Youth-Led Movement Brings Green New Deal Home

Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — The climate movement is enjoying a youth movement.

This youth infusion has been happening for several years, as students recognize the urgency to address climate change. Nationally, there is the Climate Kids lawsuit brought by 21 young people who accuse the federal government of failing to address climate change and thereby violating their constitutional rights. Rhode Island has its own youth lawsuit put forth by Nature’s Trust Rhode Island.

Upstart politicians such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have attracted a new following, especially among students who have experienced the destruction of climate change.

In Rhode Island, a group of high-school and college students from the Sunrise Movement has been pressuring Gov. Gina Raimondo and the state’s congressional delegation to endorse the Green New Deal and pledge to stop accepting donations from fossil-fuel companies.

Now the students are seeking support from the General Assembly to adopt a Green New Deal for Rhode Island.

The Green New Deal in Congress is a set of goals to lift the social, environmental, and economic well-being of low-income and middle-class workers through nationwide initiatives, such as  building “smart” power grids and converting the nation to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.

During a March 7 Statehouse rally, several students age 15-26, all members of the local Sunrise Movement, made heartfelt pleas for addressing climate change and enacting the Rhode Island Green New Deal resolution.

Dounya Bilal, 17, a student at the Lincoln School in Providence, described growing up in a single-parent home and living on food stamps. Her family couldn’t afford healthy food and she witnessed neighborhoods enduring environmental racism from the pollution emitted by nearby industrial facilities.

“The Green New Deal moving towards renewable energy must be done to protect these communities,” she said. ”To give them equitable living conditions rather than see them as expendable and to sacrifice their well-being for economic gain.”

Climate activist Tim DeChristopher explained that the youth movement has changed the way climate change is addressed.

“We’re no longer going to have the conversation where we have to pretend that political feasibility and maintaining the status quo is more important than young people’s lives and young people’s right to a livable future,” he said. “That is what is fundamentally different about this. And that’s the leadership that the Sunrise Movement is taking.”

The Rhode Island legislation has the same objectives as the national plan but also calls for the Rhode Island Green New Deal Research Council to write recommendations regarding the benefits of a local Green New Deal and submitting it to the governor, General Assembly, and state agencies by May 15. Brown University is funding the research and other partners are being sought.

“I personally don’t know what it is,” said Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, sponsor of the Senate resolution. “Let’s find out the pros and cons about what this means for Rhode Island.”