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At 11 a.m. on Friday, March 15, students from all over Manhattan will gather on Low Steps to demand massive action on climate change. We do not convene out of some primal need to shout, or to support some empty “marketing campaign,” as Jimmy Quinn suggests in his March 7 column. Rather, we raise our voices for a distinct purpose: to remind our community of the dangers of inaction.

Invoking the wit of Ronald Reagan, Quinn suggests that Columbia’s unofficial motto might be “we are the future.” It should be. Not only are we the future because of our age, a simple demographic fact; we also have extreme privilege. The power that comes with the skills and reputation we receive from this institution may not be apparent while we struggle through problem sets and papers, but the weight of our alma mater is not lost on alumni. At a Core Curriculum event at Miller Theatre on November 17, 2017, former Attorney General Eric Holder, CC ’73, Law ’76, reminded sophomores that we will go on to hold disproportionate power as business executives, lawyers, doctors, politicians, and the like.

Sunrise Columbia, part of the national movement of young people fighting climate change through political action, tries to use the power and privilege we already have to spur meaningful change before it’s too late. We visit and write letters to our representatives, asking them to act. We rally and write to newspapers to let the public know we are concerned for our futures.

By now, we’ve all probably heard that climate change poses an existential threat. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report and the U.S. climate report agree that it is an economic, national security, and public health threat with huge ramifications. The majority of Americans want action. We agree on the “what,” but we are getting stuck on the “how.”

In February, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced the Green New Deal (GND) as a framework to address the “how,” outlining a series of ambitious goals for a transition off of fossil fuels. Over 100 members of Congress support the GND, but many others dismiss it as either a utopian ideal or a socialist scheme to destroy America. The GND is neither. It is, in fact, technologically possible, and, while costly, it will not break the bank. Nor will it outlaw cows, airplanes, or meat-eaters.

The GND is just another example of the ambitious and highly beneficial infrastructure projects undertaken periodically in the United States, such as Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System, or the New Deal that helped lift the country out of the Great Depression. Government investment in infrastructure, a common-pool resource, is a smart economic move. Further, our antiquated energy grid is holding the U.S. economy back; not only are Wall Street investors itching to fund GND-type projects, green energy already creates more jobs than oil, gas, and coal combined.

Sunrise Columbia focuses on the GND for two main reasons. First, it addresses the climate crisis with a solution scaled to fit the problem. Second, it acknowledges the interconnectedness of the social, economic, and environmental problems this country faces. If an energy revolution is already required to address climate change, it is common sense to employ the folks who need work the most, and address this country’s rampant inequality. After all, climate change will impact marginalized communities disproportionately. The pure economic focus of the carbon dividends planrogram that Quinn mentions in his column, a gradually increasing tax on carbon supported by many high-profile economists, does not disqualify the program in the eyes of Sunrise activists. However, it does indicate that a broader plan is necessary if the social impacts of climate change are to be addressed. Some suggest that a combination of the two plans could be politically viable. Such a plan would have our backing, as long as it was large-scale and ensured a just transition.

Skeptics may take issue with the matter-of-fact rhetoric of climate activism at Columbia, but they shouldn’t: Sunrise’s frankness is productive. When we ask “what’s your plan?”, we are simply asking if our representatives have a plan to combat climate change—something they have lacked for 10ten years. Our goals are dialogue, decision, and action. When Sunrise protesters asked Senator Dianne Feinstein to support the GND recently, she claimed it wouldn’t work, and that she was writing a better plan. But Feinstein has been in office since 1992; why didn’t she have a plan before?

The IPCC report shows that business as usual is a destructive path toward catastrophic climate change. In such a situation, inaction from those in power amounts to a vote for catastrophe. When Sunrise asks, “Which side are you on?”, we hope to remind politicians that they are voting no matter what. We also hope to get normal people asking themselves, “Do I care? What do I have to lose? What action could I take?”

Members of Sunrise Columbia are excited to stand in solidarity with Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg on Friday as we demand action from those who represent us. We may be young, and we may be loud, but Jimmy Quinn has no reason to worry about his bonds. However, if he’s looking to diversify his portfolio, he might consider investing in a green mutual fund.

Colleen B. Schmidt is a Columbia College junior studying environmental biology, and the writing coordinator for Sunrise Columbia. If you’re interested in Sunrise or the nutrient interactions between small plants and big plants, send her an email at cbs2166@columbia.edu.

To respond to this letter, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.


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