Youth Climate Leaders Talk Time Lines & Targets At White House

When the members of the Energy Action Coalition come together, we have a little cheer we like to sing that goes something like this:

"Ooo! It's hot in here. // There's too much carbon in the atmosphere.
Take action! Take action! // And get some satisfaction!"

Well, yesterday, we had a moment of immense satisfaction. Several dozen of us were invited to the White House to speak with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis at the Obama Administration's first-ever Youth Clean Energy Forum. The invitation was a rewarding victory after more than 50,000 youth climate leaders asked for it as part of our "It's Game Time, Obama!" initiative. The event was also webcast to young people around the country, which you can view in the New York Times' coverage here.

The day was the beginning of a refreshing dialogue we hope to continue into the remainder of Obama's term, and especially in the critical first months of 2010 that will have a dramatic and lasting impact on the direction our movement takes going forward.

Many attendees told us they were impressed by the sincerity with which the administration listened to our concerns about strengthening emissions targets, ending mountaintop removal, investing in green jobs and pathways out of poverty, and revitalizing our economy.

It was also an honor and privilege to hear directly from the leadership that is charting a new course for progress after a decade of ramming our heads against the Bush administration's brick walls. The passion, vision and commitment to building a clean and just future displayed by our top officials was a celebratory occasion many of us will carry with us not just to Copenhagen next week, but for years to come as the pivotal turning point in our success story.

And it will be a success.

There is much we can work on with this administration. The opportunity to bring green jobs to the disproportionately unemployed members of our generation and create a new economy is ripe for our entrepreneurial spirits. Encouraging congress to pass legislation and securing a globally-binding deal will be possible and is clearly a priority to Team Obama. Remaining engaged with the generation that campaigned so zealously for him, and collaborating in ways we haven't even imagined yet will surely happen.

Of course, as the generation that will bear the brunt of the fallout if science-based action continues to be delayed, there are still some points of departure in terms of time line and targets that will absolutely have to be addressed.

If our issue loses at the ballot box in 2010, a new congressional balance could drastically impair our ability to strengthen what many consider to be legislation that is already too weak to have a serious impact on solving the problems we face. The figures Obama presented last week - a 17% reduction from 2005 levels - is significantly lower than what science tells us is required, especially considering the rest of the world is operating on 1990 levels. In that context, the number the United States will bring to Copenhagen is essentially a 4 - 7% reduction, compared to the 25 - 40% the world expects of us. There's no doubt complicated politics are at play in these figures and that President Obama is in the difficult position of needing to be ambitious enough to satisfy the international community while he maintains the votes he has lined up in the senate at home. We hope this starting point can lead to more aggressive figures with the support of environmental activists pushing their congressional leaders in the right direction.

Likewise, the youth climate movement is unwilling to compromise on the myth that "clean coal" and nuclear must be a part of our portfolio going forward, nor will we stand for experiments in those fields that disproportionately impact low-income communities and leave them sick and at a disadvantage.

Fortunately, we can say that the White House heard us clearly and thoughtfully considered our platform. We are committed to mobilizing around the areas where we can work together, and pushing for the principles we know must continue to be part of the conversation.

The good news is that the conversation will continue. It could not have been more clear from the goodwill and conviction in the rooms yesterday: This generation has risen to the issue of our time and our leaders are poised and eager to help us realize our objectives.

*Photos by Gabe Elsner & Alec Loorz.