By: Vivian S
On Wednesday, February 26th, I woke up, brushed my teeth, and walked out of my house. But instead of continuing down to the bus stop, I was driven to the Capitol.
…Well, not exactly the Capitol, I was driven to the Good Neighbor Building, as that is where the Youth Climate Justice Summit began.
After I managed to find my way around all the twisting roads of the Capitol, I completed my registration and went down to breakfast. Everyone sat at tables with people in the same district as them and chatted for a while. Then, youth took to the stage.
We started with some icebreaker activities, but the true beginning of the summit was a speech about the exploitation of Native American people to this day, and how it related to climate justice. That idea is a part of intersectional climate justice, which was a big focus of the summit, which says that climate change disporportionallly affects communities of color and other disenfranchised communities which are normally systematically targeted, making it not just an environmental issue but also a social and economic issue.
We then were given a short presentation of how to talk to representatives, and on the bills that the summit was trying to get passed, and those they were trying to stop from passing.
The bills that were being supported were:
- Solar on Schools (HF1133 & SF1424): which is a grant program to give schools solar panels which will eventually take on a great part of the electricity load of the schools.
- Energy Conservation for Schools (HF1148 & SF2016): which would make a loan-fund for schools to make investments in energy conservation.
- The Women of Color Opportunity Act (HF841 & SF1123): which is a collection of grant programs for organizations working with women of color to develop small businesses, expand access to STEM careers, provide internships, etc. to combat the how women of color are underrepresented.
- Trash-burning is Not Renewable: which would declare that trash-burning is not a renewable energy source and companies cannot keep claiming it as such. It is still being drafted.
- Green Affordable Housing: is a proposal by Governor Walz to make massive investments into affordable housing that is energy efficient as well.
The bills that weren’t being supported were:
- Felony Free Speech & Guilty by Association (SF2011/HF2241 and SF3230/HF2966): 4 bills which would make harsher punishments for water and pipeline protesters.
- Clean Energy First Act (SF1456): which, while it says that electric companies have to prioritize carbon-free energy, it also defines trash-burning as renewable and coal and gas plants “carbon free resources”.
- Exempting Climate Impacts from Environmental Review: which says that new projects in Minnesota don’t have to consider the impact they would have on the environment due to carbon emissions. This bill is still being drafted.
After we were given these bills, and an overview of them, we then went to meet with our representatives. I went to meet Rep. Dave Pinto.
We were let in, and about 10 of us squeezed in. We went around introducing ourselves, then got straight down to business. Rep. Pinto immediately expressed his support for what we were doing and the bills we were talking about. The meeting was short, and we only had the time to bring up a few ideas, like how to get moderate Republican support, and short discussions on the bills. By the end of it, Rep. Pinto said that he would co-author the House Solar in Schools bill, which would mean he would be signing his name as someone that was supportive of the bill.
Then, we tried to go meet with Sen. Dick Cohen. We didn’t have a meeting with the senator though, so our meeting failed, but we left letters expressing what bills we supported and what we didn’t.
After that, I participated in one of the student-led workshops. There were many of those over the day, and unfortunately I wasn’t able to see most of them, but I managed to catch one. “Raising the pressure on legislators”, in which one of the students led us through how to contact your legislators and more effectively express your opinions and ideas to them. We were given instructions and how to write letters and emails, how to make phone calls, and how to be active on social media and the community.
We were also given a list of places to look for other events to become active in: US Climate Strike, MN Climate Strike, and Yea! MN.
Then, there was lunch, which may have been my favorite part of the day.
After that, all of us walked up into a sanctuary and filed in row by row, to listen to a whole host of speakers.
The first speaker introduced Will Steger, who founded ClimateGeneration, one of the programs leading the summit. Then came Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan who discussed the need to be active in politics and the fight against climate change. Following her came Governor Tim Walz, who talked about the urgency of battling climate change and how we as young people had to protest, to demand our rights.
Before this summit, I had barely known who Governor Walz was, much less how much of a contested character he was to the climate change activists at the summit. He only spoke for ten minutes, and left at the end without taking any questions. The entire group had a discussion about what he had said, with many of us coming to the consensus that we were disappointed by his lack of specifics.
After that, we had the chairs of both the house and senate climate justice committees talk to us, in which they discussed the specific actions they were taking, their problems, and how to get involved.
All in all, it was a very long day.
I enjoyed it, getting to talk to our representatives was important and it did feel like having a bit of a voice in politics, but the summit could have been managed a bit better, and I wish we got to meet with more representatives.
I would urge all of you though, even if you were unable to make it, to contact your representatives and make your voices heard, and to join in other events.