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The Sunrise Movement’s Baltimore hub held a town hall on how a federal Green New Deal could help Baltimore—especially Baltimore’s most vulnerable residents

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Photo credit: Ryan Harvey

DHARNA NOOR: It’s The Real News. I’m Dharna Noor. Over 100 people gathered at the War Memorial Building on Tuesday to take up the question: What would a Green New Deal mean for Baltimore? Sunrise Baltimore members invited community advocates to talk about local environmental and climate issues, and explained the proposal for a federal Green New Deal.

GREG WILSON: We brought a plan to Congress that matches the urgency and scale of the crisis.

DHARNA NOOR: The event came one day after a town hall hosted by the national youth-led environmental group the Sunrise Movement in DC, featuring representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others. There Sunrise advocates stressed the importance of a Green New Deal that supports the local climate action.

RHIANA GUNN-WRIGHT: The question is how do you support that movement, and how do you learn what has worked, and how do you scale it up? So that’s the bridge. And it’s much less the federal government telling locals what to do, but rather trying to learn from locals, figuring out how to scale things up, where is support, and how do we ensure continued funding?

DHARNA NOOR: So at their Tuesday town hall, Baltimore’s Sunrise hub and local social and environmental advocates gathered to talk about how the federal government could support Baltimore in making better climate policy.

GREG WILSON: So the national Green New Deal is going to incorporate huge, huge, huge amounts of money for things like water infrastructure, transportation infrastructure, in addition to changing our energy sources. We know that right here in Baltimore one of our problems is with our energy source, with the incinerators and the pollution that they put off. So changing where we get our energy, how we get our energy, is one of the things that the Green New Deal is going to be able to provide to communities, and changing and adding public transit is going to be a big thing.

NAADIYA HUTCHINSON: The Green New Deal would mean for Baltimore that we’re seeing more clean energy and green-focused jobs.

DHARNA NOOR: They also talked about what state and local climate action should look like.

JOSHUA HARRIS: The federal government can make a large impact with this. Also lots of things we can be doing locally on the state and on the city level to begin to reduce our carbon footprint here in Baltimore City alone.

NAADIYA HUTCHINSON: If we’re looking at years, and people having less school days because of extreme heat and extreme cold and snow, then we’re looking at people being in school for less time. We need to just better equip our buildings to handle these extreme heat and extreme cold days.

DHARNA NOOR: Baltimore is a majority Black and working class city, and advocates stress that a Green New Deal must put those most impacted by pollution and environmental degradation at the forefront.

JOSHUA HARRIS: We know that historically it has been low income people of color who’ve been displaced and impacted by climate change. Whether you want to talk about globally the response to Hurricane Sandy compared to the response to Hurricane Katrina, whether you want to talk about locally the response to Ellicott City’s flooding compared to Southwest Baltimore’s flooding, of which we’ve seen very little coverage of in the news. When we talk about access to food, access to clean water, we look at Flint. And we look at Baltimore not being too far behind Flint with our infrastructure in the fact that our children cannot drink the water from the water fountains in their school.

DHARNA NOOR: Critics fear that local sustainability policies will be too expensive, and some fear that residents who are already struggling will bear the costs. But Green New Deal advocates say they’re pushing for more funding from the federal government so that working people don’t have to bear the costs.

A lot of these infrastructure changes are going to be expensive, but a lot of people are already struggling economically, and we should not be putting this burden of trying to do this infrastructure change that we have known about for centuries on to already low income people. We should be pushing that on the federal government and on the institutions that have caused us to be in this problem.

DHARNA NOOR: They say electeds must do a far better job of governing for the people, rather than for big money interests.

JOSHUA HARRIS: Baltimore Gas and Electric has had or requested six rate hikes in the last seven years, right, knowing that Baltimore Gas and Electric Electric, BG&E, in the 2016 mayoral election donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to a particular candidate, either them directly or their executives, right.

DHARNA NOOR: The stakes couldn’t be higher. On May 11, global CO2 emissions hit their highest level in history. The implications for Baltimore are huge.

GREG WILSON: We’re a coastal city, and really, one of our biggest economic areas is right on the water. If sea level rises above about three feet, four feet, which we could easily see in the next century if we don’t take drastic action to stop climate change, then Baltimore’s right now wealthiest areas are going to be underwater.

DHARNA NOOR: That’s why, moving into 2020, advocates are demanding that candidates take a new approach to government–one that puts people and the planet first.

JOSHUA HARRIS: It’s no longer good enough for us to just get in elected office and become complacent there. It’s no longer good enough for us just to respond to calls of fix potholes. It’s no longer good enough for us to just show up occasionally to a community event. We have to actually be focused on creating and developing and doing the research for what are real life tangible solutions that is going to move Baltimore City into the 21st century with a 21st century economy.

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

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