By ALEX OBOLENSKY
Students from around the state of Virginia will gather from Feb. 13-15 with a twofold goal: to ensure that energy production occurs in an environmentally responsible way and that the youth of the world have a strong voice in shaping those decisions.
This gathering, created in conjunction with the Virginia Student Environmental Council and the Virginia Student Power Network, called VA Powershift, will host its third annual conference in the Information and Technology Convergence Center at the University of Mary Washington.
This past weekend, members of both VSEC and VSPN, including fifteen UMW students, met in Richmond to plan the upcoming conference.
While in Richmond, leaders of VSEC delivered 200 letters to Evan Feinman, Virginia’s Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources, from citizens concerned about the Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline.
Additionally, at a press conference under the Capital Bell Tower before their meeting Monday, student representatives from VSEC urged Governor Terry McAuliffe to reverse his decision allowing the construction of the 550 mile-long pipeline.
The pipeline has sparked a controversial debate, especially in regions it would transverse, such as Nelson County, which held another town hall on the topic this past Tuesday.
Critics highlight that some of the state’s most wooded spaces in the Shenandoah Valley are exposed to the threat of a spill or explosion by the project. However, proponents claim that construction would create as much as $25 million for the commonwealth in property taxes alone.
The proposed pipeline has provoked a storm of protest and fed energy into the grassroots movement that the VA Power Shift attempts to harness.
According to senior geography major Alice Redhead, a UMW representative on the VSEC board, the goal of VA Powershift is to communicate that “climate change is here” and ensure that “youth are standing up to fight.”
To achieve this, seminars at the conference will cover topics as diverse as direct action, which includes getting arrested while protesting, and a “Fracking 101” seminar for those less experienced in climate activism.
Unfortunately, Redhead also highlighted that many state lawmakers do not appear to take student activists seriously. While in Richmond last weekend, members of VSEC also lobbied in support of the Coastal Protection Act, which was designed to introduce an emissions trading scheme and prepare the Virginia coastline for what could be a catastrophic sea-level rise.
As Virginia’s coastline is rated as the second most vulnerable in the country to rising sea levels – falling behind only the infamous levies of New Orleans – the youth activists expected lawmakers to take their discussions seriously, and they were mostly proven correct.
However, some members they met with demonstrated no interest in learning about the issues, and one even cracked iPhone jokes. Nonetheless, following the meetings, many students reaffirmed their commitment to the cause.