Keystone Environmental Youth Coalition

EmPower The Future

What Does American Apparel Have to do with Climate Change? February 9, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — KEY Coalition @ 3:08 PM
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This post was authored by Ljubica Sarafov, KEY Coalition member.
Recently I was reading an article about American Apparel. If you’re like me and you’ve been living under a rock or something, maybe you haven’t heard but the company is shady! I knew their ads were controversial, namely because they strike many consumers as borderline pornographic (which is fair, i think, considering they have used porn stars in their ads). But I had no clue about everything else. If you’re unfamiliar with the shadiness that is American Apparel, go here, here, here and here. Or here, or here and … I’m sure there are many, many more.

So all of this is very interesting. But not very obviously connected to the climate change movement, dirty energy, or the usual topics discussed here. So why bring it up? because as I was clicking through these stories and getting deeper and deeper I found, A Wolf In Sheep Clothing by Ari Paul. In the article Paul is talking about how buying from American Apparel is an easy way to feel good. He says: “Additionally, “consumption activism” strikes me as just an easy way out. If I buy this sweatshop-free tee that is ALSO in support of same-sex marriage, I’m covering all my bases, right?”

I think the sentiments in that sentence go well beyond American Apparel, and it’s something I would like to unpack.

It might sound strange coming from an environmental activist, but I hate the “Green Movement.”

Why? Well, despite the ridiculous climate change debate I blogged about last time, many Americans understand that global warming is real. They want to do something about it. But what? It seems hard to ride a bike to the grocery store instead of a car. Its hard not to crank up the heat in these cold winter months and harder still not to turn it way down in the sweltering heat of summer (both intensified thanks to climate change). So what is a semi-conscious citizen to do? Go shopping!


Yes, go shopping, and believe me corporations are ready for you. While once upon a time, I had to go to my local natural foods store to get environmentally friendly products, today thanks to the “green revolution” going on in your grocery store, companies like Windex have produced eco-friendly versions of their products.

But, I want to push back on the idea that we can forgo grassroots activism in favor of consumer /consumption activism. You see, activism challenges the wrongs in our society. It’s about closing down coal plants across campuses like the SSC is doing. It’s about closing down incinerators one at a time and fighting against newly proposed ones, like EJN is doing. Activism is about making substantive change, while consumerism provides a cheap thrill that doesn’t last very long. Consumerism is about using things up and then going on to the next one (like that Jay-Z song), so one day you need an eco-friendly tote bag and the next it’s “green” Windex. That isn’t exactly a conservationist model. No, indeed, environmentalism is almost completely mutually exclusive from consumerism; “consumption activism” is an oxymoron.

Now don’t get me wrong its great that there are options for consumers, and that its convenient. The part I have a major beef with is the concept. I don’t like that they’re trying to sell us on this idea of “voting with your wallet.” I guess that’s supposed to mean if you want things to change in your local store then you need to buy certain products (i.e. Eco-friendly Windex). And lots of other people like you will buy them, and then that somehow makes the world a better place via Adam Smith’s invisible hand – the market will sort out the best way to serve needs.

Unfortunately, markets can be complicated ((Not sure what I mean? Check out this Planet Money episode where an economist who kept losing his slippers, paid his 7-year-old son $1 every time he found them. Pretty soon, the kid started hiding the slippers and making easy money. ). For example, Walmart may sell both “green” and regular Windex. You can buy green Windex and feel good about yourself and your “vote.” But When Walmart needs Windex (or whatever cleaning product they use) they let bottom-lines talk. It’s not that they are evil. They are a corporation and by their very existence all they care about is maximizing profit for shareholders. So, they use the cheaper product, regular Windex. Interestingly, this creates a feedback loop, where the regular Windex is cheaper because there is a higher demand for it thanks to corporations like Walmart. Still feel like you can vote effectively with your money? All things equal, when we vote with our wallets, corporations get bigger votes.

So how long is this really going to last. I don’t know. I hope that more eco-friendly products are always widely available. The problem is that its not a sustainable for change. It doesn’t challenge the status quo.

The fact is that we need to make bigger changes in our lives then simply switching window cleaners and buying tote bags. We do need to leave thermostat down, and get rid or the SUV or old clunker that gets like 15 miles a gallon. We need to challenge the status quo and make big change because at the end of the day, although they like to tell us differently, corporations are only accountable to their shareholders. Consumers might make up most of their profit, but we are not their main concern. That being said there are people who’s job it is to be accountable. Its their job to be concerned with “we the people,” our public servants!

That is who we need to think about when voting (duh!). If you want to vote with you wallet then donate to a candidate who has a strong stance on climate change and conservation. Oh, there isn’t one running? Let them know that you care. Gather 15 constituents and march down to their office. Let them know that these people’s votes can be hers/his if they take a better stance.

You see, people think that government is really corrupt and tangled with special interest money. I think to some extent that is true – now more than ever, thanks to Citizens United. However, Politicians need money to get your vote. It’s expensive to run a campaign and they know that whoever spends the most has an advantage. BUT, you can circumvent all that by just going directly to your representative. Believe it or not, it’s as good as walking in and handing him/her a check for your own special interest. In fact, it’s better! You’ve also just provided him/her with contacts of concerned citizens and people who might be willing to help campaign. The relationship you create is more powerful than the check.

More importantly, you’ve just acted as a catalyst of change. Real substantive change. And, unlike a corporation, you can hold your representative accountable for that promised change. That is activism at work, and, believe me, it is more rewarding than buying Windex at the grocery store.

If you’ve stuck with me up til now, then I just have one more exercise for you:

Imagine if, instead of 15 people, we gathered like 10,000. That’s Power Shift. That’s what it’s about. Yes, there are workshops, keynote speakers, caucuses and all kinds of training. Things that will be beneficial to you in your future. But what Power Shift really does, why it’s really important, it shows the strength of our movement. It says to politicians: hear our concerns and act if you would like to stay in office. It’s real activism that can change our future.

If you would like to attend Power Shift, registration is now LIVE—GO! GO! GO!

***Please Note: Early Registration Deadline is FEB 13th

If youre interested in coordinating a group from your area or campus its not too late.

Sign up to he a coordinator:

Or shoot me an email at


End the Climate Change Debate, Come to Power Shift January 24, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — KEY Coalition @ 6:49 PM
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Cross-posted from the Energy Justice Network blog.  This post was authored by Ljubica Sarafov, KEY Coalition member.

Lately I have noticed a lot of false equivalence in the media. What’s crazier still is the way they are often touted as something to be proud of. As though the cliché phrase “there are two sides to every story” were a golden rule for newscasters to live by. I think that we need to push back on this idea.

In the 1800s newspapers were extremely partisan and not particularly credible. According to E.J. Dionne Jr.’s marvelous book They Only Look Dead, “Between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries American journalism went from one coherent purpose, partisanship, to another, ‘objectivity’” (Dionne, 237). Newspapers before the 1900s were simply extensions of the local party apparatus that spoke to the party’s base, and the profession of journalism wasn’t taken too seriously.

Then, during the Progressive Era, newspapers decided that objectivity might be a better business model. By pursuing “objectivity,” the new newspaper conglomerates could sell one paper to all political persuasions, thereby boosting profits, and journalists could garner respect for their profession. Of course, this completely changed the way we think about newspapers and media, it changed our expectations for their products, and it changed journalists.

Mainstream news outlets like CNN, The New York Times, and others want to become your news source by telling you the facts, exposing wrongdoing, and letting you decide. Since they are “objective,” the press “insists on defining its role in a consciously non-political way” (Dionne, 238). Therefore, if a liberal is featured on a TV segment or in an article, the journalist will inevitably find a conservative to balance out – or, more accurately, battle out – the discussion. In a lame and rather bizarre effort to appear non-partisan, these main-stream news outlets have effectively decided to become bi-partisan.

Now, you might be wondering, “What’s wrong with that?” Here is what’s wrong with that:

False equivalence is born. Let me say I love Chris Mathews and his be-spittled show. I also have a soft spot for Pat Buchanan for reasons I won’t get into here. However, their debate was much more entertaining than informative. Chris Mathews, ultimately, is simply asking them, “What do you believe?” The guests get all wound up because, hey, it’s a free country. We’re all entitled to our beliefs. Buchanan’s beliefs are certainly as valid as Shrum’s, right? Clearly, there is no partisan winner if we just have an open bi-partisan debate, right? Wrong! Just by having Shrum and Buchanan on the show to debate the issue, Chris Mathews has reframed global warming from a fact, to an issue, to a question!

Whether they like it or not, the press has a strong impact on politics, “even if it insists on defining its role in a consciously non-political way” (Dionne, 238). Dionne unpacks this idea further: in choosing news stories, he says, “Journalists seek ‘impact’ while often denying they have goals larger than simply ‘doing their jobs.’ Journalists think we can balance all of these ideas at the same time. We can say that our goal in investigating Clarence Thomas or Clinton is to expose ‘wrongdoing’ and to present ‘the facts’ without any intention of moving the political debate in a particular direction. But our ability and standing to make that claim is under question” (Dionne, 338). Journalists may think they can report on global warming denial in a non-political way, but just giving them the Hardball platform from which to speak lends undue validation to their argument and pushes the political debate further away from the actual truth.

In other words, by saying we wont judge sides in order to maintain some impossible standard of objectivity, Hardball and shows like it suggest that both sides are equally valid. In the global warming example we have been using, one side clearly wants global warming to be a question or an issue of “beliefs.” By presenting it to the American public as an unanswered question, Chris Mathews is agreeing with them. At the end of the segment, the viewer is left with a he-said she-said feeling and no objective answers.*

Hey, Pat, it’s great that you feel that way, but what are the facts? I wish Chris Mathews would ask his guests to bring a bibliography with them, so they could cite their claims. But, alas, that wouldn’t fit into 30 second sound bites.

Let’s try that again without the ideologues. Here is Bill Nye the Science Guy on The Rachel Maddow Show speaking about Global Warming skeptics/deniers**.

Do you notice how much more productive that is, not to mention calm and clear? Here is a journalist who has decided to step outside the box and present global warming as a news story and not a debate. She is not being biased either. She is still acknowledging skeptics and deniers, but also laying out the facts without getting bogged down in the back-and-forth. I think it is time that we environmentalists started doing the same thing.

Let’s end the climate change debate. The debate is, in fact, over. The facts are in, and the outcome is starkly clear. If we don’t do something about this problem we will certainly destroy our planet! It’s time to stand up and show our leaders and the world that we are serious about climate change, energy issues, and green jobs! It’s time to go to Power Shift.

Because if we don’t who will?

If you’re interested in helping coordinate Power Shift sign up here:

Please note that the Power Shift dates have changed to: April 15 – 18th in Washington, DC

* (If you want to learn more about how that feeling affects people’s beliefs in global warming check out Act II: Climate Changes. People Don’t of last weeks This American Life (TAL) radio program.

**If you want to see Rachel Maddow and Glenn Beck’s beef after the airing of the initial clip posted above,


Power Shift 2011-The Greatest Youth Summit EVER! December 13, 2010

Cross-posted from the Energy Justice Network blog.  This post was authored by Ljubica Sarafov, KEY Coalition member.

So lets talk about Power Shift 2011. Power Shift is the name of an annual youth summit focused on climate change policy, which has been held in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. Other Power Shift Conferences are also being organized in Africa, Japan and India. Energy Action Coalition (which EJN is a part of) organized the first Power Shift Conference in November of 2007 with around 6,000 students and young people in attendance. Due to this high attendance rate it seems that Power Shift became the largest activist youth event on climate change in history.

According to those who attended past Power Shifts, it can be a life changing experience — an incredible and rare opportunity to meet and connect with other young people who are passionate about the same issues. Power Shift isn’t just talk either. It is a space where people find themselves emboldened by numbers. It has led to break out movements and groups. Additionally, on the last day, there is a lobbying component when attendees take to D.C. and take action! In 2007 for example, a rally of between 2,000 and 3,000 people marched on the steps of the Capitol building.

The event has traditionally been attended by various famous and powerful keynote speakers, which included former Vice-President Al Gore in 2007, and Van Jones, Bill McKibben of, Ralph Nader, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in 2009.

Clearly this conference is an exciting and unique opportunity. However, before we get to ahead of ourselves, we need to plan how to get there. There are important issues to consider. For example: How many people are coming from your school or community? How much will it cost to get you and your group there, back, and fed? What is your school’s budget policy? What kinds of deadlines are we working with? What about transportation? Can you rent vans? Will you need busses? Etc. With all these questions Power Shift can seem less like an incredible opportunity and more like an impossibility.

Fear not friends, for you’re in luck. Thanks to the awesome planning structure EAC has set in place for the event, you’re not alone! I will be available support you; help you figure stuff out; and generally make this trip a success!

So if you’re interested in attending and you haven’t already done so,

please visit:

and sign up to be a coordinator for your school or community.

Or don’t be shy and just shoot me an email at:

Power Shift 2011 is talking place April 15-18 Washington, DC and is being built from the ground up. This year’s Power Shift is going to be the best yet, but we can’t make it happen without you! Please help us by planning and getting involved, and come show the nation how important the environment is to you!

For EJN this is Ljubica Sarafov