Student activists stressed the urgency of laws combating climate change and shared information about the proposed Green New Deal legislation at a town hall meeting June 20.
The purpose of the meeting at the Fayetteville Public Library was to convince people from Fayetteville of the benefits of the Green New Deal with the hopes that it will spread to all of Northwest Arkansas, said junior Billy Cook, who is majoring in history and political science.
The Green New Deal is a plan to address climate change in America backed by politicians like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D) and Sen. Ed Markey (D). Earlier this year, they proposed House Resolution 109 and Senate Resolution 59, which introduce steps to move the U.S. toward a goal of zero carbon emissions in the coming years.
Senators voted unanimously on March 26 not to consider the resolution, according to congressional records.
Cook and other college and high school students who are involved with the Citizens Climate Lobby or other environmental activist groups spoke at the town hall. These speakers included senior Micah Wallace, Arkansas Technical University junior Conner Williams, Fayetteville High School graduate Iman Blackwell, FHS graduate Arthur Matlock and FHS senior Kelly Davis.
“We need our city, state and federal government officials to team up and work to pass as many bills at all levels of government to address this crisis and move our communities forward,” Cook said, “but we’re not on track for any of it.”
Cook has lobbied in Washington, D.C. in support of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, a tax on fossil fuels like coal and oil with the goal of reducing pollution, he said.
Blackwell thinks the problem of climate change has been aggravated by the irresponsible practices of oil drilling companies and other billionaires, she said. These industrial leaders have given money to lobbyists who support their damaging business practices and stifle opposing voices, to the extent of denying the damages of climate change.
“We’re building a movement big enough to take on their agenda,” Blackwell said.
These students joined other activists around the country as part of the Sunrise Movement, a grassroots activist group that advocates for politicians to implement the policies of the Green New Deal. Last year, activists from the group protested outside the office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D), asking for a congressional response to climate change and legislation to eliminate pollution.
Part of the plan outlined in the Green New Deal is to use the process of transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy to give jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans, Matlock said. This echoes the values of the program’s namesake, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal to combat the Great Depression.
Matlock thinks the plan offered by the Green New Deal is good for American workers, even those working in oil or other non-renewable industries, because it will offer well-paying jobs in clean industries for years to come, he said.
Wallace thinks the Green New Deal emphasizes the needs of the many over the profit of the few, she said.
“There’s finally a solution proposed in congress that rises up to the scale of the climate crisis,” Wallace said. “Over the next two years, it’s our job to expose the urgency of the crisis and relentlessly demand the solutions we need.”
Along with other members of the Sunrise Movement, Wallace plans to go to 2020 presidential debates and demand that the candidates take the issue of climate change seriously, she said.
Wallace urged people in the audience to use #changethedebate to start conversations about climate change online and make the issue a major topic in the 2020 presidential race.
Wallace thinks the battle to address climate change is an uphill battle in Arkansas, where many of the representatives are not willing to listen to constituents who request action, she said.
But some 2020 candidates in Arkansas are making climate change policy a priority, like Daniel Whitfield (I) who is running against Sen. Tom Cotton (R) for Arkansas’ 4th District.
Whitfield, who attended the town hall meeting, plans to defeat Cotton by traveling the state and answering questions from his constituents, who he thinks may not get the full story from the news they watch on TV, he said.
“A lot of people don’t really understand the benefits of the Green New Deal,” Whitfield said.
Whitfield thinks that the students who spoke at the town hall are doing important work by informing people about the Green New Deal and getting young people involved in activist issues, he said.
Micah Wallace was an opinion writer for The Arkansas Traveler.