Declaring Independence From Dirty Energy

Kim Teplitzky
October 25, 2004

It was quite possibly the largest youth day of action ever. On Oct. 19, 281 actions took place across the United States and Canada marking Energy Independence Day. Together the participating activists collected over 10,000 signatures on a document they called the “Declaration of Independence from Dirty Energy” in an effort to leverage their collective power and present a strong, united voice demanding a clean energy future for our generation. And some of them wore costumes.

In Philadelphia, for example, students rallied at the Liberty Bell where they dressed up like the founding fathers for a dramatic reading of the Declaration. With a heap of homemade signs, clipboards, bucket drums and colonial attire, the Philly group managed to attract a ton of attention from visitors to the historical site.

“We had a lot of fun out there and our guys in costumes were hilarious. They really caught the attention of people who were around, especially the kids,” said Andrea Mickus, a student at Temple University and a major organizer for the rally.

As the students were getting ready to wrap up the event, a group of about 30 eighth-graders from New York came by. They saw the TV cameras and students in colonial costumes and swarmed. Action participants talked to the kids about clean energy and getting involved in the environmental movement, while the kids signed the Declaration.

The Declaration itself is a monumental document that outlines a radical and immediate transition to clean energy technologies. The concerns it expresses are urgent and the students who wrote it assert that action must be taken now in order to protect our future.
“This is the defining issue of our generation,” said Billy Parish, director of The Climate Campaign and the leader behind Energy Independence Day. “We’re pissed off that the generation currently in power is making decisions that will ultimately harm our generation. There’s all this talk about keeping us safe, and our energy policies are doing everything but that.”

Emissions from power plants are responsible for nearly 24,000 deaths a year, according to reports by Clear the Air. Of these, a disproportionate number live in low-income communities and communities of color.

Beyond these direct deaths, “dirty energy” is believed to be a major contributing factor in global warming. And for those who question the significance of global warming, there is mounting evidence of its role in the development of extreme weather conditions. According to the United Nations, the planet’s rising temperatures already kill an estimated 160,000 people per year due to the increased intensity of hurricanes, severe droughts and floods, heat waves and the increased spread of infectious diseases.

The students who organized Energy Independence Day believe that global warming will only get worse with the continued reliance on fossil fuels, which emit carbon into the atmosphere creating a blanket-like layer over the earth, leading to more intense weather across the globe.
Oil is one of the most commonly used forms of “dirty energy” and many of these students are also concerned the U.S. dependence on foreign oil, which leads to both international conflict and economic stagnation from rising fuel costs. This is why Energy Action stepped up, according to Parish. Students needed a channel to bring up the environment in today’s political regime.

“[Youth] are not apathetic. We are informed and we are mobilizing in massive numbers to the polls on Nov. 2,” said Crystal Leaver, an organizer for Envirocitizen.org and one of the Declaration’s co-writers.

On Nov. 16, Energy Action plans to take the Declaration, with the signatures they’ve collected and deliver it to newly-elected officials at all levels around the country, including the president. In this way, the coalition hopes to make the voices of youth who are concerned about the environment one of first things politicians – both new and old – encounter in office. By hitting them right away with a strong, unified message, the intention is to let them know they can no longer skirt this issue: Global warming is real. It is happening right now. And the youth of America will not stand idly by while politicians play games with our futures.

There was consensus among the declaration authors that Energy Action needed to not only list grievances, but provide solutions as well. The group felt that the U.S. needs to re-engage in international treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol, invest money in clean energy technologies and take away some of the billions of dollars in subsidies that currently support the fossil fuel and nuclear industries.
Part of what made this day of action so powerful were the new e-activism tools Energy Action used. “These technologies allow students to be connected to everyone else and feel like they’re really part of a North American movement,” said Arthur Coulston, the “tech geek” from the California Student Sustainability Coalition.
Not only is the Declaration online to collect internet signatures, but there was an interactive map with all the actions plotted out. Activists could click on any of the dots to find out about the action and get contact information for the students leading it.
“In the last few years technology like this has become more accessible to the grassroots, and has really opened us up to the possibilities of networking on a large, cross-border scale,” said Coulston.

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Energy Action, the North American coalition who sponsored the day, is made up of 17 of the largest and most powerful student and youth environmental organizations and programs in the U.S. and Canada. This powerful coalition, like many great relationships of our day, began in bed. Luckily the five activists involved had the decency to call each other the next day, and several days following.
These five represented geographic diversity. They came from Climate Campaign in the northeast, what would become the Southeast Climate Network and Greenpeace’s San Francisco office. They all agreed that something needed to be done to bring them together as one force, one voice in the youth fight for clean energy solutions.
This turned into a June meeting in Washington, D.C. The original five brought in 25 more people representing 15 major environmental organizations. They planned and strategized for three days, and when there were no objections left, these youth were ready to challenge power at all levels.
They celebrated their achievements with beer, in the style of much youth organizing, and then headed home to ignite their bases with this new, united message. The newly formed youth coalition, Energy Action, was primed to tackle the greatest energy threats of our time, from government to corporations to campus procedures and environmental racism.
To back up a little, this year’s action was not the first of its kind. The first clean energy day of action actually happened on Nov. 13, 2003 and included 65 registered actions across the country. Its success was followed by on the second day of action, Fossil Fools Day on April 1, 2004, where they surpassed their goal of 100 actions, registering 130 actions.
This set a standard. After Fossil Fools Day, and with the formation of Energy Action, the young leaders had greater ambitions for their collective power. The organizers made an impressive 281 actions that happened and they are working their way towards a goal of 30,000 signatures by Nov. 2.

On some campuses, students are racing to get signatures. Energy Action has also set up a competition; the campus with the highest percentage of their student population to sign the declaration by Nov. 2 will win a wind power donation large enough to power an entire day at their school and a celebrity presentation on campus. But the organizers say that what this really comes down to is people power. They see this as the biggest opportunity for youth – all 27 million of them! – to stand and demand clean energy.

If you’re interested in supporting Energy Action, go to www.energyaction.net and sign the declaration.


Kim Teplitzky is a student at Temple University and a member of the Climate Campaign, the Sierra Student Coalition and Energy Action.


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