The Sunrise Movement and The Green New Deal

The Sunrise Movement is the voice Generation Z

In 2018, the world’s top scientists warned that we have only 12 years to transform our economy to “avoid catastrophic environmental breakdown” within our lifetime. Together with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Sunrise Movement, a decentralized organization of young people uniting to stop the climate crisis, brought a plan to congress that matches the urgency and scale of the crisis. This coupled with dire warnings about the economic risks of climate change from Nobel Peace Prize LaureatesNordhaus and Romer have ignited more than a movement, they have catalyzed an all-encompassing plan that is as deep as it is simple in its terms, the Green New Deal.

From the perspective of many, the economic system is already broken. With so few holding the purse strings for so many and with such ill regard for basic environmental limits, uprisings are not only to be expected, but may be required. The Sunrise Movement and many young people are exerting the might of numbers in the street to turn the heads of state who have been dazzled by dollars, asking that they support The Green New Deal and slow climate change. The power of the people is at the polls and the next sun that rises is not only the power on our new energy grid it is the power of our youth demanding a future with dignity.  Power that has been purchased by the few can be hobbled by the masses who move in unison and demand basic human and environmental rights.

The Environmental Forum of Marin held its 4th event in a four-part climate series, on The Green New Deal on April 23 in Corte Madera. Jared Huffman, U.S. Representative for California's 2nd congressional district since 2013 and Mark Hertsgaard, Journalist for The Nation Magazine and author were joined by Marin Counties very own, Lucy London, a Novato high school senior who helped organize the school strike of 1.6 million students. These students are demanding that elected officials take radical action on climate policy and support The Green New Deal proposal for stronger climate action, opened the Environmental Forums evening.  We also heard from activists, Isaac Silk and Mukta Kelkar, representing The Sunrise Movement. A political action organization that advocates for political action on climate change. This decentralized movement of young voices across the country supports the Green New Deal. The clarity of thought and reasoned discourse of these young voices may finally be resonating in the echo chambers of our political halls, previously deafened by the groveling for corporate kickbacks. Leave it to the young to clarify a message that can wake even the stoniest of hearts and demand reasoned discourse.

This lineup of power house speakers was geared to inform us but may also have inspired as much action as hope. Our days as living room activists may be numbered if we are going to help this movement to take hold. Taking to the streets to counter balance the corporate monetary hold on our land is a tradition in America harkening back to the first New Deal in the 1930’s. That successful New Deal created landmark programs and projects instituted during the Great Depression by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Green New Deal today has sustainability, economy and equity at its core. This solution focused document is as comprehensive and sweeping as it is clear and simple. The Sunrise Movement attempts to herald it in through advocacy, activism and lobbying on the streets. This populace movement hopes to sway politicians to act on the behalf of their constituency and protect our planet and its population.

The Green New Deal, those three beautiful syllables evoking equity, sustainability and economy have brought interactive solutions and systemic thinking forward.  If you haven’t read the document you should. Its demand for equitable climate protection integrates economic revitalization. It proposes rapid adoption of clean energy to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It’s execution would create millions of high paying jobs by building the sustainable energy and transportation system for a safe and habitable atmosphere. The plan includes fundamental needs like clean air and water, universal health care and education. It asks that we invest in sustainable infrastructure and industry to provide economic security for greater numbers of our population. Add the Democratic process, and a system that insures healthy and affordable food and you have a Green New Deal. These are the very things we taught our children in school where part of the American Dream. Why would anyone be surprised that youth are now demanding the right to breath clean air and live in a habitable atmosphere with work that provides them dignity.

California Representative Jared Huffman’s joined us after a long day of interviews on MSNBC, Meet the Press and then PBS News Hour. His endless energy and experience as a public interest attorney for the NRDC serve him well in the halls of Washington government. He is on the House committee on transportation and infrastructure and the safe climate caucus.

Jared Huffman Agrees that The Green New Deal is one of the best things to come along and is glad that it is also bringing young people forward, giving it a strong tail wind. It was refreshing to hear from a representative that we should not let people call demonstrators radical for demanding their rights.  He then applauded Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for joining students in Pelosi’s office to protest, after admitting that he too had a moment of pause seeing a colleague step forward in that manner. These are unprecedented times and we need unprecedented action.

Congressman Huffman recommended that everyone read The Green New Deal Bill, so that we can push back when people exaggerate about it. We should know how to respond to those who have heard the misinformation on Fox news. The Green New Deal above all asks that Government endeavor to be proactive and responsive to the scale of the climate crisis. He notes, that we need to know who the people are in Washington who continue to suppress the crisis and then hold them accountable. He says, “If this requires you to go to their offices in large numbers, don’t think that you are being extreme or weird.” The select committee on the climate crisis, includes the The Green New Deal and a plan on how to get to Net Zero by 2050. Cathy Caster from Florida as well as Republicans from fossil fuel states are on the select committee, we need to hold them accountable for the decisions they make.

We then heard from Sunrise Movement’s, Mukta Kelkar, who grew up loving the outdoors and animals so when it came time to go to college, she chose to study environmental biology and marine science. After joining an environmental group, she landed at the nation's convergence on fossil fuel divestment and learned about “the money”. This moment of awaking, showed her it is not the only research and science that guides us, it is who has money, especially fossil fuel money that determines policy if there is no counter balance of public voice. When she realized money was so deeply embedded in our system, she decided her research wasn’t enough to make rapid systemic change and so she entered the world of organizing for action and joined the Sunrise Movement. Mukta reminds us that the cost of addressing climate head on is less than not addressing it.  When you look at the costs associated with adaptation and, health care alone, add fires, floods, storms and diseases paired with sea level rise the costs skyrocket, then add the costs of food scarcity and population movements seeking fundamental resources. The costs associated with rampant climate change far exceed basic action to create a clean energy economy. We have to stop protecting the fossil fuel industry and start protecting everything else that is dear to life on earth.

For her collogue, Isaac Silk, his turning point was in 2006 at the film, Inconvenient Truth, at the age of 14.  He hasn’t stopped thinking about climate change since. He has, in his lifetime, seen the effects of climate change in several freak storms including Hurricane Sandy. This paired with the Occupy Movement opened to him the real history of economics inspired hime to look into environmental movements. The tipping point was witnessing the mountain top removal for coal mining. Breathing air filled with coal dust and seeing land covered in slurry, witnessing the effects of the horrible dams of sludge decimating the diverse forests of West Virginia shocked him. He then witnessed, how the California wildfires had also exacerbated Oakland’s housing crisis. The smoke became a public health emergency for many, especially the homeless who could not find safe breathing areas during the wild fires.  He decided to join the Sunrise Movement as an organizer, as the cumulative far reaching effects of climate change could no longer be ignored as anything other than a crisis that demands immediate attention.

The Sunrise Movement started in 2017 at the Peoples Climate March, one Hundred days into the Trump presidency. The movement was galvanized by Washington’s lack of action, and the preponderance for hate and the disregard for human life coming out of the White House.  This movement of young people trying to stop climate change and create millions of jobs for their generation is a movement about people and those who are most impacted by climate change and in marginalize communities. Historically climate action has been hindered by fossil fuel billionaires, and the Sunrise Movement asks that people take the “no fossil fuel money pledge” to send a clear message to that industry. They also ask that politicians pledge not to take fossil fuel money and to bring a stop to the misinformation campaign that that money has paid for.

Isaac points to time, whizzing by and expresses his concern that the scientists are proffering conservative estimates. He reminds us that we have a third of the amount of time that cities generally need to execute a plan to change our entire economic, energy and transportation systems. Although the Sunrise Movement fosters young voices, he reminds us that this movement is for everyone. He clarifies, “We stand on the shoulders of giants but this is most important to young people and they need to be heard even though they are not old enough to run for office.” Isaac believes we should take our money out of the system that is killing us. None of these things seem radical anymore indeed they are far less radical than corporations who have knowingly proceeded with rampant disregard to the intensive damage they were doing to our atmosphere and living populations of all species. They have threatened habitability on earth, with a misinformation campaign going back 30 years, that in my mind is a radical criminal action.

The Sunrise Movement is trying to bring a sense of urgency to climate issues. They want the Democratic Party to know that they are also holding their feet to the fire. They believe we have to work to push legislation and make sure these efforts are louder than lobbyists. This is a call for all hands-on deck. Systemic change is challenging but we do not have a choice. Isaac reminds us, if we don’t change the system that created money politics, we won’t have a safe atmosphere.  The Green New Deal is simple yet all-encompassing it is achievable in its directness, and necessary to all parties at the table.

The Sunrise Movement is decentralized which empowers many individuals with independent actions. You can pull up a map and watch them grow. Join them at The Green New Deal tour to talk about what is happening. Visit to find out more or visit the Action Network which has the list of town halls also listed on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Mark Hertsgaard, having proposed a Global Green Deal 1998, dispels the arguments that say it is not affordable to address this head on. He believes that,” how are we going to pay for it is an absurd question, we are talking about the survival of civilization. We are the richest country in the world with 716 billion dollars in our military budget.” The Trump administration passed a tax cut giving 1.7 trillion dollars of our tax money to address this back to the richest people in the country.  He also reminds us that we spend so much on things with no political purpose we would be stupid to not and try to save our lives with it.  We can absolutely afford to pay for it, in many ways it is a stimulus package. Congressman Huffman said that we have to weed out the legislative proposals that are driving the car in the wrong direction at speed, we have to stop those now. The money is there, it has to be redirected and deficit spending could be used as it was used in the great depression.

Hertsgaard covered climate change as a journalist for 15 years before he had his moment of reckoning that this is an emergency and time is up. He realizes as money of us do that we should have done so much more so long ago. In 2005 he was writing a piece for Vanity fair magazine and interviewed Sir David King, who said it is real and deadly serious, more serious that terrorism. It’s not about just turning off the emissions everyone is going to have to adapt to this regardless.  He was reminded that even if we stop all the emissions tonight the temperature would still keep rising for another 25 years.  As Mark left parliament, walking past Big Ben in London thinking about his new child, he heard other children laughing on the London Eye.  He realized then as a father, “Oh my god, Kyara my daughter has to live through this. In 2005 she was 4 months old. Now 14 years later where are we with this crisis?

That is where Hertsgaard’s book Hot originated looking at generation hot and how will they live through this. Exxon and other oil companies were knowingly doing to our kids. Hersgaard doesn’t mince words, these indeed were crimes against humanity and many public leaders like Angela Merkel agree. Today with youth like Greta Thunberg addressing the United nations and the world the expressing not only the importance of these issues to all young people but the dismay at our failure as adults to do more. Hertsgaard knows that it is essential to fix the media’s climate reporting failure and notes that they too have a lot to answer for. It is because of youth activism that we are talking about a Green New Deal today. Al gore, in his book, Earth in the Balance in 1992 he mentioned a marshal plan which was the same basic idea of environment and economic policy.

Journalist everywhere need to cover climate issues as well as the work of these young activists and keep covering it as the issue of our time. To drop the ball now fails humanity. Press thresholds don’t reach the level to inform the public at large, that we are facing an imminent crisis. The press has allowed the pot to be slowly turned up to a boil while the public thinks it is still another good day at the spa.

It is because of this kind of youth activism with Greta Thunberg, the Sunrise Movement, Marin Counties, Lucy London that we are talking about a Green New Deal today. Al gore in Earth in the Balance back in 1992 mentioned a marshal plan which was the same basic idea of environment and economic policy at the same time. This time we cannot let press coverage drop it for its preoccupation with sensationalized press perks, it climate change will not disappear into the pages of history like so many other issues of we fixate on will.

Back in 1998, Hertsgaard’s global green deal brought China, Russia, South America and Africa into the conversation illuminating us that even though most people in the world are poor they are not indifferent from the environment. They know perfectly well how important clean air, clean water and clean soil are. First people have to put food on the table tonight. That has been a blind spot for a large influential part of this movement for a long time distancing these populations from privileged groups.  Most people want to help but they want to eat first and they also seek comforts that we take for granted. These groups previously had little political power but now the children are becoming a powerful voice for the disenfranchised. We have watched the fossil fuel industry and other industries over the years, assert political power. They have shown through historical record that they will lie and deceive, to protect their own interest. We know that oil industries knew about climate risks and mitigated there risks 25 years ago when  they adjusted the oil rigs for sea level rise yet they failed to warn the public of the impending dangers. Hertsgaard calls this out as not only amoral but diabolical. He notes, that diabolical does not get beaten by timidity or compromise.

Constant push back in congress by the oil lobbyists is why didn’t they did not pass a strong climate deal. Congress ill only do that if you push them first.!!! The other side is constantly pushing with the big money of fossil fuel they are purchasing the veto power of our law makers. We have to be the bigger pressure especially with centrist democrats that are nervous about signing on to the green new deal. This proposal is commensurate to the scale of problem, our job is to create the political space that they can pass it.

Hertsgaard, explains another revelation was when interviewing someone in Exxon Public Relations for Bloomberg and found that Exxon mobile had an internal carbon price, assuming that it would come to pass even though they lobby against it. In each different country they have a carbon price that influences there investments there. It is a political judgement of how likely is it likely for these countries to impose a carbon price and they profit as much as they can in the meantime. In the US thier judgement when they see hundreds of people in the street is that Exxon assumes a carbon price will happen and they will plan accordingly. This is how the population and the Sunrise Movement can create momentum with political space!

Hertsgaard explains that The Green New Deal is emerging in the same way that it happened with the New Deal in 30’s, as there were millions of people in the streets.  He urges us to consider that we have to do this now. Franklin D. Roosevelt saw the seething streets, from the oval office and now at least we know we have a President that overestimates crowd size. FDR was basically intimated then that the population has to make him do it. The public needs to create the political space that I as president of the United States have to respond to your demands. Make it possible for our leaders to say when they take that phone call from Exxon mobile, I would love to help you but my voters say no.  Many of our officials know what needs to be done, they need our help the push back against and to bring forth a solution for a large enough portion of the population. The Green New Deal is a solution that has traction and we may need to put pressure on the centrists Democrats to herald it into reality, organize, call and write; canvas for it like your life depends on it as indeed it may. They only people that loose in The Green New Deal is oil companies like Exxon. This deal provides an economic solution to an environmental and social crisis in a manner that does not leave people behind. There is a majority for all things in The Green New Deal and a 70% approval rating.

What can we do to promote this Political Space? Here is a list of the general comments by the panel of speakers. Walk the walk, your next car should be an electric car, Eat less meat and when you do make sure it is a product of a conservation ranch, join The sunrise movement, attend city council meetings, talk to your board of supervisors, support youth in this movement. Let Nancy Pelosi and Diane Feinstein know your view, opt up to MCE’s 100% clean energy planor look into your towns renewable energy options.  The world is your oyster, amplifying the message on your social media. Carbon Offset when you fly with groups like Do all you can to un-elect republicans from congress it is an objective fact that  the republicans have drunk climate denial cool aide. Work to help flip some house seats.  Get involved in government.

Other Questions of note that evening and the speaker responses. Is Sunrise mobilizing in Kentucky to get Mitch McConnel out of office? The video of the students asking him to "“look us in the eyes and say his 1.9 million dollars was worth our future” on you tube went viral, can we build on that momentum?  For the first time he has said he believes in climate change, now you have to make him feel politically vulnerable and create a challenge in the next election. There is some hope that Republican youth are splitting from their elders politically. Mark Hertsgaard, warns that in his opinion it is a mistake that Environmental mainstream movement has compromised too much. We may need to accept that compromise is too dangerous to the atmosphere. As the other side will not compromise. You cannot compromise for the sake of it, you have to follow the science and the urgency it demands of us. HR763 carbon fee and dividend bill requiring a carbon tax on its own is not enough to address the crisis. competition or part of Green New Deal.  We need the whole Green New Deal to address this crisis. There is no reason to have a conflict between Citizens Climate Lobby and the Green New Deal they can work in unison. They recommended that we read Amory Lovins, A Market-Driven Green New Deal? We’d Be Unstoppable in the New York Times Op-ed highlighting that the deal iis going to make a lot of money for the private sector.

Also, in the closing remarks, we are reminded that if millennials voted on mass they would have the country they want.  Hopefully, the disappointments of the last presidential election woke them up. It is easier to vote if you see it can impact you directly and I think many have experienced this now. They need to have something to be excited for in politics. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has ignited a broad base of young Americans.  We need more inspirational moral leaders like her that talk about what millennials are interested in.

Photo courtesy of the Sunrise Movement