Climate activists and congress members push for a Green New Deal

Sunrise Movement held a protest on Capitol Hill. Photo: Ken Schles.

“We’re gonna fix our climate, we’re gonna clean our air, and we’re gonna put people to work,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said to a crowd of protesters in front of the John F. Kennedy School of Government on Wednesday, December 5.

She was joined by incoming congress members Rashida Tlaib, Andy Levin and Joe Neguse, who were attending the Bipartisan Program for Newly Elected Members of Congress, hosted by the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School. The freshman lawmakers heard the protesters from inside the Kennedy School’s Taubman building and went outside to join them.

“Yes, we’re gonna root out injustice and we’re gonna build our schools. And that is all part of a Green New Deal,” said Ocasio-Cortez, Congressmember-elect from New York.

The protesters were there to demand that Harvard include content about climate education and environmental justice in their bipartisan program for new members, and that congress members support a green new deal. Organizers and activists gathered from 350 Mass, Sunrise Movement, Organizers for Radical Climate Action (ORCA) and other local groups.

“We have power and if we keep pushing together this intersectional movement for climate justice will keep growing,” said ORCA founder Saul Levin, who organized the protest. His father, newly-elected Michigan Rep. Andy Levin participated in the rally.  

Their demands for climate action are part of a larger wave of recent environmental activism on around the country. Ever since youth-led activists from Sunrise Movement crowded outside Nancy Pelosi’s Capitol Building offices in early November, Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal for a Green New Deal has garnered support and more mainstream attention.

“There hasn’t ever been a whole comprehensive plan for how the U.S. as a whole would scale and transform society,” said Alyssa Lee, a Sunrise Boston hub member who has been organizing local action around the Green New Deal campaign. “I think this is really the first time the climate movement has had something comprehensive and national with a timeline to rally around,” she said.

The Green New Deal is a stimulus package aimed at both fixing climate change and creating jobs. The plan has the potential to be a framework for reaching urgent climate targets like 100 percent renewable energy in every state and zero emissions from transportation, while simultaneously boosting the economy and focusing on the needs of vulnerable, poor communities. Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal would create a select committee in the House tasked with drafting a plan in line with the proposal’s standards. Beyond clean energy, the proposal would guarantee jobs for unemployed people who want them and also asks the committee to take into account historic racial, gender and economic inequalities and consider including basic income and universal healthcare.

After Sunrise Movement’s action at Nancy Pelosi’s office in November, over 53 Sunrise “hubs” sprouted across the country and over 12,000 people have joined, according to Lee. Sunrise hubs act as independent bodies within the national framework, and make decisions and participate in national movements depending on their state and local needs.

“A Green New Deal was always something Sunrise has been building up to since it started,” Lee said. “It’s always been the vision to make climate change something that brought people to the polls as much as jobs and healthcare.”

For a consumption state like Massachusetts, a Green New Deal can mean shifting away from reliance on natural gas — 68 percent of the state’s electricity was generated from natural gas last year — and significantly reducing the state’s energy dependency on fossil fuel sources produced in other regions. The natural gas system has been under intense scrutiny from lawmakers after the Merrimack Valley gas explosions in September, as well as growing opposition from environmentalists since natural gas emissions are likely higher than previously reported. Massachusetts has its own less-ambitious climate plan that aims for 80% reduction in emissions by 2050, and like other states, would have to rapidly transfer to more clean energy to meet the goals of a Green New Deal.

Photo: Ken Schles.

“It’s important that we have alternatives and have clear, non-confusing responses around natural gas and around energy prices,” said Lee. “Because utility companies are really one of our biggest enemies in this state in particular for keeping us from having more renewable energy, having it be the default option for more people having it be accessible and affordable for all people.”

The national plan for a Green New Deal is directly at odds with the actions of the Trump administration, which has rolled back major environmental protections and weakened federal clean water rules, regulations on car emissions, power plants and oil and gas drilling rigs. The Green New Deal’s proposed timeline follows the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report’s recommendations which warned that the world has about 12 years limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid catastrophic impacts of global warming.

As of Sunrise Movement’s latest action on December 10 on Capitol Hill, 31 Congress members endorsed Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal for a Select Committee, including Mass. Reps. Joe Kennedy, Ayanna Pressley and Jim McGovern. Over a thousand activists were present on the Hill marking it as the largest convergence of Green New Deal supporters to date.

“I think it’s important that we don’t get carried away, that a Green Deal New is going to save us,” said Lee. “But in terms of its capacity to be a transformation of society, to be a national scale effort and to be a platform that people across the country can recognize and easily stand behind that isn’t a market solution, but about governmental responsibility and urgent prioritization, is amazing.”


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