GCI looks toward climate conference

Student environmentalists hope to lobby Congress at Power Shift, a national conference on climate change.

By Rebecca Guterman

U of C environmentalists are shifting into high gear to raise enough funds to send student representatives for the first time to Power Shift, a national conference on climate activism and lobbying held by Congress in April.

Every two years, thousands of top climate activists, policymakers, and students—mostly college-aged—spend four days in Washington, D.C., at workshops focusing on campus activism and clean air, meeting with congressional offices to lobby.

Students for a Just and Stable Future (SJSF), a subset of the RSO Green Campus Initiative (GCI) that was founded this fall, is hoping to send 25 students to the conference. “You go from being interested to feeling like you’re part of a really big movement,” SJSF director and first-year Caitlin Grey said.

Traditionally, Loyola University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago, and other local colleges have sent representatives to the conference. But according to Grey, this will be the first time U of C sends students.

Attending the conference would boost U of C’s role as a supporter of sustainability, said Grey. “It’d help us catch up in terms of sustainability and climate initiatives.”

But first, SJSF has to raise enough money and get volunteers on board.

SJSF member and second-year Sandy Carter said that the club is trying to raise enough to pay for at least half of the $200 total cost for each attendee. The club is applying to many different grants, and each recruit is asked to put in at least 10 hours of fundraising for the group.

“It eats into your budget, but I really think this is a great opportunity for anyone interested in political activism and environmentalism,” Carter said.

Currently, SJSF is in the recruitment and fundraising stages of the process. They have been selling chocolate on campus, which Grey hopes will also attract recruits. She said the recruits just have to be interested—not a member of GCI or even particularly knowledgeable about climate issues.

Even if they do not raise enough by April, the group will continue fundraising after the conference to pay back students for their out-of-pocket costs, Carter said.

On a national level, Power Shift 2011 will encourage Congress to shift billions of dollars to clean energy and to veto legislation that would weaken the Clean Air Act. On a local level, SJSF has been working on the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance, which Grey said could come up at the conference.

Since SJSF’s founding in fall quarter, legislation to clean up or shut down two coal plants in Pilsen and Little Village has been its main target.

The group has worked with environmental organizations like the Sierra Club, lobbying and phone banking at least once a month.