Billy Parish dropped out of Yale in 2002 to build the youth movement for climate solutions.
A co-founder of the Energy Action Coalition, Billy now consults for Green for All and is focused on advocacy for green jobs, campus sustainability and youth empowerment. He was recently named a "Fellow" by Ashoka, the global association of the world's leading social entrepreneurs, and previously was Mother Jones magazine's 2006 "Student Activist of the Year," Rolling Stone’s "Climate Hero" in 2005, and a 2004 Brower Youth Award Winner. Born in New York City, Billy now lives in Flagstaff, AZ with his wife, Wahleah Johns.
Billy's keynote address at SCA's EarthVision: Actions for a Healthy Planet is scheduled for 9 am on Saturday, April 26 in Washington, DC.
You left Yale to lead the charge on climate change. Why you? Why now?
Well, it's me and thousands of other young people across the country that have made this their life work. When I first took time off from Yale, I thought I would take a semester to get this youth climate coalition off the ground. But the deeper I got involved, the more I saw both the scale of the problem and the scale of the opportunity for social change...and now five years later I've had the education of a lifetime and am committed to this movement more than ever. It's been the most fulfilling experience of my life.
You've proven very effective at bringing people and groups together. What’s your secret?
At first it was intuitive, and the skill was critically important in the context of a very fragmented student environmental movement when I first began this work. And as Coordinator of the Energy Action Coalition for four years, one of the most valuable things I learned was how to really listen to people. By listening to people, and helping to create a space where young people can dream, strategize and collaborate together, we've trained tens of thousands of young people in basic organizing skills, helped nearly 500 colleges commit to becoming "climate neutral," planned the largest climate gathering and largest climate lobby day in U.S. history, and have given young people a strong and unified voice in this defining issue of our generation.
Regarding climate change, what solutions do you see? Where should we concentrate our efforts?
Just as FDR created a Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, and JFK created the Peace Corps during the Cold War, I believe we need a "Clean Energy Corps" to mobilize Americans of all kinds through new job and service opportunities around clean energy and energy efficiency. Such a program could focus on people who need jobs the most - fighting both poverty and pollution at the same time. I think the climate movement should focus on this as a national goal, and building programs at the local level that build the green economy and create pathways out of poverty.
SCA is dedicated to the idea that young people are an integral, essential part of conservation solutions and you seem to feel that way as well...
Young people have been at the forefront of every major social movement in this country's history, and I believe they will again with the transition to a more just and sustainable economy. They have moral authority, are self-organized in cohesive social groups, are passionate, creative, bold, and they vote! But don't get me wrong - I believe this transformation will require EVERY generation being involved.
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