AASHE 2012 Live: Students Find their Purpose with Billy Parish
It was a packed house for Billy Parish as the 500+ students at AASHE 2012 piled into Petree Hall to hear the Solar Mosaic co-founder give his Student Summit keynote address.
"Who's ready to do some work together?" he opened. "This hour isn’t about me, it’s about you. I invite you to ask some tough questions of yourself to help you achieve your purpose."
On his way to becoming a Rolling Stone magazine "Climate Hero" and one of Utne Reader's “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World,” Parish faced some tough questions of his own. After visiting a glacier in the Himalayas as a college sophomore that scientists predicted to be gone by 2030 because of global warming, "my head was spinning with the reality of a climate crisis that was happening much faster that I thought it was," said Parish. Asking himself What is my purpose? What do I want to get done while I'm here on the planet? led Parish to drop out of of Yale to tackle the climate crisis outside of the classroom. Parish soon founded the Energy Action Coalition and grew it into one of the largest youth advocacy organizations in the world.
Follow Your Purpose.
Parish kicked off the interactive keynote by asking the audience: "What is your purpose? Get it down to one sentence." After writing it down on paper, attendees stood to announce their purpose in one cacophonous roar. Rebecca Wood, an environmental studies and economics double major at the University of California, Santa Cruz volunteered her purpose: "I’m here to inspire people to think more cautiously about water and help people get access to it."
Build With the Best.
Using his own example of partnering with Van Jones and Joel Rogers to move forward green jobs legislation, Parish asked attendees to build a list of five people who could best help them achieve their purpose. "We never do anything by ourselves, we always do things together," said Parish. "If you want to get anything done, the people you work with matters a great deal." Next to these names, Parish had attendees write a concrete action like writing a letter that would deepen or spark a relationship with these people.
Go to the Root.
When his first daughter was born, Parish said that looking at the math on climate change and not knowing how it would turn out sent him to a dark place. The U.S was nowhere near passing federal climate legislation and the Climate Change Treaty failed at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen.
Why didn’t we pass federal climate legislation?
We didn’t have enough power to pass legislation.
Because fossil fiels control our political process and renewable energy is still in its infancy.
Coming to this conclusion, Parish set out to try and change this by getting millions of people to invest in clean energy and bring in a major source of capital for the industry. The result is Solar Mosaic, an upcoming online platform where people can invest in solar projects and earn return on these projects.
With this example, Parish asked the audience: "Where is the root of the problem that you’re working on? How are you going to find it?"
Getting to the Root with UC Berkeley
Here is a look at the keynote exercises through the lens of Katherine Walsh, coordinator of the Green Initiative Fund at the University of California, Berkeley:
Her purpose: Getting the campus to zero waste.
Her partners: Students, faculty, administrators.
Why isn't the university on the right trajectory to this goal?
- Staffing/budget cuts that hurt the Facilities team:
A November 6 vote on Prop 30 will determine if the California is going to decide to invest in public education or not. "You can’t keep asking students to pay more," said Walsh. "And what are they paying for? A great education to a point. If there are not enough teachers or good facilities to deliver that education, then what are they paying for?"
- Inadequate recycling bin infrastructure:
"Educating the campus community about reducing, reusing and composting is what we do best, but it only goes so far if we don't have bins or standard signage."
Asked whether he had any action items that students could bring to their campuses for furthering sustainability, Parish said: "Well, let me ask you: Who’s ready to follow your purpose? Who has some new ideas for who to work with to achieve your dream? Who’s ready to go to the root and began to scale solutions?
I’m inspired by you. I’m ready to work with you. Let’s change the world."
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