Rhode Island is facing a climate crisis. Since 1956, Providence’s sea level has risen approximately five inches, and scientists now predict that over the next 16 years levels will continue to rise another six inches, at a more rapid rate (NOAA). Rising sea levels have led to recovery and revitalization projects throughout Rhode Island that have cost the state millions of dollars, including the $11 million in damages to Newport’s Cliff Walk after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The state now also plans to use over $100 million to create sea level rise mitigation measures like restoration projects, flood prevention and new seawalls to mitigate future disasters.
These proposed projects that would utilize Rhode Islanders taxpayer dollars are merely band-aid solutions to tackle aspects of global climate change. In other words, they are not helping to address the underlying issues that are accelerating the Earth’s warming and its associated effects. Although these mitigation efforts will be necessary to combat sea level rise and prevent destruction of Rhode Islands coastline and communities, what is needed in conjunction with mitigation techniques are revolutionary policies and decisions that center around prevention. Climate change can be slowed going forward, but it is up to voters to decide how to change the tide on what feels like an insurmountable problem.
Enter the Sunrise Movement: a movement to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process (Sunrise Movement). Established in 2017, this growing bipartisan force for change looks to grassroots organizations among all Americans to highlight why climate change should be considered an urgent priority of lawmakers and voters around the country. Currently, dozens of chapters throughout the United States, composed primarily of passionate, environmentally-conscious volunteers, work locally to organize support for leaders who already stand up to climate change and elect new leaders to end the corrupting influence of fossil fuel executives on American politics (Sunrise Movement). In 2018, the Sunrise Movement joined Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey to launch the Green New Deal Resolution with 64 co-sponsors, a resolution focused on sparking conversation about climate change prevention and solutions. Additional members of congress have recently joined the movement, and are co-sponsoring the resolution. The movement has recently begun holding 2020 democratic candidates accountable to their green ideals and promises by getting 14 presidential candidates, including Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Beto O’Rourke and Kirsten Gillibrand, to take a pledge against fossil fuel donations. Sunrise is also currently rallying folks around the country to attend or engage in the July 30-31 democratic debates.
Rhode Islanders can, and should, get involved in this movement by joining either of the Providence or South County Sunrise Movements hubs. The newly established Sunrise South County hub will be having an informal, informational gathering at Bagelz in Wakefield on Sunday, June 30 at 12 p.m. to provide more details about the movement, its goals and how Rhode Island can get more involved in the organization at the local level. Whether you live in the rural communities of Burrillville or Coventry, on the coasts of Aquidneck Island or anywhere in between, together all Rhode Islanders should fight against the climate crisis to preserve beautiful Rhode Island for ourselves and our children.
Sabrina Pereira is a lifelong Rhode Island resident, recent graduate of the Marine Affairs program at the University of Rhode Island and a NOAA Coastal Management Fellow.