Power Shift 2013 Brings Young Activists to Pittsburgh

  • Pittsbugh activist Seth Bush says climate change is not just an environmental issue. Photo: Courtesy Seth Bush

October 11, 2013

Seth Bush sees a gathering of thousands of activists this month in Pittsburgh as a way to galvanize social justice causes as seemingly disparate as gay rights and climate change. One of their goals is to push for colleges and universities to divert investments away from fossil fuel industries and tips for protesting hydraulic fracturing on college campuses.

The Power Shift 2013 speakers will include people whose expertise is in LGBTQ issues as well as opponents of the Stand Your Ground self-defense laws.

“We need all hands on deck to be dealing with this,” says Seth Bush, a 23-year-old campus organizer with Pittsburgh’s Sierra Club office. “If people have front lines issues like they can’t marry the person they want to marry, or put food on their table, that’s priority number one.”

Power Shift 2013’s other speakers will include Bill Peduto, the Democratic candidate (and heir apparent) in Pittsburgh’s mayoral race and Bill McKibben, of 350.org, which describes itself as a “global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis.” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, and 12-year-old Ta’kaiya Blaney, a singer and actress from the Sliammon First Nation in Vancouver will also speak.

“Bringing all of these diverse voices together, I think we have a really incredible opportunity to underscore the fact that climate change is not just an environmental issue, it’s a social justice issue,” says Bush.

The annual conference organized by Power Shift, a project of the Energy Action Coalition, has previously been held in Washington, D.C., but this year marks the first time the event will be held outside the Beltway. Bush says Pittsburgh’s close proximity to natural gas fracking and mountaintop removal, as well as the city’s industrial history, make the city the ideal place for young organizers to meet and discuss the future.

Bush himself is no stranger to environmental activism. He comes from Doylestown, was part of a Quaker community, and says he’s “always had the environmental mindset.” In high school, he jumped into recycling and personal sustainability issues, and then became very involved in environmental justice while attending the University of Pittsburgh.

“We not only need a strong community to take care of each other, but we also need the environment that community exists in, and we need it to be healthy and be responsible with the resources we have,” Bush says.

Recently, Bush has been working on coordinating with students at Indiana University of Pennsylvania to prevent natural gas drilling on their campus. While Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett cut funding to state universities, Corbett also said that schools should investigating raising monies by drilling for gas on their campuses. Faculty groups and some students oppose on-campus driling, however, and Bush has been teaching these students how to have their voices heard on this and similar issues.