COLLEGE PARK — Student members of the Sunrise Movement held a town hall to inform the public about the Green New Deal.
On May 2, University of Maryland student members of Sunrise Movement held a town hall that outlined the dangers of climate change and invited local officials such as state delegates and County Executive Marc Elrich to discuss the Green New Deal.
The Green New Deal is legislation introduced by Representative Alexandia Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.), which sets drastic goals for climate change and creating green jobs. It also highlights the groups that are most likely to feel the effects of climate change sooner: the poor and minority communities.
The Green New Deal is a non-binding resolution; that is to say, that on its own it won’t create any new programs, but it does send a message about the severity of climate change and the positive ways we could improve the economy by creating green, eco-friendly jobs.
The Green New Deal has become a major talking point for liberal politicians in recent months as the 2020 election draws closer.
The Sunrise Movement is an organization that is pushing for climate-change awareness.
“We’re building an army of young people to make climate change an urgent priority across America, end the corrupting influence of fossil-fuel executives on our politics and elect leaders who stand up for the health and well-being of all people,” the Sunrise Movement says in their mission statement.
In December 2018, 61 Sunrise Movement protesters were arrested outside the office of Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Speaker of the House, according to Vice News.
Naeem Alam and Andy Miller, students at UMD and members of the Sunrise Movement, hosted the town hall in the Stamp Student Union on campus.
“We use a lot of coal here in Maryland,” Alam said in his introduction. “Maryland also has a lot of coastline along the eastern short that will become submerged.”
He also noted that Ellicott City has experienced unprecedented flooding in recent years, attributable to climate changes.
Alam and Miller explained that the Green New Deal is based on similar policies from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, which was in effect from 1933 to 1939 and helped bring the United States out of the Great Depression.
The New Deal of the 1930s brought economic relief through reforms in industry, agriculture, labor and housing, among other sectors.
Alam and Miller said that along with reforms in energy jobs, the Green New Deal is meant to address social inequities as well, in a way that the original New Deal did not.
In their educational materials, the Sunrise Movement describes climate change as a form of oppression for minorities and the poor who have to bear the worst brunt of its effects.
The town hall also included members of the community who work toward sustainable living.
Armando Gaetaniello represented Neighborhood Sun, a Maryland-based community solar company. He said that participating in community solar allows people who may not own their home or might not have suitable space for solar panels to benefit from clean energy.
“What I’m hoping to see from the Green New Deal is to bridge the financial gap for installing solar. A lot of solar projects are stopped along the way because of hurdles,” Gaetaniello said. “Stabilizing the climate is just priceless.”
Members of other green organizations also spoke at the town hall. A representative from Community Forklift, a nonprofit that salvages building materials for reuse, highlighted how easy it is to find reusable housing materials during construction and remodeling projects. The Labor Network for Sustainability also had a representative, who spoke about organizing labor unions to push for policies that are environmentally sustainable and good for workers as well.
Delegate Gabriel Acevero (D) serves District 39 in Maryland, which includes Montgomery County, and also was part of the panel discussion at the town hall. He was joined by other local officials, such as Delegate Vaughn Stewart (D-19), Delegate Mary Lehman (D-21), Elrich and Executive Co-Director of Green America Todd Larsen.
“I think that at the local level incorporating the Green New Deal looks like ensuring that the county council and municipalities are also taking the lead on some of these initiatives,” Acevero said. “Yes, we can pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act (here in Maryland), but there are certain things that municipalities and counties can do to show that we’re mitigating the kind of crisis we’re in right now.”
Stewart noted that changing our transportation system is a way to combat climate change locally.
“I think that the days of these highway expansions, these road expansions that don’t even solve traffic congestion, those days need to absolutely end,” Stewart said. “Transportation is now the number one contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the state, and it’s a form of climate denialism to build new road capacity despite that fact.”
He suggested solutions like expanding Metro transit and increasing the frequency and reach of MARC trains.
Acevero, who sits on the Maryland House Appropriations Committee, highlighted the issue of transportation as well.
“We have raided and depleted the transportation funding, and as a result we cannot invest in the kind of ambitious and really worthwhile projects that we’re talking about, like bus rapid transit, like railways, like extending Metro,” he said. “This is why we’re looking at things like proper public-private partnerships and these toll roads, because we have failed to not only use public funds to invest in the kinds of transit that our communities need but we have neglected them.”
He noted that in order to incorporate the racial equity portion of the Green New Deal, we need to be able to meet communities of color where they are.
“Those conversations are being had in communities of color,” Acevero said, “(and) the organizing is taking place.” But he explained, when it comes to connecting environmental groups with communities of color, there is a disconnect.
“Unfortunately, the mainstream environmental justice movement tends to be old and white, and they don’t seek to work with communities most impacted by the very issue that you’re advocating for,” he said.
The Sunrise Movement has one more town hall in the D.C area scheduled for May 13 at 7 p.m., and larger national conferences are planned in Miami and Detroit in the coming months to continue the conversation about climate change.