Exploiting the Amazon Fires, for Politics

The Sunrise Movement's pursuit of a Green New Deal.

“The real reason the Amazon is on fire: corporate greed & political corruption.” So says the Sunrise Movement, a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization, with regard to the Amazon fires that the Left is currently depicting as a catastrophic consequence of “climate change” in the Age of Trump and carbon emissions. Curiously, the Sunrise Movement neglected to mention that the Amazon region's fire counts were higher than this year's count numerous times in recent years – specifically, in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, and 2016. But hey, why allow a few facts to get in the way of an anti-capitalist, anti-Trump crusade?

While publicly denying partisanship with either “the right or left” side of the political spectrum, the Sunrise Movement in fact places its full support behind left-wing Democratic Party candidates and agendas. Most notably, the organization has been a staunch supporter of the “Green New Deal,” environmental legislation whose multifaceted mission is to rapidly eliminate all fossil-fuel use from the U.S. economy (in favor of renewables like wind and solar energy); create a basic income program and a federal jobs guarantee that would provide a “living wage” to every person who wants one; implement a government-run, single-payer health care system; and replace free-market capitalism with a socialist framework.

Rooted in the premise that the greenhouse gas emissions associated with human industrial activity are a major cause of potentially catastrophic “climate change,” the Sunrise Movement is composed chiefly of what it terms “an army of young people” who aim to take “immediate and decisive action to transform our energy system” and address the “climate crisis” that threatens to consign humanity to “a future ravaged by wildfires, heatwaves, and hurricanes.” In pursuit of this objective, the Sunrise Movement vows to “end the corrupting influence of fossil fuel executives on our politics.” That “handful of wealthy oil and gas executives,” says the organization, “will stop at nothing to squeeze the last bit of money out of the earth” – no matter how many “children must breathe toxic air,” or how many “parents must choose between a dangerous and polluting job, and no job at all.”

The Sunrise Movement was launched in April 2017 by six principal co-founders. Two of those were former Wesleyan University students Matthew Lichtash and Evan Weber, both in their twenties, and the latter of whom had participated in the anti-capitalist Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011. During their student days at Wesleyan, Lichtash and Weber developed a friendship with then-visiting professor Michael Dorsey, a Club Of Rome member and former Sierra Club board member whom President Barack Obama had appointed to the EPA’s National Advisory Board in 2010 and 2012. In 2013, Dorsey, who likewise would become one of the Sunrise Movement’s co-founders four years later, used his influence to secure a $30,000 grant to help himself and the two Wesleyan students write a plan outlining how climate change could most effectively be addressed. Within a few months, Dorsey, Lichtash, and Weber had produced a 35-page treatise emphasizing the need for carbon taxes that would discourage reliance on fossil-fuel-combustion technologies, and in January 2014 they helped incorporate a new group called the U.S. Climate Plan.

Two additional Sunrise Movement co-founders were Sara Blazevic and Varshini Prakash, both members of the Fossil Fuel Divestment Student Network, an alliance that pressures universities and other institutions to divest their assets from the oil and gas industries.

The sixth major co-founder of the Sunrise Movement was William Lawrence, a young man who argues that “a massive overhaul of [the] nation’s infrastructure and economy” is “exactly what we need to do.”

The Sunrise Movement’s first public appearance in 2017 was a climate protest in Washington, D.C., where its members promoted a “Sunrise Semesters” initiative that would permit college-age supporters to join the organization for one school semester to help promote Democratic political candidates committed to the Green New Deal.

Around that same time period, the Sunrise Movement encouraged congressional Democrats to sign a pledge not to accept any campaign contributions from fossil-fuel industries. One noteworthy backer of that pledge was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who subsequently proceeded to unseat a longtime incumbent Democrat from the U.S. House of Representatives in the November 2018 elections. According to Sunrise Movement co-founder Evan Weber, Ocasio-Cortez’s support gave the organization “added star power and firepower that took it through the roof.” As The New Yorker noted in December 2018, “Sunrise has established itself as the dominant influence on the environmental policy of the Democratic Party’s young, progressive wing.”

On November 13, 2018, more than 200 Sunrise Movement demonstrators staged a protest outside the office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, to demand that Democrats make the battle against climate change a top priority beginning in January 2019. The protest, which was praised by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, resulted in 51 arrests.

During a single weekend in December 2018, a number of Sunrise Movement members joined likeminded staffers of Ocasio-Cortez as well as members of Justice Democrats and New Consensus, in drafting the text of the aforementioned Green New Deal.

Sunrise Movement co-founder Varshini Prakash has clearly articulated her vision for the organization by announcing that she seeks to galvanize “a rising tide of people” to combat “the greed and selfishness of wealthy men, of fossil-fuel billionaires who plunder our earth for profit.” By “build[ing] the largest youth political force this country has ever seen,” says Prakash, she hopes to “make a Green New Deal a political inevitability in America.”


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