MIDDLEBURY, Vt.-More than 190 Middlebury students and several faculty and staff members will travel to Washington, D.C., this weekend to attend the 2009 Powershift conference, a youth climate gathering that organizers hope will draw as many as 10,000 students from across the country.

Video: Students’ thoughts on eve of Powershift Conference

Many of the students will also attend Capitol Climate Action, co-organized by Middlebury Scholar in Residence Bill McKibben, which organizers expect to be the largest civil disobedience protest on climate change in history.

This is the second Powershift conference-the first was in November 2007-and is designed to give students the knowledge and training to become effective climate lobbyists. Students spend the first part of the weekend in workshops and lectures. Monday is a day of lobbying during which students descend on Capitol Hill to speak with legislators and their staff about issues related to climate change.

Middlebury senior Emily May, who also attended the first Powershift, says that the Capitol Hill lobbying day is one of the highlights for her. “I got to speak face to face with a couple of congressmen. And seeing 6,000 students out there cheering in front of the Capitol building was pretty incredible.”

Students will board buses and cars on Friday to make the trip and will be staying with student families and Middlebury alumni throughout the D.C. area. Student organizer May, whose family lives in nearby Tacoma Park, Md., will be hosting 20 Middlebury students at her parents’ house. “They’re thrilled,” she says. “My dad’s friends were also excited about hosting students and probably could have handled about 200.”

On Monday, March 2, Bill McKibben and author Wendell Berry will lead thousands of protestors in a peaceful demonstration outside the Capitol Power Plant in Washington, D.C. McKibben hopes the March 2 Capitol Climate Action will bring attention to the urgent need to break the nation’s reliance on coal as an energy source.

“It’s going to be a powerful cross-cultural day,” says McKibben, “a real chance for people from the coalfields of Appalachia, inner city Washington, and all the college campuses concerned about climate change to come together with the same message: We better move past coal, and the sooner the better.”

Capitol Climate Action is part of the new national project called Power Past Coal, whose goals are to convince President Obama to transition away from coal as he crafts his new energy agenda. The project was spearheaded by a coalition of climate change and environmental justice organizations from communities affected by coal, and is now coordinated by Middlebury senior Sierra Murdoch.

First-year student Jacob Udell has been helping to recruit and organize students for the trip. He’s excited by the potential for the conference to spark interest in students who have not necessarily been environmental activists. “We want people to be really excited about the environmental movement on campus,” Udell says. “We hope they’ll realize how lucky they are to have been part of this conference and feel a responsibility to act on the issues.”