COLLEGE PARK—Student members of the Sunrise Movement held a town hall and speaker panel to inform the public about the Green New Deal.
On May 2, University of Maryland student members of the Sunrise Movement held a town hall that outlined the dangers of climate change and invited local officials, such as state delegates and Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, to discuss the Green New Deal.
The resolution, introduced by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.), is legislation that 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 it’s 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 resolution was voted down in the Senate on March 26 but its has sparked a larger discussion about climate change and green jobs.
The resolution has become a major talking point for liberal politicians in recent months as the 2020 election draws closer.
The Sunrise Movement, which was the organizing body for the town hall, 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 wellbeing of all people,” The Sunrise Movement said in their mission statement.
In December of last year, 61 Sunrise Movement protesters were arrested outside the offices of the Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, 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 UMD’s 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 that is attributable to changes in the climate.
Alam and Miller explained that the Green New Deal is based on similar policies from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal that was in effect from 1933 to 1939 and helped bring the U.S 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.
They explained 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 information, the Sunrise Movement describes climate change as a form of oppression for minorities and the poor who have to bear the brunt of its effects.
The town hall also included members of the community that work towards sustainable living.
Armando Gaetaniello represented Neighborhood Sun, a Maryland-based community solar company. He explained 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, which is a nonprofit that salvages building materials for reuse, highlighted how easy it is to find reusable housing materials during construction and remodeling. The Labor Network for Sustainability also had a representative who talked about organizing labor unions to push for policies that are environmentally sustainable and good for workers too.
State Delegate Mary Lehman, who serves District 21 which includes Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties, was part of the panel discussion at the town hall. She was joined by other local officials like Delegate Vaughn Stewart (D-19), Gabriel Acevero (D-39), Elrich and Todd Larsen who serves as executive co-director of Green America.
Lehman said that locally, counties and municipalities can incorporate parts of the Green New Deal in its legislation even if it does not become a resolution that is recognized federally.
“Actually, a lot of local governments including Prince George’s have done mini pieces of the Green New Deal,” Lehman said. “In 2013 I got a law passed to require a green building standard in Prince George’s County.”
She explained that through her work she noted existing laws in Maryland require a green building standard only apply to public new buildings.
“They are typically only forward-looking laws, so they only apply to new buildings or substantially renovated buildings,” Lehman said. “But I can see locally, retroactively looking at existing buildings especially public-school buildings where there’s tremendous opportunity to retrofit them.”
Stewart noted that changing our transportation is a way to locally combat climate change.
“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.
Lehman noted that it’s possible to incorporate the racial equity portion of the Green New Deal at a local level by being engaged in local politics.
“When there is any policy or project under consideration, communities of color have to become engaged, and if they’re not naturally inclined to (or unable to) I think it is incumbent upon activists to get them engaged,” she 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 in Miami and Detroit in the coming months to continue the conversation about climate change.