Stopping the Climate Crisis: The Time to Act is Now

On November 9 at 7 p.m. in the Anita Tuvin Schlechter Auditorium, Varshini Prakash offered a lecture called “Stopping the Climate Crisis: The Time to Act is Now.” Prakash is the executive director and co-founder of the Sunrise Movement, “a grassroots organization of young people working to stop climate change and create good-paying jobs in the process.” They currently have over 400 hubs nationwide. Founded in 2017, the Sunrise Movement takes political action through grassroots initiatives in the hopes of getting a Green New Deal, and so much more. This Green New Deal promotes a move to clean, renewable energy, while guaranteeing high-paying jobs for workers transitioning to clean energy industries. Prakash’s work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, BBC News, and others. She was named to Forbes’ 30 under 30 list for law and policy and the TIME 100 Next, a list of rising stars shaping politics, popular culture, science, and more. She is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she, along with other students, worked to make UMass the first major public university to divest from fossil fuels. Additionally, she is this year’s recipient of the Dickinson College 2021 Rose-Walters Prize for Global Environmental Activism. Each year, this $100,000 prize is given to an individual or organization that strives to make a worthwhile impact and change for our planet, its people, and its resources. In recent years, the prize has been awarded to Armond Cohen, the founder and executive director of the Clean Air Task Force (CATF), The National Resources Defense Council, Our Children’s Trust, and so many others. Prakash will join this legacy in using this generous donation to strive for a better world for all.

At her lecture, Varshini Prakash began with a pivotal life experience that inspired her lifelong mission for change. Prakash stated, “the thing that brought me to this fight is the heart.” She watched the devastating tsunami in India on the news and, as a kid, felt that, other than donating a few of her family’s canned goods, there wasn’t much she could do to help make substantial change. This continued  as the world faced constant natural disasters, like Hurricane Katrina, and Prakash saw the issues of food and water access worldwide. She knew something needed to change, and that she could be a part of that change. She believes that we each have a moral obligation to fix the problems and inequalities of our world. Prakash offered a quote from Frederick Douglass which states, “Power concedes to nothing without a demand, it never has, it never will.” She reminded the audience that those in the fight for environmental justice cannot wait for institutions to make significant change, simply out of the kindness of their hearts. People must use their voices to push back against our current society, calling for organizations to stop investing in unrenewable resources, like coal, oil, and gas, if they wish for a different future for our world. Without young people taking a stand, Prakash argues that nothing will ever change.

Prakash offered a clear outline for the components necessary to win the fight for environmental justice in America.

  1. People Power: a large, vocal, active base of public support
  2. Political Power: enthusiastically supportive government officials
  3. A New Common Sense: a society governed by a new set of values based in dignity, equality, and justice

The work of the Sunrise Movement and others in the fight for Environmental Justice has certainly made an impact, in spite of all that still needs to be changed. Their efforts have made climate matter in American politics, popularized a vision for worthwhile solutions, and fostered the creation of thousands of new leaders and engaged citizens all across America. While the Sunrise Movement continues to grow daily, she reminded the audience that substantial numbers are still needed to truly win this fight. Despite the constant challenges faced by the movement, Prakash maintains hope in this mission because she believes “the only failure that exists, is the failure to strive.” She urges young people to try again and again, even despite their failures. Each time, they will come back stronger and stronger until, eventually, they win.

Written by Grace Moore ’21, WGRC student worker

November 18, 2021