This is the first in a series of columns detailing the growing determination of women and children to influence climate change policy around the world.
“I founded Sunrise Movement last year in order to kick out corrupt politicians backed by Big Oil and elect a new generation of leaders who will fight for my generation.” – Varshini Prakash
That slogan on a sign at a protest rally succinctly explains the need for a revolution to ensure a sustainable world.
In 2017, the slogan gave birth to the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led pressure group striving to hold elected leaders accountable for a warming planet.
It is “building an army of young people to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process”, says its website.
The movement’s co-founder is Varshini Prakash, a 25-year-old born and raised in the Boston-area, who understands that disrupting the status quo is how change happens.
“We’re pissed off that our leaders have failed to do something about climate change,” Prakash said, “and we’re going to be left dealing with the repercussions of their inaction. So, we have to be the ones to do it if anything’s going to happen.”
Prakash is just one of a number of women worldwide who are demanding a massive government-led intervention in the economy away from fossil fuels for the benefit of all people, not just the wealthy few.
And one Swedish school girl has inspired students the world over to leave their classes and demand that their governments start caring about the future of their generation.
“Our generation will bear the brunt of impending disaster and pollution,” says Prakash. “Any politician who wants to be taken seriously by our generation needs to support solutions that match the scale and urgency of the climate crisis.”
“Any healthy country, like any healthy individual, should be in perpetual revolution, perpetual change.” – Jane Fonda
The movement has already been successful in the political arena: Sunrise endorsed 30 candidates in the November 2018 U.S. election cycle and 19 of them won.
“We needed a movement that could elect progressives ready to take bold action on climate change, and have a movement ready to hold all elected officials accountable and shift what’s politically possible,” Prakash told the Daily Kos in an interview.
The movement was ready with a plan to achieve its goals.
The Sunrise Movement’s Green New Deal would eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from electricity, transportation, manufacturing, agriculture and other sectors within 10 years. It would also aim for 100% renewable energy and includes a job guarantee program “to assure a living wage job to every person who wants one”. It would seek to “mitigate deeply entrenched racial, regional and gender-based inequalities in income and wealth”.
Last December 10th, more than 1,000 youth with Sunrise lobbied 50 Congressional offices and sat-in at Democratic leadership offices demanding support for the Green New Deal. In total, 143 were arrested during the sit-ins.
The Green New Deal was central to the high-profile campaign of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 29-year-old self-described “Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx” who won New York’s 14th congressional district last November as a Democrat.
“We have a political culture of intimidation, of favoring, of patronage, and of fear, and that is no way for a community to be governed.” – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
The Green New Deal that Ocasio-Cortez and a growing number of members of Congress now support is straightforward: Power the U.S. economy with 100% renewable energy within 12 years, establish a federal living-wage jobs program, institute universal health care, and help workers move from carbon-tied jobs to more sustainable employment.
Prakash and Ocasio-Cortez are among those counteracting the new rhetoric of the status quo – climate gradualism – which promotes a slow, incremental, and impractical approach to the global warming problem that champions fossil fuels for the next 20 to 50 years.
These women believe it is just a new form of climate apathy.
“Climate change impacts women’s lives differently than men’s. Consequently, adaptation policies and measures need to be gender sensitive.” – gender into climate policy: toolkit for climate experts and decision-makers
“Both women and men are important actors in designing conscientious climate policies. Women are generally more sensitive to risks and more willing to change lifestyles, while men more strongly believe in technical solutions,” says the gender into climate policy document.
Women are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. They are disproportionately affected by global warming impacts such as droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events, especially in developing nations.
In the event of water or fuel wood shortages, decreased agricultural productivity, famine, and care-giving demands in post-disaster situations, women’s workloads are increased.
Now, in ever growing numbers, women are standing up to play a vital role in developing lasting climate solutions.
“This is a global fight, honestly, to protect the future of human civilization, and I think that’s how our generation really sees it, which is why we’re seeing people rise up in every corner of the world,” says Prakash.
The healthy dose of outrage exhibited by the youth of the Sunrise Movement is not unique to American activists.
Greta Thunberg was only 15-years-old last year when she began skipping school every Friday to protest outside Sweden’s parliament and lobby MPs to comply with the Paris Agreement. She recently completed her 26th week of striking, exclaiming “26 weeks, that’s half a year!”
She launched the #SchoolStrike4Climate movement and to date, students in the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Germany, Ireland, Uganda, Thailand, Colombia, Poland, and more have skipped a day of school to demand stronger action on climate change from their governments. A worldwide strike is planned for March 15. (Nelson school students will strike on March 4th gathering in front of City Hall.)
Thunberg unabashedly told world leaders at the December UN climate talks in Poland that they were “not mature enough to tell it like it is.”
“We have not come here to beg world leaders to care,” she said. “We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not.”
“Protest is good for the soul. If there’s nothing you want to protest about, you may as well be dead.” – Simon Hattenstone
Now a 16-year-old, Thunberg recently spent 32 hours on a train to the Swiss ski resort of Davos where she gave her message to the world business elites attending the World Economic Forum.
She did not mince words.
“We are facing [an] existential crisis, the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced,” she said. “If everyone is guilty, then no one is to blame, and someone is to blame… Some people, some companies, some decision makers in particular know exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money, and I think many of you here today belong to that group of people.”
Her blunt judgement momentarily shocked the audience to silence, but eventually they applauded.
“I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic … and act as if the house was on fire, because it is,” Thunberg added.
“The Extinction Rebellion is urging people to face up to this hellish reality, particularly the biological annihilation of this mass species extinction event.” – Dr Gail Bradbrook
Beginning in 2015, Bradbrook co-founded the group Compassionate Revolution, which morphed into Rising Up! – a social movement calling for a fundamental change of the political and economic system to one which maximizes well being and minimizes harm.
Bradbrook protests to raise awareness of the dangers from anthropogenic climate change and believes that only civil disobedience on a large scale can bring about the change that is needed.
“The evidence is overwhelming: change comes when people are willing to commit acts of peaceful civil disobedience,” Bradbrook wrote in an article for The Ecologist. “A few thousand arrests in a short space of time could cause a political crisis. Just a tiny percent of the population in active support of a rebellion would probably see an end to this destructive political system.”
“Taking to the streets is a powerful way to manifest the support you have and spending the day with people who share your concerns is the perfect antidote to what can often be the soul-sapping experience of keyboard activism.” – Billy Bragg
The rising tide of involvement by women and children to effect change on the climate issue will – in my humble opinion – prove the tipping point so desperately wanted by all of us who are concerned about the plight of our planet.
Perhaps in 2019, 2020, or 2021, social engagement around the topic of climate change by the climate concerned will overcome the climate dismissive, finally forcing decision makers to take bold, visionary, and real action to halt the environmental dismemberment our planet is suffering.
Those who have used their economic, political, and ideological beliefs to block aggressive reduction of carbon dioxide emissions will have their foundation overthrown.
As more and more ordinary people realize how global warming is impacting their lives, ignorance will no longer triumph over scientific certainty.
The influence of the affluent to affect public policy will halt and decisions will be made for the benefit and needs of all citizens – rich, middle-class, and poor alike.
A renewed sense of urgency and a greater willingness to resort to civil disobedience and other forms of activism will catalyze the movement, end the status quo, and bring about large-scale societal change.
“People shouldn’t be sad, they should be angry and they should direct their anger at those responsible for getting us into this mess and keeping us there.” – Jonathan Atkinson, co-founder of energy system company Carbon Co-op
As Eric Holthaus wrote on New Year’s Eve, “In these dark days, we can have quiet confidence that each of us have the power to make the world a better place, starting immediately. Many different futures still exist. Science shows us what is possible; it’s up to us to choose the path forward from here.”
The future is something we create together in the present. The simplest way to understand and change our predicament is to recognize that being human is a team sport.
The planet we share has been rendered fragile in our hands.
“I just hope that more people will ignore the fatalism of the argument that we are beyond repair. We are not beyond repair. We are never beyond repair.”– Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
The changes our society needs will be led by us – ordinary citizens. It requires that we ordinary citizens accept the responsibilities bestowed by our rights and freedoms.
Every bit of warming matters; every year matters; every choice matters.
And so we have to rise up now and give our support to the women and children who are guiding our way.
And so we have to rise up now and form the rebellion.
Michael Jessen is an ecowriter, living at Longbeach near Nelson, BC. The former journalist, politician, recycling coordinator, and restaurant owner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org