The nationwide Sunrise Movement, which has organized scores of young people into taking action and demanding legislation to fight climate change, is encouraging Columbia students and faculty to strike tomorrow to show their support for the Green New Deal. Managing Editor Zack Abrams spoke to Hub Coordinator Naomi Hollard, the head of the Sunrise Movement’s chapter on campus, about the goals of the strike and why she thinks the Green New Deal has a chance. 

We have about 12 years left to limit global warming to manageable levels, according to a report released last year from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC. To reach the desired limit of 1.5ºC of warming, global greenhouse gas emissions will need to be net zero by 2050. If average temperatures continue to go up, the report warns of more frequent storms, bouts of extreme heat, disease outbreaks, water supply shortages, and flooding. All of these results will cause a refugee crisis unprecedented in modern times; hundreds of millions of people will seek a better life elsewhere, and wealthy countries will have to figure out what to do. So far in America, there’s one plan that activists say meets the scale of this crisis-in-progress: Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) Green New Deal.

Modeled after FDR’s New Deal, which was a large fiscal stimulus package meant to spur the country out of the Great Depression, the Green New Deal (GND) is not solely focused on reforms to the energy grid; rather, its sponsors aim to achieve other liberal goals through the legislation, like creating “millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States” and promoting “justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression” of so-called ‘frontline communities,’ namely people of color and low-income workers. On the energy front, the GND focuses on decarbonization, upgrading energy grids, retrofitting “all existing buildings in the United States” to be more energy-efficient, and electrifying transportation as much as possible.

The GND avoids certain fights; for one, the cost (many advocates talk instead about the cost of doing nothing) and the political feasibility, for another. And it should be noted that the GND at this point is still a resolution; if it somehow passed, though that’s incredibly unlikely, it includes no specific legislation, just a broad call to action. Over time, especially as the 2020 Democratic primary race heats up, each of the 15-odd candidates currently running will hash out the details of their own plans, or rally behind the GND, in the hopes of passing something in 2020, ideally with a Democratic Senate.

This timeline simply doesn’t cut it for many young activists; that’s where the Sunrise Movement comes in. Created in 2017, the Sunrise Movement is a grassroots network of activists committed to climate legislation. For now, the Green New Deal is the only plan in government since the Democrats’ last attempt failed in 2009, so the Sunrise Movement has focused on rallying behind it. The organization gained notoriety when they staged a sit-in at Nancy Pelosi’s office and has exploded in influence since then.

“I saw the video and said ‘I want to be a part of this’,” said Naomi Hollard, CC ’20 and the head of the Sunrise Movement’s ‘hub’ (chapter) on Columbia’s campus. Aside from organizing meetings on campus, Hollard has also gone to DC on behalf of the movement. “They had another DC action where they were going to sit in Nancy Pelosi’s office again. Last time, about 250 people showed up. This time, 1,000 people showed up, and I was one of them.”

The next step for the Sunrise Movement on campus, besides their weekly meetings, will be a climate strike held tomorrow, March 15th, starting at 10 am. The hub is encouraging students and faculty to ditch work and other responsibilities to “unite and demand that our governments and leaders take climate action and stop this Climate Emergency!” Before going downtown to Columbus Circle for an NYC march, the Sunrise Movement is hosting several speakers including Hollard and, notably, Jay Inslee, the current Governor of Washington and a 2020 hopeful whose announcement centered solely around climate change. “He’s there because he’s going to share his story, and he’s there to show his support as an older leader because one of the biggest issues is that our leaders haven’t taken any action,” said Hollard.

With a challenging political future that’s dividing Democrats and earning the scorn of Republicans, it can be tough for campus activists to remain hopeful about its chances, and recruiting new people into the movement is a perennial challenge. “My method is just to cast the net wide. I let everyone in, it’s open arms, and I mean it: I want everyone to be a part of this because we need everybody to be a part of this to have this be successful,” said Hollard. “Change can be scary, especially if you benefit from the society that exists today. Climate change impacts all of us, in some way, shape, or form. We all have skin in the game.”

The main challenge the strike faces on campus is not disbelievers in climate change, but rather those apathetic to the movement. Though it remains to be seen how many students will turn out for the event, Hollard is hopeful. “There are very liberal views [on campus], and part of it is students have so much schoolwork and are focused on being very successful… a lot of activism and taking the time to do things related to causes is [difficult]. We’re a movement that wants to include all peoples, and I’ve found some amazing people who I never thought I would meet. I think it’s so exciting to see people take up the challenge of being a part of this and spending time away from school and yourself to do something bigger.”

Humanity: Endgame via Pixabay