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Over 140 were arrested in protests calling for Democratic leaders to create a plan to decarbonize the economy

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UPDATE December 11 2:00PM: Nine more representatives have now backed the Sunrise Movement’s proposal for a Select Committee on a Green New Deal.
  • Rules Committee Ranking Member Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-2)

  • Progressive Caucus Co-chairs Reps. Pramila Jayapal (WA-7) and Mark Pocan (WI-2)

  • Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-13) Rep. Joe Kennedy (MA-4), Rep. Peter Welch (VT-AL), Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-9), Rep. Mike Quigley (IL-5), and Rep. Eleanor Holmes-Norton (DC)

DHARNA NOOR: One thousand young climate activists with the Sunrise Movement descended on Capitol Hill on Monday to demand a Green New Deal, a plan for the US to become carbon neutral within a decade and create tens of millions of jobs in the renewable energy sector.

VICTORIA FERNANDEZ: Things that would fall under it are moving our society to 100 percent renewables, creating good, livable wage jobs for anyone who wants one to solve the climate crisis, alleviating and beginning to eliminate poverty, especially for those who are most impacted, who are in the nexus of pollution and poverty every single day. It would look like transforming our public transportation, our entire energy system, and ultimately eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from every sector.

DHARNA NOOR: For the second time since Democrats won control of the House in the midterms, the Sunrise Movement held a sit-in in top ranking Democrat Nancy Pelosi’s office. They demanded the creation of a Green New Deal-focused select committee that can draft legislation as proposed by Representative-Elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Pelosi is the likely next House speaker.

In response to last month’s protests, Pelosi said she would reinstate the 2007 Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, but Sunrise says that’s not enough.

NICOLE CATANIA: The previous committee would talk about climate change, would talk about the science, but wouldn’t actually have legislative powers.

DHARNA NOOR: The activists also targeted incoming House Majority Leader Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland and incoming Rules Committee Chair Representative Jim McGovern. One hundred forty-three were arrested in the sit-ins. McGovern endorsed the select committee for a Green New Deal, becoming the 23rd representative to sign on.

JIM MCGOVERN: I am committed to the Select Committee. I want to make sure that it happens, right?

NICOLE CATANIA: Really Congresspeople all over the country are coming out in support of this because of how politically popular it is, and that it’s on the national agenda in a big way.

DHARNA NOOR: Hoyer said he appreciated the protesters’ passion and that he was happy to hear from them, but he didn’t address their demands. Sunrise noted that Hoyer has accepted a quarter million dollars from fossil fuel executives, lobbyists, and PACs, and suggests that may influence his decisions. They want Democrats to reject such influence.

VICTORIA FERNANDEZ: The select committee would have every member that is part of it pledge to not take any money from fossil fuel executives. We need to make sure as the American people that the select committee that meant to address climate change at the scale that is required, that we know that they’re not in the back pockets of fossil fuel CEOs or being influenced in any way.

DHARNA NOOR: They had a similar message for West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who’s a leading contender for the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

VICTORIA FERNANDEZ: He has taken a lot of fossil fuel money. He literally shot a piece of climate legislation, famously.

DHARNA NOOR: Hours before the sit-ins, activists held 50 lobbying sessions with Democratic leaders.

The New Deal was a series of public works projects, policies, and reforms enacted by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s. The unprecedented economic intervention helped pull the US out of the Great Depression. Like its namesake the New Deal, the Green New Deal will take massive investment. But the activists say that government funds need to be reallocated.

VARSHINI PRAKASH: The IMF estimates that we spend $10 million a minute in subsidies for the fossil fuel industry. And we’ve spent trillions of dollars on these industries; massive giveaways and subsidies. I would say that we have spent a lot more on billionaires and fighter jets than we have spent on actually improving our economy in a society so that it works for all people.

DHARNA NOOR: The protesters say the time to act is now. Last week, a report from the Global Carbon Project showed that in 2018, carbon emissions reached an all-time high globally. And a recent report from the globe’s leading body on climate change shows that we may just have 12 years left to avoid irreversible effects of climate change.

NICOLE CATANIA: The IPCC report gave us 12 years. I’m 23. In 12 years I’m 35. That’s when people start families. We don’t have time to waste anymore. We need this now.

DHARNA NOOR: The Sunrise Movement knows that fighting the climate crisis is an uphill battle. On the same day they took to the nation’s capitol, the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Kuwait downplayed the results of that very same IPCC report at the UN’s international climate talks, or COP24.

VARSHINI PRAKASH: We are facing an opposition who will stop at nothing to squeeze the last bit of money out of the earth for their own profit.

DHARNA NOOR: But they say that if their Green New Deal is successful it could set a global example.

ROSE STRAUSS: The Green New Deal, drafting this legislation, would really be setting an example for hopefully the rest of the world. And part of the actual resolution is being a leader in green technology, because once we have the incentives, you know, companies are going to start innovating and meeting these needs that we have for renewable energy. And hopefully we can kind of use what America hopefully will do to address climate change as a platform for the rest of the world. Because climate change is a global problem, and we can only solve this problem if the international community comes together as well on this issue and makes a change.

DHARNA NOOR: And the stakes couldn’t be higher.

VARSHINI PRAKASH: Where my family’s from in southern India, an extremely strong monsoon season displaced a million people and put them in refugee camps. I want to be real that every decimal point of warming that we avoid could save the lives of millions of people.

ROSE STRAUSS: I go to school in Santa Barbara, and last year my finals were canceled because the fires were so bad there. I have asthma. I literally could not leave to study. It was totally debilitating. This apocalypse, far-off world that we keep talking about, climate change is not far off anymore. It’s here right now, and the clock is ticking. And honestly, we’ve run out of time, so we have to do this now.

DHARNA NOOR: For The Real News, with Taylor Hebden, I’m Dharna Noor.

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Dharna Noor is a staff writer at Earther, Gizmodo's climate vertical.