Roughly 30 New Haven area residents met Wednesday evening to learn about Sunrise — a new national youth movement to take action on climate change — and debate what a Green New Deal might look like in the Nutmeg state.

On Wednesday, organizer for Sunrise New Haven Nora Heaphy ’21 said the campaign was founded in 2018 out of frustration that politicians in office were not taking sufficient action to combat climate change. Sunrise hopes to increase U.S. clean energy consumption by 2030, invest in low-income communities most directly affected by pollution and create a job guarantee in green industries.

“California was on fire for most of this fall. We’ve had huge hurricanes hitting Puerto Rico, Florida and the Carolinas,” Heaphy said. “The good news is that we have the solutions. We have the technology to fix climate change … The only reason that it’s not happening right now is a handful of fossil fuel billionaires and corrupt politicians who are standing in the way.”

Sunrise garnered national attention last November when 150 demonstrators engaged in a sit-in at the Capitol office of then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to call for a more progressive action plan on climate change.

In addition, the movement has partnered with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., to create a proposal for a Green New Deal. In recent interviews, potential and declared Democratic presidential primary candidates like Sens. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren have expressed their support for progressive legislation on climate change, though few concrete policy details have emerged.

Chris Schweitzer, an activist with the New Haven Climate Movement, said a Green New Deal could be implemented on multiple levels of government, from federal to state to local. He suggested Connecticut’s version may simply increase funding for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, create “pay as you throw” programs that charge residents based on the amount of trash they create and encourage city governments to create their own green initiatives.

“[We need to] take care of our own emissions, because it’s a dependent economy, and as long as you ask who’s had the luxury of burning massive tons of fossil fuels in the last hundred years and made tons of money off of that,” Schweitzer said. “We created the problem — we by far historically created more emissions than anybody else. We need to take responsibility.”

On Jan. 9, 53 Connecticut state representatives, including Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, jointly introduced a bill to develop a Green New Deal that would “provide additional funding for such new and other existing programs concerning energy efficiency, the deployment of renewable energy resources, sustainability initiatives and resiliency,” according to the bill proposal itself.

Sarah Ganong, a political director for CT Working Families, said she thinks newly elected Gov. Ned Lamont SOM ’80 is more progressive than former Gov. Dannel Malloy on environmental issues and is optimistic that the bill will pass. However, she added that the act currently contains no concrete details on what a Connecticut Green New Deal would look like and may represent politicians using a “buzzword.”

Ganong emphasized that activists and politicians have to repeat now-fringe ideas, like a carbon tax, to get them popular enough to pass. Her own experience in political activism showed that constant lobbying can drastically change the political conversation, she said.

Attendee and New Haven resident Linda Rogen said she was frustrated with how state and federal politicians have held a gradual approach to climate change up to this point.

“It doesn’t matter if everybody has consensus [on climate policy] — it needs to happen,” she said. “There’s something about this whole movement right now which is like, the house is on fire, and it’s still not like, ‘Wait a minute.’ … There’s nobody speaking to it like it’s a crisis.”

In 2018, Lamont pledged to hold Connecticut to the standards set in the Paris climate agreement, despite President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement in 2017.

Will Wang | will.wang@yale.edu