March 31, 2010
Racine students, organizer play key role in Saturday's Clean Energy Forum
Creating a clean, sustainable source of energy in the United States may be a huge national issue, but Rachel Pettit sees the roots for meaningful change in Racine.
"If certain things can work in Racine and Wisconsin, they'll work well nationwide," she said.
That's the message Pettit and others will bring to the Clean Energy Forum in South Milwaukee this Saturday. The forum is designed to bring attention to the environmental and economic benefits of developing renewable energy.
Pettit, 17, is the youth representative to the panel. She's a senior at Walden III High School and one of the "Green School" students who helped bring solar panels to the school. She's a strong advocate for generating energy using locally available resources, like wind or the sun, as opposed to coal or natural gas. "We shouldn't have to rely on other countries for power," Pettit said.
Change can start locally, she said. Racine is a microcosm of the entire country; if change can happen here, it can happen anywhere. And from Pettit's persective, it's youths who will make it happen.
"Youth has a really strong voice in this," she said. "We'll be living with the decisions made now 50 years from now."
"The youth are really leading this movement," Pettit added.
Young leaders from Wisconsin are hosting the Clean Energy Forum as part of a national campaign organized by the nonprofit Focus the Nation.
Saturday's forum will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the American Legion Post in South Milwaukee. (Click for map.)
The forum is designed to present a different perspective than the typical conversations surrounding climate change. Participants will discuss the benefits of successful clean energy policy for Wisconsin and the nation, as well as explain the intricacies of building a clean energy infrastructure and new clean energy economy.
“Wisconsin has been leading the way in energy efficiency, and what we want people to understand is how Wisconsin can be a national and world leader in efficiency and clean economy manufacturing,” said Jamie Racine of Racine, the event organizer and a recent Will Steger Foundation youth delegate to the U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen.
Racine described the forum as an opportunity to explore the many ways communities can benefit from aggressively pursuing clean energy. Along with helping the environment, it will create jobs, improve national security and help control the surge in asthma, cancer and other diseases in people who live near coal plants. Bringing all of these perspectives together helps open discourse, which leads to meaningful action.
"It's not one side or the other side," Racine said. "It's more of an octagon."
States like Texas and California has already demonstrated that building clean energy resources immediately creates jobs and helps local economies, Racine said. Alternatives, like nuclear plants, take at least a decade to get up and running and come with a host of environmental issues, like where to dispose waste.
Solar, wind, geothermal and other energy sources don't have the same problems, she said. Wisconsin could tap all three, including solar. Germany is one of the top solar-powered countries in the world, and its actually located further north than Racine.
"The time to hesitation is through," Racine said, borrowing a line from Jim Morrison.
The Clean Energy Forum will host a diverse panel of experts and policy makers including war veteran, Robin Eckstein, with The Truman National Security Project, and Amy Hart of the Midwest Renewable Energy Association. Racine has also invited Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to speak on the panel.
The event in South Milwaukee is part of a national effort by Focus the Nation. Off the heels of a tumultuous health care fight, young leaders across the country are working to help leaders in Washington realize green energy can boost the struggling economy, especially in declining manufacturing cities like Racine.
“After observing the incredibly disrespectful tactics of older tea party organizers in the recent health care debate, I am proud to see that our generation of young people is demanding change differently,” said Garett Brennan, executive director of Focus the Nation. “In spite of our defeats in Copenhagen and the slow moving Senate, we are forging even stronger composure and focus on the towns we want to build and the way we power them. Our teams are educating communities about what clean energy jobs look like, how energy works, and engaging people in what we see as another historic legislative moment.”
Other forums scheduled around the country include:
Lewiston, Maine; Jonesboro, Ark.; South Milwaukee, Wis.
East Lansing, Mich; Sioux Falls, S.D.; Minneapolis, Minn; Chicago, Ill; and Bloomington, Ind.
After each forum, organizers will sign a Declaration of Energy Independence and personally deliver them to Senate offices with the help of RePower America, 1Sky and Consequence09. Focus the Nation will continue to work with teams after the events on identified priorities that surface in the panel discussions.
A full map and list of events is available at: http://focuslocal.focusthenation.org/en/index/event/page/1/.