More than 150 young people will converge on Moab’s surrounding public lands this weekend to discuss their role in climate justice and conservation on the Colorado Plateau during the third annual Uplift Climate Conference.
Coordinator Eva Malis says Uplift focuses on future action and community building among youth in the Colorado Plateau because younger generations have more “at stake” when it comes to climate change.
“Uplift is a movement that centers youth voices in the fight for climate justice,” Malis said. “Our generation has so much at stake in this movement, for it is our lives and futures that are on the line as climate-change-induced natural disasters and destruction escalates in our lifetime.”
Sponsored by the Grand Canyon Trust and the Landscape Conservation Initiative at Northern Arizona University, this year’s conference — held Sept. 15 through 17 — will feature workshops and speakers from around the Colorado Plateau. Regional residents like Navajo activist Klee Benally, Lilian Hill of Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture, and Julia Bernal of the Pueblo Action Alliance will lead discussions.
“Change-makers from across the region are coming to share their experiences and lessons learned in a broad array of workshop sessions, from conversations of the relation of housing justice to climate justice, to challenging the mainstream narratives of environmentalism and embracing indigenous movement building,” Malis said.
Kayla DeVault, a Sequoyah Fellow for the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, is part of Uplift’s programming team. DeVault is leading a workshop focused on economic reliance on the extractive industry for some tribes as well as structural violence and historic oppression.
For DeVault, the all-outdoor structure of the conference shows that Uplift tries to “live up to what it talks about.”
“Our conference is outside and we try to limit any electronic use. We also attempt to foster an appreciation for the land,” DeVault said. “ … This year we are hoping to arrange nature walks to draw attention to the biodiversity of the Moab area. We also plan to have members from the Ute community to help us acknowledge with a blessing the ancestral territory of Moab.”
That immersion in the landscape, says participant Brooke Larsen, is incredibly important to understanding climate justice issues within the Colorado Plateau.
According to organizers, climate justice is broadly defined as a movement that treats climate change as an ethical, political, and social issue by examining issues like equality, human rights and collective rights.
With climate justice and Uplift in mind, Larsen recently biked 1,500 miles solo across the Colorado Plateau, planning her journey not only around energy extraction areas, but the people — residents, scientists, and employees — that interact daily with such spaces.
“In Monticello, I met with the one local employee at the new wind farm and learned that renewable energy jobs often require significant retraining and different skill sets than extraction jobs. This showed me that a just transition away from fossil fuels requires listening deeply to create solutions that meet individual community needs,” Larsen said.
During her bike journey, Larsen also thought about “solastalgia” — defined as the feeling of distress that occurs from the environmental destruction of your home.
“When I walked in the dying aspen forest of southwest Colorado, I realized all the aspen in my home region may die in my lifetime,” she said. “Some may say, ‘so what?’ But I don’t want to live in a world without aspen and the colorful wildflowers and wild ungulates they support.”
While fostering a culture of compassion and respect, organizers say the Uplift Climate Conference aims to grasp solutions to these environmental and social issues affecting the region.
“If we have any hope to secure a livable future in this region, I think we will find it in community,” Larsen said.
For more information about the Uplift Climate Conference, or to get involved, visit their website at upliftclimate.org.