On the morning of May 30, 20 young climate activists convened at a coffee shop in downtown Salt Lake. While early risers ordered espresso, we stuffed banners into our backpacks and synchronized our phone alarms.
In a few hours, we would be sitting under crystal chandeliers at the annual Governor’s Energy Summit. When our alarms blared, 20 minutes into Gov. Gary Herbert’s policy discussion with Energy Secretary Rick Perry, we would be signaled to jump on the stage, adding the youth voices that the summit lacked, and demanding that our government officials invest in our future.
When we walked into the summit, we were surrounded by business people in suits. The summit was not inclusive of young people, nor did it amplify the voices of the communities most impacted by extraction; the voices of Indigenous communities, communities of color, low-income communities and laborers. The welcome brochure advertised companies that “put natural gas to work to help build a sustainable energy future,” greenwashing the event to mask Herbert’s unwavering support for fossil fuel extraction.
When we took the stage, we wanted Herbert to understand that the people will not benefit from an “all-of-the-above” energy plan that continues to subsidize fossil fuels, and that sustainable futures are not fulfilled by the corporate control of mega-renewable storage facilities. Instead, we’re asking for a just transition away from energy extraction to an economy led by impacted communities that prioritizes community-scale renewable and regenerative energy sources.
As we stood with banners that demanded “climate justice,” “community power,” and “100% renewable energy,” the lights were dimmed and the music turned up so we could neither be seen, nor heard.
As young people, this wasn’t the first time we’ve thought about the impending climate crisis as a ticking clock. We’ve all seen the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that tells us we only have 11 years to prevent irreversible climate catastrophe.
Our elected officials are aware of this, too, because we’ve told them.
In the past year, young people in Utah were arrested for protesting oil and gas leasing, walked out of school to demand climate action, staged a die in to protest extraction on trust lands, and hand delivered letters to Herbert. Still, we have been met with government refusal to prioritize our future. Herbert’s response to our protest at the Governor’s Energy Summit was more of the same.
To Herbert’s response that we should “start our own conference,” we already have. Since 2015, young people have been organizing Uplift, a climate justice conference that connects and trains rising leaders across the Southwest. Additionally, last May, Herbert turned down our invitation to attend The People’s Energy Summit. A second People’s Energy Summit will be held this September to develop a People’s Energy Plan in direct response to the corporate-focused, business-as-usual Governor’s Energy Plan.
To Herbert’s minimization of our demands as “youthful enthusiasm,” we are not enthusiastic that we must risk arrest for five minutes of his time. We’re terrified that we only have 11 years to address the climate crisis and we’re angry that our government officials aren’t listening to us.
We’re not the only ones. This year, 125 more community members and activists “convened their own People’s Response” in front of the Grand America to oppose Herbert’s 2019 energy agenda.
Our government officials have heard the blaring alarms of climate change for years, and they’ve hit snooze for the very last time. As we took the stage, our 20 alarms joined a larger chorus of raging wildfires, rising seas, and climate catastrophe. Time’s up; we demand climate action now.
Eliza Van Dyk is an organizer with Wasatch Rising Tide and a student at Westminster College.