Young people have been making a lot of noise around the urgency of climate change, and they aren’t quieting down. Following the hotly debated release of the Green New Deal and last month’s Youth Climate Marches in 123 cities, young people in the U.S. are plotting their next high-impact climate action. The Sunrise Movement (the organization pressuring candidates to approve the Green New Deal) plans to stage a massive protest at the first Democratic Primary debate.

group of youth activists stand on stage during rally

The Democratic National Committee announced in March that the first debate will be held in Miami on June 26. Long before the date and location were known, the Sunrise Movement began plotting to disrupt the event and make it impossible for the candidates, media and millions of viewers to avoid their climate questions. Their goal is to make sure all presidential hopefuls acknowledge the gravity of climate change and discuss their specific platforms.

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Miami is the perfect location for a debate focused on the impacts of climate change – the city stands to lose between 13 and 34 inches to sea level rise by 2060.

Globally, there has been a shift in media and public attention related to climate change and the urgency of taking action. Some of this new attention is thanks to vocal groups like the Sunrise Movement and youth leaders like Greta Thunberg. Some activists have been galvanized by worrisome news, like the International Panel on Climate Change’s recent report that the catastrophic impacts of climate change will be irreversible if not addressed within the next 12 years. Still others are alarmed by the uptick in natural disasters – wildfires in California, hurricanes from Texas to Puerto Rico and cyclones in Mozambique.

According to a recent poll, 80 percent of Americans believe it is important for presidential candidates to spend “a lot” of time talking about their climate change platforms, with only health care ranking higher as a priority issue.

group of youth activists stand on stage during rally

Holding politicians feet to the fire

“We’re seeing a shift in people’s consciousness,” Janet Redman, Greenpeace’s climate program manager, told Mother Jones. “We need to see that starting to be reflected in our politics—that it’s not an isolated set of incidents or phenomenon. The public is craving politicians to have a conversation on this. They want to know real solutions.” Greenpeace has signed on to Sunrise Movement’s plan to disrupt the debate, along with other environmental advocacy groups including 350.org, Credo Action and Friends of the Earth.

The Democratic National Convention does not control the questions at the debate – the TV network hosting the event gets to choose. However, previous debates have focused on single themes before – such as the economy or national security. Climate activists argue that previous debate questions about the environment have been too vague. Questions like “Do you believe climate change is real?” are no longer adequate for the majority of young people, who accept climate science and want concrete solutions, specific proposals and accountability.

“My fear is there will be some softball climate questions that aren’t specific, aren’t digging deep, [and] therefore make it hard for us to make any candidate who is elected accountable,” said Janet Redman. “What we’re trying to do by focusing on primaries is pulling the entire field of candidates to bolder positions.”

What questions would they like to hear? Redman explained questions that force candidates to take explicit positions will help the American public understand their different stances and make informed voting decisions. For example, she would like to see questions as specific as demanding candidates express their opinions about leasing public land to fossil fuel companies.

group of youth activists stand on stage during rally

Plans to #ChangetheDebate

“Our demands are simple: all presidential contenders must back the Green New Deal or face the contempt of young people everywhere, and the mainstream media must fully cover climate change or slide further into irrelevance,” Lora Zaguilan, a Sunrise Movement organizer in Northern California told Inhabitat.

Over ten million people tune in to watch the debates, so the protests have the potential to create a massive, but peaceful, impact. “The tactics like civil disobedience and powerful stories that we used to put the Green New Deal on the map in D.C. this past Fall are some of our best tools,” says the Sunrise website. The site calls on activists and young people to show up in Miami for the debate, claiming thousands have already registered to attend what is being called by its hashtag, #ChangetheDebate.

Via Mother Jones
Images via Ella McDonald