Sanders, climate activists urge action to create grassroots environmental movement

Media Credit: Arielle Bader | Hatchet Photographer

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., spoke to attendees of the "Fossil Free Fast: The Climate Resistance" event Wednesday night in Lisner Auditorium.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and group of climate change activists spoke about the importance of reducing fossil fuel emissions at an event in Lisner Auditorium Wednesday.

Sanders along with Bill McKibben, the co-founder of the climate group 350.org, Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., the president and CEO of the community activism group Hip Hop Caucus and other activists discussed the importance of respecting the environment and staving off the impacts of climate change by moving away from fossil fuel and toward alternative energy sources.

The event, “Fossil Free Fast: The Climate Resistance,” was organized by a group of environmental organizations to discuss climate issues the day after President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address.

In case you missed it, here are some highlights from the event:

1. Criticizing Trump

After a brief performance by the Howard University Gospel Choir, Sanders took the stage to talk about climate change and expressed his disappointment at having to attend the State of the Union address the previous night, but said it was his role as a senator to attend.

Sanders said Trump’s policies surrounding sustainable energy and the actions of administrators in the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy are in direct opposition to scientific facts about climate change.

“But we should not be surprised,” Sanders said about Trump’s omission of climate change from Tuesday’s address. “Because Donald Trump, one the great scientists of our time, has determined after years and years of exhaustive study, that climate change is a hoax brought to us from China.”

2. Intersectionality of the climate movement

Over the course of the night, activists from many different backgrounds — black, white, Native American, male, female, gender non-binary and undocumented immigrants – spoke about their experiences and how they related to climate change and environmental justice.

“We cannot separate climate and environmental justice from other struggles for justice,” said Jameka Hodnett, a national field organizer for the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 Campaign, which aims to encourage cities and towns to commit to getting 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources.

Jacqueline Patterson, the director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program and the first person the NAACP ever hired to work solely on climate justice, took to the stage and said that minority groups are the ones that suffer the worst effects of climate change and pollution because major plants are often built in low-income and minority communities.

“At the NAACP, we know children, like Elijah, from Indiantown, Florida, who lives near a coal plant and has such severe asthma that he is dependent on taking a handful of drugs every day in order to be able to get through the day so that his air passages are open and he’ll be able to survive,” Patterson said.

The speakers also recognized that the movement for climate justice extended beyond the United States’ continental borders, adding that their organizations are challenging the use of coal-fired power plants all over the world.

3. Grassroots campaigns

Many of the speakers at the event acknowledged the enormous difficulties of getting the United States to switch entirely to renewable energy sources, given that the Republican Party, which has been resistant to support climate change legislation, controls the White House and both houses of Congress.

“To stop the fossil fuel industry while Donald Trump is in office, it only means to have to organize better, we’re going to have to be braver, we’re going to have to take bolder action,” Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network, said.

Speakers focused on the impact grassroots efforts can have at the local level. Hodnett, a field organizer with the Sierra Club, said that already 56 cities and six countries have committed to transition entirely to renewable energy at varying future dates.

The mayor of one of those cities, New York City’s Bill de Blasio, addressed the audience through video to announce his administration’s steps to curb climate change, including a pledge to use renewable energy to power the city, to divest city pension funds from companies that own fossil fuel reserves and to sue major fossil fuel companies including BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell for their role in affecting climate change.

“Big oil think they’re living in Trump’s America,” de Blasio said. “They’re wrong. They’re living in your America.”

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