A Shift in Power

Bruno Leipold
9 October 2009

This weekend I will be attending Power Shift, an informal summit for young people on climate change in London. It is organised by the UK Youth Climate Coalition (UKYCC), part of a growing international youth movement that is taking the climate change issue into their own hands.

These movements are united by common feeling of frustration with the delays, disinformation, and denial that characterize the traditional political system's response to climate change. In the USA moderate Democrats from coal dependent areas have weakened the Waxman-Markey Climate Bill to the extent that many environmentalists wonder if there is any point passing at all, while the Republicans can barely bring themselves to even admit to the existence of climate change. Australians had to undergo the embarrassment for years, of being the only major country along with Bush's America that did not sign the Kyoto Protocol.

Now, here in the UK, young people are directing their climate efforts into organisations like UKYCC. Especially because, compared to the rest of Europe, there isn't a dedicated "Green Party" represented in the legislature and so there are few formal political outlets for young environmentalists.

Also, of course, British youth do not have a political leader with Obama's legendary ability to inspire. As Casper ter Kulie, UKYCC co-director, puts it, in contrast to Britain young people in the USA "feel strongly that it was their unprecedented turnout that put Obama in the Oval Office - and they are committed to holding him to account."

Indeed the Obama campaign influence is all over Power Shift. From the extensive use of social networking (something our domestic political parties are still disappointingly slow on), the clean website, and an extensive effort to present it as a movement that belongs to its members. The organisers have even secured the help of Marshall Ganz one of the shapers of the Obama campaign.

So one question I'll be asking over the weekend is whether organizations and protests like Power Shift are likely to be how the next generation will express its political beliefs and activism in the future. If so it could mean a profound shift in the way UK democracy works, a shift of power away from the parties, from official political pathways and also perhaps from national centers of power to the local and the international.

UKYCC will join youth organisations from around the world at the Copenhagen climate conference this December, lobbying for a climate deal. Does this committment also reflect the lack of trust many feel in their various official national delegations? Hopefully by the end of the weekend I'll be able to answer that question - and if the Australian Power Shift is anything to go by, London residents should be on the lookout!

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