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Sunrise Movement on Midterm Election: If GOP Takes Congress, Climate Action Will Be Stalled, Reversed

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Image Credit: Sunrise Movement

The climate movement warns the midterm elections will either advance or torpedo climate initiatives in the U.S. This comes as climate activists and scientists at the U.N. climate summit in Egypt cautioned that the world is heading toward climate disaster without deeper cuts in planet-heating emissions. “We are up against a ticking time bomb of an unrelenting climate crisis and an economic crisis that is bearing down on working people,” says Varshini Prakash of the Sunrise Movement, which has reached 3 million young voters to get out the vote in the midterms. Prakash also explains how parts of President Biden’s climate legislation passed this year could be stalled or reversed if Republicans take back control of Congress in 2023.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Climate activists and scientists are warning the world is heading toward climate disaster without deeper cuts in planet-heating emissions. They’re also making the same demands and more here in the United States in the 2022 midterm elections taking place today. The outcome of the elections will be key in either advancing or torpedoing climate initiatives here and could undermine President Biden’s efforts to portray the U.S. as a climate leader — climate change-denying Republicans, if they win overwhelmingly.

For more, we’re joined by Varshini Prakash, co-founder and executive director of the Sunrise Movement, which has been helping to get out the vote.

Welcome back to Democracy Now! Varshini, we have a lot to take on here. Your organization, the Sunrise Movement, has always been a climate justice movement, combining the issue of climate crisis with human rights. At the U.N. climate summit, as we speak, we just heard the sister of Alaa Abd El-Fattah demanding his release from prison, a political prisoner. And at the same time, she and other climate activists are talking about the critical importance of being serious about dealing with the climate. Can you put it all together for people here in the United States, and especially on this Election Day, what these elections mean, not only for the United States but for the world?

VARSHINI PRAKASH: Absolutely. And thank you again for having me here.

We, as you have mentioned, we are up against a ticking time bomb of an unrelenting climate crisis and an economic crisis that is bearing down on working people and already hurting so many. This is not a domestic issue, this is a global issue. We have seen climate disasters like the hurricanes in Puerto Rico and Florida, the record heat waves all across Europe, I mean, Pakistan completely submerged, an entire country submerged, and the millions of climate refugees that are emerging from all of those collective crises. So, you know, and as you mentioned, the absolute paltry amount that historical polluters like the United States have contributed to countries to support the reparations and the repair that will need to be done from these major disasters.

And so, you know, we have passed earlier this year one of the largest pieces of climate legislation ever passed by a single country, and we saw how difficult it was to pass that climate legislation with a Democratic majority holding the House and the Senate and presidency, the fact that it had to go through, essentially, a coal baron in Joe Manchin. And the stakes of this election, if either of those houses — if either the House or the Senate goes to Republicans, is essentially that we have lost even a greater shot at federal legislation. We are seeing Republicans running who have said before that climate change is [bleep]. That was Ron Johnson, sitting senator in Wisconsin, whom Mandela Barnes is running against, who Sunrise has endorsed. They don’t believe in climate action. And that is why this election is so critical, because what is on the ballot is not Democrat versus Republican, it is a chance at greater action to stave off the greatest crisis of our generation, or, frankly, willful denial, after decades of science, that will lead to our collective annihilation. And so, you know, that is what is on the ballot today.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Varshini, if that’s true, why do you think that the climate crisis has registered so low in terms of all polling of Americans as they head to the polls today, whether it’s the Republicans — their main concerns are inflation, crime, immigration. On the Democratic side, it’s the preservation of democracy and abortion, but very little talk of the continuing and escalating catastrophe on the climate. Why is that registering still so low among the American public?

VARSHINI PRAKASH: Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot going on in the world and in our country right now, and we have seen an effort on the part of Republicans to actively create disinformation and to revoke some of our most essential rights as humans, as Americans in the last couple of years.

But I think something that brings me hope in this election — and I work with a lot of young people — already we are seeing more young people registered to vote than we did even in 2018, and we are hoping for another record-breaking cycle for youth voter turnout. And I think a lot of that is because our generation is mobilized by things like taking action on climate change and student loan debt cancellation. It is essential that our government invests in our generation and in everyday people, and that young people actually respond well to that federal investment in them.

We’ve seen that in the polling, as well. So, looking at Biden’s poll numbers from the spring to now, young people were deeply unexcited to vote months ago. And after Joe Biden passed a climate bill, a gun bill and moved to cancel student loans, they have improved significantly.

There are still a lot of barriers along the way, and some of the main issues that we’re hearing on the ground are that young people don’t have enough information. They aren’t being communicated with in the way that other voters in these swing states do. But when they have the information and they are encouraged and supported to get out and vote, they are far more likely to vote for Democrats.

And so, we’re also hearing, you know, we’ve got young people — we’ve made over 3 million voter contacts across the country. We’ve got, you know, young people in dorms and talking to thousands of young people. We’re hearing that some of the top issues on the ground are climate change and abortion. And now we really have to connect the dots for people from the concerns they hold in their everyday lives to the policies that are being passed and the political terrain that can be won if they engage in these elections.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And can you talk about how both Democrats and Republicans are dealing with what seems to be a revival of the fossil fuel industry largely as a result of the war in Ukraine? You have the fracking industry in the United States, of course, now rushing to provide more gas to Europe as Europe searches for more sources of energy to replace its Russian supplies. How are both Democrats and Republicans dealing with this issue of — well, how do you fight climate change while at the same time allowing new growth in the fossil fuel industry?

VARSHINI PRAKASH: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I mean, frankly, it’s the same refrain that we have been hearing for 40, 50 years. It is the same playbook of the richest industry in the history of the world, that is attempting to protect its bottom line and using every tool in its toolbox in its dying years in order to do so. And so, I think, frankly, what we saw with the war in Ukraine was the fossil fuel industry using that moment to say, “This is our opportunity to drill and frack and increase our reliance on oil.”

And we cannot afford to do so. I mean, we are seeing — everybody is seeing viscerally and with their own eyes the impact that this crisis is having on them. And it is only going to get worse from here. This is just the beginning. And so, we cannot afford to have this moment be increasing our dependency on our addiction to oil and gas. We need to use this moment and push people like Joe Biden to declare a climate emergency, to utilize things like the Defense Production Act to ramp up the production of renewable energy, and see it as, frankly, the largest national security threat that is posing, you know, us as — in America, as well as our global economy.

AMY GOODMAN: Varshini Prakash, I want to thank you so much for being with us, co-founder and executive director of the Sunrise Movement, speaking to us from Boston, Massachusetts.

Next week, Democracy Now! will be broadcasting throughout the week from Egypt from the U.N. climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh.

And today we are going to be doing a live three-hour broadcast tonight beginning at 9:00 Eastern time on the midterm elections. Check it out at democracynow.org.

Next up, we go to Arizona, where Republicans are attempting to suppress voting on Native American reservations. Then, Election Protection on this midterm Election Day. We’ll speak with the head of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Stay with us.

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