By. Kezia Wright, guest blogger
The dawn of 2017 is fast approaching and with it comes a time of reflection on the gains of the environmental movement. Last week, beginning the 12th December, the first wind farm in US waters off the coast of Rhode Island quietly started to send electricity to the grid as its 240-foot-long blades began to spin. The Block Island Project which will provide enough power to sustain 17,000 homes is not large scale. At just 30 megawatts, it is only a fraction of what may be produced by an average coal or natural gas plant. However, its opening is symbolic. It represents the nascent shift in US energy provision towards renewable, cleaner alternatives.
The $300m Block Island Project off the coast of Rhode Island
December 5th saw the remarkable victory for the Standing Rock Sioux as the Obama administration announced that the easement required for the completion of the Dakota Access pipeline would be rejected. After months of blood, sweat and tears, the coalition of activists led by the Standing Rock Sioux finally won out. Their plight harkens back to indigenous battles of old such as Little Big Horn. Images circulated of men and women courageously riding on horse back as they were affronted with tear gas and water hoses. The stories emanating from North Dakota stirred the hearts and minds of onlookers both at home and abroad and their slogan – “Water is Life” – had a profound resonance, which will no doubt be felt deeper in the years ahead.
Victory for the Standing Rock Sioux
These advent occurrences are without a doubt milestones in US environmental history and they testify to shifting attitudes. These attitudes are most evident among the youth groups which rallied throughout 2016 to demand change of the government. The Fossil Free Divestment movement is a good example. A few weeks ago a report was published revealing that the fossil fuel divestment funds have doubled to over $5.2tn in just one year, a remarkable achievement that Ban Ki Moon lauded, stating that “Investments in clean energy are the right thing to do and the smart way to build prosperity for all, while protecting our planet”. Here in California, educational institutions such as Chico State University, Humboldt State University and Pitzer College have already divested. The University of California has yet to fully divest, however, at the bi-monthly University of California Regents Meeting, divestment ranked high on the agenda, with numerous pleas made to UC Regent Richard Sherman along with a petition with over 600 signatures. Let’s hope that 2017 will bear the breakthrough move to divest that the Fossil Free UC movement has been so vigorously pushing for. Youth leadership on environmental issues could not have been so evident than at the Power Shift West Convergence which took place at the University of California, Berkeley in mid-November. The Convergence saw over 400 students gather to discuss, coordinate and cooperate around issues such as the DAPL and Fossil Fuel Divestment. Having attended the Convergence myself, I have never witnessed such enthusiasm, passion and dedication from a bunch of students in my three years of college.
The Northern California Climate Mobilization
These experiences prove that youth leadership around environmental justice is alive and growing ever stronger. Milestones such as the Block Island Project and the victory in North Dakota stand as testament to our efforts and energise the youth movement, providing focal points for re-organisation around energy politics. January is going to be testing and that is why now more than ever youth leadership needs to renew its determination and power forwards. Trump’s projected cabinet representatives are a foretaste of what is to come and, most notably, he has chosen Scott Pruitt, a renowned climate change denialist, to head the EPA. This ominous decision sent shockwaves across all those who are hopeful for a greener future. Yet, we must take the successes of this past month as examples, as testaments to the power of perseverance.