- Willa Wang and Melanie Shao
Polarization: The Power of “We” in the Climate Movement
As Dan Schrag mentions in his Ecosystemic interview, “Climate change is a global collective action problem.” This assessment rings especially true in the context of the youth movement. The Sunrise Movement, a prominent United States-based environmental organization, emphasizes the power of “we”, as portrayed in its principles:
We are a movement to stop climate change and create millions of good-paying jobs in the process.
We grow our power through talking to our communities.
We are people from all paths of life.
We are nonviolent in word and deed.
We tell our stories, and we honor each other’s stories.
We ask for help and we give what we can.
We take initiative.
We embrace experimentation and we learn together.
We take care of ourselves, each other, and our shared home.
We unite with other movements for change.
We fight for the liberation of all people.
We shine bright.
The organization’s principles are almost poetic with the repetition of “we.” This powerful, two-letter word, signifies unity and togetherness and emphasizes the imperative nature that the collective plays in leading a successful movement.
“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,” Sunrise’s website states.
Initially launched in the summer of 2016, the movement was co-founded by a group of students passionate about combating the climate crisis.
Since then, Sunrise has held nationwide events, such as the August 2018 “Heat Week” and the summer 2020 “Wide Awake” actions, both intended to mobilize youth around the nation and advocate for political change. Sunrise also supports the Green New Deal, an essential congressional resolution that aims to reduce emissions through economic transformation.
In his presidential campaign goals, Sanders envisioned to “reach 100 percent renewable energy for electricity and transportation by no later than 2030 and complete decarbonization of the economy by 2050 at [the] latest,” according to his website. Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (AOC) preaches the same ideals.
The problem, however, is not that simple to solve.
According to Harvard University Professor of Geology Daniel Schrag, decarbonization will take much more time than Sanders anticipates. “If [Sanders] actually believes he can do it in 10 years…he’s pandering because he should know that it’s not possible for all sorts of reasons,” he said.
But this fact doesn’t discourage the Sunrise Movement or its supporters. Many of Sunrise’s initiatives provide stepping stones that work to eventually achieve a Green New Deal. According to the Sunrise Website, this summer, Movement School and Sunrise plan to train cohorts of young people in cities across the country to organize their communities for a “Green New Deal for Public Housing.” This training will occur in cities across the United States. Through narrowing in on specific parts of the Green New Deal and advocating for them in local regions, Sunrise breaks down the ambitious agenda while maintaining the principles of the proposed legislation
Photo: The Sunrise Movement.
For those who want to contribute to the Sunrise Movement, the first step is to join a Sunrise hub–– a local group–– nearby. There are over 400 hubs scattered throughout the United States, and according to Sunrise’s website, “[h]ubs do the most important work of the movement: growing participation, elevating the urgency of climate change and challenging to win political power.” By joining a hub, you are thinking globally, but acting locally and making an ambitious agenda far more manageable.
Additionally, people can participate in welcome calls to further connect with Sunrise and student activists from across the country. Welcome calls are held over zoom every Tuesday from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. EST. Individuals can also donate and volunteer to help with Sunrise’s virtual phone bank promoting the “Good Jobs for All Campaign,” one of the movement’s major focuses.
The impact of Sunrise within the youth environmental movement is substantial, and we encourage all readers to get involved. Join the collective! Become a part of the “we.”
To further advocate for political action on climate change, Sunrise works with politicians such as Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Ed Markey and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to pass a Green New Deal.
According to the New York Times, The Green New Deal’s primary goal is to limit the amount of carbon emissions that are produced, thereby terminating warming temperatures and consequently combatting the catastrophic effects inflicted to our Earth. Climate change is a topic that is often shrouded in misinformation; people think they understand the scope of the problem, when they really do not. The climate crisis will not just melt ice caps. NASA reports claim that climate change will intensify health concerns, poverty, food insecurity, species extinction and severe weather, as well as raising sea levels and temperatures. According to NRDC, Locations such as Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, and the Maldives might not exist in thirty years. Some islands that are predicted to sink by 2050 as a result of the rising sea levels. In the last century, global sea levels have risen by eight inches. The speed in which the sea levels rise is also accelerating; the rate in the last twenty years is much faster than the rate a century ago.
Despite the clear catastrophic consequences of climate change, we remain divided. The polarization that exists around the topic of climate change can be evaluated based on three distinct attitudes. There are people who believe in it, the people who think it is a hoax and the people who do not know what to think. This is why America cannot make any decisions without some backlash from either party.
If we do not agree on anything as a country, then we will get nowhere. There are people on both sides of politics who refuse to hear the other side’s beliefs. If we were to listen to each other’s beliefs, we would be in a much better place as a society.
Harvard Professor of Geology and Environmental Science and Engineering Dan Schrag stated in an interview with Ecosystemic that “75% of Americans are actually concerned about climate change.” He added that “the bad news is that only around 25% are very concerned.”
Climate change is a very expensive problem, Time Magazine reiterates that it will take $300 billion and up to twenty years to fix global warming. This fiscal outlook requires steadfast collective will, and the illogical “hoax” rhetoric spread by right-wing media outlets certainly does little to help.
Ultimately, we need to enact change before the consequences of climate change overtake our planet. We are capable of fixing this problem, but we must try as a unit and as a world. The decision is ours to make, and it must be free of political entanglements. It must be a collective agreement made by all countries. The United States once again must take the lead as the vanguard of change.
By Melanie Shao and Willa Wang