What does the Midwest have to do with a clean energy future (or a dirty energy future, it’s our choice)? Everything. Did you know that the Midwest region contributes 25 percent of total US carbon emissions (if you include Ohio and Indiana)? That the Midwest relies on coal for 70 percent of its electric power, a larger share than any other region of the United States? That we are home to significant natural gas extraction (fracking) in Ohio and Pennsylvania? And that we house the proposed corridor for the Keystone XL Pipeline feeding our oil addiction from the Alberta Tar Sands, which NASA scientist Dr James Hansen describes as “Game over” for the climate? If you’re not outraged you should be.
But that’s just one side of the coin. We are also home to some of the largest wind energy potential in the country. The home of multiple hotly contested swing states with Midwest policy-makers who are often neither green-leaning as on the coasts, nor aligned with fossil fuel interests as in the west and south. We have energy efficiency policies in six of our Midwestern states and have promoted the most rigorous cap and trade program in the country. The Midwest is also rich in bio-energy feedstocks for fuels, power, and biogas, from energy crops to agricultural and forestry bioproducts to animal wastes. We house multiple land-grant universities who have research capabilities that are natural drivers and beneficiaries of new energy investment. We are also home to a manufacturing base that makes everything from turbine towers to turbo-chargers and can drive and prosper from a shift to a low-carbon technology.
Along with all this potential, it also just so happens that we are also home to one of the most vibrant regional youth climate movements in the country. Coincidence? I don’t think so! Of the 10,000 young people who descended on the National Power Shift youth summit in Washington DC in 2011, Midwest youth made up almost a quarter of all participants. Midwest youth have played a critical role in getting commitments from ten+ Midwest college and university campuses to move beyond coal. Youth organizers in Detroit, Cleveland and Minneapolis are breathing new life into industrial cities through community partnerships and green economy initiatives focused on clean energy technology and energy efficiency. Youth in Wisconsin are taking Governor Scott walker to task as he attempts to destroy the unions, derail high-speed rail, and undo years of environmental progress across the state. From the Dakotas to Ohio, Midwest youth are taking a stand on environmental justice and organizing in resistance to Tar Sands and the Keystone Pipeline, organizing in tribal communities, on college campuses and in urban and rural counties alike.
If you’re not outraged you should be. But I hope you feel the optimism as well. The work ethic that built this country flows strong our veins as we roll up our sleeves and get to work, fueled by a deep love for this land – our great cities, the prairies, the great lakes, the north woods – and all that we know we can be. We are ready for the Midwest to lead the country in the transition to a clean energy economy and ask you to join us in making this vision a reality at Midwest Power Shift. See you in Cleveland!