from money that we’re giving to those governments, by going to the pump, and this has to stop.
Focus the Nation has spent three years creating educational community forums to ask these hard questions, facilitate difficult conversations and work toward unexpected partnerships to find solutions. We commend our partners like the Truman National Security Project and Operation Free, as well as the Alliance for Climate Education and Will Steger Foundation for helping Focus the Nation bringing together diverse perspective at our Clean Energy Forums. Watch Wisconsin high school students discuss their vision for a clean energy future here.
We are anxiously anticipating the outcome of the remainder of this April’s Clean Energy Forums this Thursday and Saturday in Ind., N.D., S.D., Minn., and Ill. Each Forum will generate a citizen-built list of top roadblocks and solutions that youth-led teams will deliver to Senate leadership this spring.
As Focus the Nation watches and helps this movement grow into a more targeted, comprehensive, and inclusive conversation, we are also seeing cool clean energy careers spring up around the country. In Arkansas, panelist Christopher Charlton, a young wind technology specialist with Greenway Renewable Energy spoke urgently and passionately about the work his company is doing to bring renewable options to the people of Arkansas. These are the jobs that we’re talking about. And with President Obama’s announcement of ending the moratorium on offshore drilling the big energy news out of Washington this week, we know that it will continue to
be our intrepid communities, local leaders and path-breaking businesses that will keep building and fighting for a clean energy future and proving that it works. Build on! Build now!
Focus the Nation is a Portland, Ore.-based non-profit working nationwide to empower young people with the leadership, educational and civic engagement opportunities that will accelerate our transformation to a more just and prosperous clean energy future. Empowering a generation to power our nation. Find out more at www.FocusTheNation.org