Varshini Prakash of the Sunrise Movement on Climate Justice, the Green New Deal, and Revolution

“We didn’t ask to have the responsibility of protecting human civilization on our shoulders. But we’re stepping up to the plate.”

Varshini Prakash
Sunrise Movement co-founder Varshini Prakash addresses The Road to the Green New Deal Tour final event at Howard University on May 13, 2019. (AP Photo / Cliff Owen)

It was on a Sunday in March 2014 when I first heard Varshini Prakash fire up a crowd. Several hundred young people were crammed into a quadrangle on the Georgetown University campus, ready to march to the White House—where nearly 400 of them would be arrested protesting the Keystone XL and other tar-sands pipelines. A junior at UMass-Amherst at the time, organizing the (successful) fossil-fuel divestment campaign, Prakash, bullhorn in hand, had an emphatic message for Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.

“We don’t want half-baked solutions!” she declared with attention-getting intensity. “We can’t gamble with false promises! We won’t settle for an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy policy when what this looming crisis demands is a none-of-the-above approach to fossil fuels!”

By the fall of 2015, Prakash and a small group of experienced young climate-justice activists had reached the conclusion, correctly, that what they and most of the climate movement were doing wasn’t enough. They realized, as she told me when we sat down for a conversation at a Boston coffee shop in May, “We need a new movement in America for young people.”

What Prakash and her 11 co-founders went on to build is now known to the world as the Sunrise Movement. Last November, with a media-savvy, hundreds-strong sit-in at Nancy Pelosi’s office on Capitol Hill, they famously launched the fight for the game-changing Green New Deal—and reshaped the landscape of the 2020 election campaign. Thanks to their resilience and steely resolve, a carefully considered organizing strategy focused on electoral politics, some fortuitous timing, and the help of—among many other people—a rock-star rookie congresswoman named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, they have injected an unprecedented urgency and seriousness into the climate debate in this country. MORE

Making the Green New Deal Real

THE GREEN NEW Deal resolution introduced into Congress by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey is a manifesto that has changed the terms of the debate over the country’s future. Cutting through the Trump administration’s denials about who is responsible for the extreme weather we already face, it unites the issues of climate change with that of eroding workers’ rights, racism and growing inequality. (At the end of March, the Senate voted against the GND in what has been called a ceremonial stunt.)

The resolution affirms the overwhelming scientific consensus that these are human caused. Further, since the United States is responsible for a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gas emissions, it demands that this society must take the lead in “reducing emissions through economic transformation.”

Noting that climate crisis is just one of many crises we face, it points to declining living standards, wage stagnation, a large racial divide and gender gap. It states that we now have the greatest income inequality since a century ago. It then proposes a 10-year national mobilization to tackle these issues comprehensively. But in offering a way forward, the details are nonetheless vague.

Corporate politicians ranging from centrist Democrats to the Republican establishment have commented that the proposal is too broad, too expensive, too utopian. Trump labelled it socialist and therefore “un-American.”

It’s clear that a broad political debate has opened. In fact, it is clear that politicians running for office in 2019 and 2020 will be forced to discuss what must be done to drastically reduce fossil fuels and at the same time reduce inequality.

This is a sea change from the 2016 election when Bernie Sanders raised climate change as the most important issue facing the country, the only “major party” candidate to do so. MORE


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says her Green New Deal climate plan would cost at least $10 trillion

Question of the Century: Do We Have a Right to a Livable Climate?

The climate is changing, the changes are human-caused, and most of them will be detrimental to people and ecosystems. But while public sentiment and plausible policy measures on these threats have been maturing in recent years, the law has not kept up.

Today climate change as a legal matter remains blurry and disconnected from the principles our system of government aspires to follow. The question remains unanswered: Do we — including future generations — have a legal right to a climate in which we can pursue our rights to life, liberty, property and happiness?

This is the question that a case called Juliana, et al. v. United States has thrown like a crowbar into the American legal system. If strong enough leverage is applied by the case and any resulting ruling, the whole edifice of environmental law and its position in constitutional law will undergo a deep shift.

Juliana — better known as Youth v. Gov — was filed in 2015 in the U.S. District Court in Eugene, Oregon, on behalf of 21 young plaintiffs and climate scientist James Hansen, serving in this case as a guardian for future generations. Our Children’s Trust is the Eugene-based nonprofit sponsoring the case. Since it was filed, the defendant (the U.S. government) has made five appeals to higher courts — three to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and two to the U.S. Supreme Court — to throw the case out on various procedural and summary motions. Currently its third appeal to the Ninth Circuit hangs in the balance, with oral argument before a three-judge panel set for June 4 in Portland.

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A 2017 Youth v Gov rally, photo by Christian O’Rourke (CC BY 2.0)

The plaintiffs have astonished legal experts by persisting through these attempts to prevent the case from coming to trial under District Court Judge Ann Aiken.

“We’re confident we’re right,” says Andrea Rodgers, an Our Children’s Trust staff attorney. “Our hope is that the Ninth Circuit will issue a very narrow decision that will bring us back to trial as soon as humanly possible.”

Aiken has already stated in a November 2016 ruling related to this case that in her “reasoned judgment…a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society” — but she also dismissed one of plaintiffs’ claims, that the Ninth Amendment assures just such a right even though it is unenumerated in the Constitution, unlike the guarantees of due process and equal protection made explicit in the Fifth and 14th Amendments.

This has not stopped the plaintiffs, however, because they have also made arguments under those amendments, based mainly on the public trust doctrine. This is the principle that certain resources — those necessary to everyone, such as air and water — must be protected and managed so as to remain available to future generations. It is considered a property right. MORE

Polly Higgins and the Ecocide Law

“I began to realise that rights in isolation are not enough. If you have rights, there are corresponding duties and obligations – it’s like two sides of the coin. And what gives enforcement to your rights are the responsibilities that are put in place in criminal law. So, your right to life is governed and protected by the [law against] murder, or homicide – or, at a collective level, genocide.” — Polly Higgins

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Polly Higgins died on 21/4/2019 aged 50 but not her work. Ecocide is her legacy to all of us, let’s honour it.

Let’s turn this sad event into a celebration of the wonderful woman she was and her brilliant work she did as a barrister for the environment by telling everyone about the ecocide law. Thereby we can become enough to insist that all our governments across the world recognise it as a law. Ecocide is her legacy to all of us, let’s honour it.

For all those who haven’t heard about Polly Higgins and her ecocide law let’s start with a short introduction. You can find more about Polly Higgins and the ecocide law on her website. As Polly Higgins was a barrister she used her expertise to engage in protecting our environment. She was so much committed that she gave up her house and her job to focus on saving our planet and thereby human kind. Thus she developed the ecocide law which would recognise harming our environment as a criminal act on an international level that allows to prosecute it. Therefore, she intended that ecocide law should be a part of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court – besides genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression – where those core crimes are established. It is important that it becomes a part of an international law as those who commit these crimes act globally and are not prosecuted by their countries or any other country. Polly Higgins considered ecocide as a crime against humanity and so it should be recognised and prosecuted. It is now our task to bring her ideas and work to life.

Most of the actions destroying the planet we are all a part of are carried out by a small group of rich people. Some examples of destruction are already mentioned by George Monbiot in his wonderful Guardian article about Polly Higgins. These few people do it for their personal advantage and as Naomi Klein convincingly explains in her books these people not only cash in for example on the oil they also take the destruction of our environment and the thereby resulting chaos into account. It is called disaster capitalism and of course they profit from the destruction they cause as well. Until now they get away with ecocide as there are no laws to hold them liable. This has to change. MORE


Letter: Whether it’s beer or windfarms, Ford Government breaking contracts is going to be costly

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Good Morning,

I have been listening the last 2 days [Anna Marie Tremonti’s show `The Current’] as this subject has been discussed and aside  from my personal perspective on the matter of where I buy beer, I am once again blown away by this governments lack of respect for CONTRACTS and the resultant costs that we are going to be incurring as taxpayers.  I find that it is a joke to hear comments being made from the  government side “that this shows Ontario’s willingness to be open for business” and “growing the economy”.  What business person would want to invest in a Province that cancels contracts on a whim.?!

The WPD Wind Farm in Milford, Prince Edward County was the first contract the Ontario PC’s cancelled when they came into power last year along with other environmental projects, and it is estimated that cancellation alone will be costing us $100-200 Million. That is a lot of money that could be used towards the Provincial cuts they felt necessary to make to Education / Healthcare / Autism / Municipalities!!
I am a supporter of the group that is trying to draw attention to the Wind Farm issue before it is too late and I would like to suggest that timing is good to give this group a bit of press as they fight to draw attention to this particular CONTRACT CANCELLATION that has even bigger human ramifications than where we buy our beer.  There are some very intelligent people who I think would love to have a chance to tell their story of the WPD contract cancellation on your show.
Please take a look at the website and the 17 minute documentary entitled `Up In The Air’ that has been made on the subject. It is an excellent overview of a very concerning situation brought about by this current government.
I think it is a news item that should be getting some broader  attention as it was the first of the contracts the PC’s cancelled and I believe is an issue that got buried in all the other `fires’ this government has set over these last months.
We Ontario residents need to be hearing more about  this governments disregard of contracts and what it is costing us on more fronts than just financially.
Thank you for consideration,
Carol Cooke

The justice system still fails to protect Indigenous women and girls

“Even though the SCC made some important findings in this case, their caution that the justice system has a lot more work to do applies equally to them. We need more than the “important step forward” they commended themselves for — we need a wholescale change. ” — Pam Palmater

“Her life mattered. She was valued. She was important. She was loved.”  R. v. Barton [2019] S.C.J. No. 33.

Cindy Gladue was an Indigenous woman originally from Alberta, where she grew up with her four siblings and extended family. She was also the mother to three daughters and her family described her as both a loving mother and caring auntie. She had close friends and always dreamed about being the first in her family to go to university. Cindy Gladue loved and was loved. She did not deserve her violent death in 2011 nor the indignity done to her body after.

She is now one of the many thousands of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls in Canada — a growing crisis that represents grave human rights violations. The trial of the man who admittedly committed this act of violence against Cindy is an example of how defective Canada’s justice system is when it comes to Indigenous women victims and how negligent Canada has been in ensuring the basic human rights of Indigenous women and girls are met.

In this column, there will be no details about Cindy’s appearance, what she wore the night she was killed, where she was killed, whether she knew her killer, her level of education, her health status, or what she did for a living — because none of the facts is relevant to her death. Cindy is not to blame for her death. Cindy did not kill herself. Cindy did not engage in a dangerous knife fight or try to kill someone.

Regardless of which version of the story is accepted by the next trial judge — that she was killed by a male trucker who violently cut an 11-cm gash in her vagina, or that she died from a tear from his violent, but unarmed interaction with her — she still died as a result. According to the SCC quoting from evidence at trial, the trucker then tried to hide evidence, change the crime scene and lie about his involvement. His name doesn’t deserve to be said aloud, nor does he get to hide behind any of the racist or sexist excuses he used at trial to defend himself. None of the evidence referred to at trial or the SCC indicates that he should be believed. Cindy’s life story does not get to be narrated by the man who admits to committing this violence against her.

Sexualized violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada has been allowed to continue in plain sight by government officials, police officers, lawyers and judges who have treated Indigenous women and girls as though they are less worthy of life. In fact, were it not for the lengthy and persistent advocacy of Indigenous women and their allies, Canadians would still be unaware of the crisis. MORE


Law groups welcome MMIWG report, pledge to consider and reflect on inquiry’s ‘Calls for Justice’

Young Canadians launch website tracking climate commitments of federal parties

You are now able to easily compare climate change commitments on Shake Up the Establishment. You will want to bookmark this incredibly useful resource.

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Cameron Fioret, Manvi Bhalla, Taro Halfnight and Janaya Campbell are tracking climate action commitments of federal parties on a new website called Shake Up The Establishment. Photos courtesy SUTE

Four young Canadians are tracking the commitments of federal political parties on the climate crisis as campaigns rev up for the fall election.

Shake Up The Establishment is a website run by Manvi Bhalla, Janaya Campbell, Taro Halfnight and Cameron Fioret, all graduates or students of the University of Guelph.

The team will volunteer their time to help voters compare the environmental plans of the Liberals, Conservatives, New Democratic Party and Greens ahead of the election that is to be held on or before Oct. 21, 2019.

“We were all discussing how we would want to vote in the upcoming election,” said Bhalla, who studied biomedical science, and has researched at the Hospital for Sick Children and worked as president of the local chapter of Oxfam Canada, in a phone interview May 26.

“We didn’t actually know who the best candidate or party would be immediately. And we thought, if we felt this way, then other individuals also might feel this way.” MORE

Inside the Race to Unify Progressives Behind a Canadian Green New Deal

The Pact for a Green New Deal in Canada, which was launched in May by civil society, Indigenous and environmental groups across the country, explicitly rejects moving cautiously to address the climate emergency

This election is ‘a huge opportunity to change the future of the country,’ says Nayeli Jimenez, a Vancouver-based climate organizer. Photo by Dexter McMillan for The Tyee.

Here is one worst-case climate change scenario for Canada’s upcoming federal election: The Liberals, NDP and Greens offer emissions-fighting plans that are difficult for the average voter to distinguish from one another, leading to a fractured, confused and unmotivated climate vote, while the Conservatives rile up a base unified by its single-minded opposition to climate policy.

“The great fear is that two or three parties compete over the same progressive voters and a consolidated Conservative party basically just walks up the middle and grabs a majority,” Kai Nagata, communications director for the B.C.-based Dogwood Initiative, told The Tyee.

This new federal government immediately scraps Canada’s carbon price, as Tory leader Andrew Scheer has promised. The Conservatives, which have yet to announce any plan replacing that policy, then go to work with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Ontario Premier Doug Ford to dismantle any environmental limits on oilsands production and fossil fuel consumption. At a time when we desperately need to be cutting greenhouse gas emissions, they go into overdrive instead.

For the next four years Canada continues to warm twice as fast as the rest of the world, smashing new records for destructive wildfires, flooding and Arctic sea ice loss. And as the global economy shifts away from fossil fuels, the hundreds of thousands of families who depend on the oilsands teeter ever more precariously on the brink of economic catastrophe — with no plan to assist them if and when demand for Alberta’s high-cost bitumen disappears.

Canada’s climate left is trying to conjure up the grassroots progressive energy that in the U.S. has turned the Green New Deal into one of the most electrifying issues of the 2020 presidential election.

By Oct. 20, activists hope to overcome internal divisions and unify behind a made-in-Canada Green New Deal; push leaders like the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh into unapologetically aggressive positions on climate change; and elect enough politicians prepared to address the crisis that we end up with a progressive minority coalition able and ready to transform Canada’s economy. MORE


Young Canadians launch website tracking climate commitments of federal parties