Many Montana newspapers recently carried stories about a state legislator calling on Montana University System officials to be cheerleaders for natural resource development.
The same legislator, chairman of the Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, criticized Power Shift, a conference put on last February, and questioned the presidents of the University of Montana and Montana State University for supporting the conference.
As president of UM Climate Action Now, the campus group that helped orchestrate the conference, I would like to set a few things straight, starting with what Power Shift was really about.
Much of the criticism was rooted in the idea that the conference was created solely to castigate natural resource development, namely coal and oil, in our state.
I can say with confidence and pride that our conference touched on many different subjects apart from natural resource development. We had workshops, speeches and training sessions about local food, transportation, environmental justice, impacts of climate on wildlife, construction of green energy products like solar panels and much more.
Power Shift, which is a nationwide event, encourages students to think outside the box to create positive change, and it aims to help develop a new generation of thoughtful, well-rounded leaders.
There were a few informative, important workshops that dealt with moving beyond coal and oil in our state. People with diverse backgrounds talked about the impacts of this kind of development and they left us with the tools to make our own informed decisions on how to take action.
While we do stand by the belief that climate change is an extremely pressing issue for our generation, we also understand the economic importance of natural resource development to our state. We are not asking for the immediate and dramatic end of development.
We only ask people to recognize that this discussion shouldn’t begin and end with a consideration of economic benefits. A meaningful debate has to account for the undeniable and irreversible effects of resource development, and the ultimate costs to people’s livelihoods, to landowners and to the land itself.
It is our job as university students to recognize these costs and begin to find solutions. The groups that made presentations on these impacts were simply pointing us in a direction of beginning to make change.
The most important thing that I wish to get across is the necessity of diverse thought and dialogue on university campuses. We come to public universities to learn many different disciplines and ways of thinking.
We also want to learn how to find solutions to pressing problems facing our community, our country and the world at large. We pay thousands of dollars a year to attend these schools and in return we expect freedom of thought and intelligent dialogue.
The presidents of UM and MSU came under a lot of fire for supporting Power Shift. We, however, are extremely proud of the fact that our president encourages the kind of open-mindedness and dialogue I am speaking of here.
It is experiences like Power Shift and the wide array of other extracurricular activities offered on our campuses that make us into the thoughtful Montanans we want to be. I urge our representatives not to penalize freedom of thought and fair access to information in the Montana University System.
Pari Kemmick is a junior at the University of Montana and president of UM Climate Action Now. She was a key organizer of Power Shift and is minoring in climate change studies at UM.