The Sunrise Drama Is More Complicated Than It Looks

Hey Hot Cakes!

A lot of climate world spent last week watching Sunrise Movement fight amongst themselves in public. A lot of people had a lotta thoughts on the subject, but we couldn't help but feel like... damn, we hope they work it out. One of our researchers, Georgia Wright (also the co-host and producer of the great Inherited podcast) is a Sunrise member; she shared some great insights with us over text and we encouraged her to turn them into a post for the newsletter (thanks Georgia!). That's here, along with posts on re-thinking climate refugees, the latest climate coverage numbers, the California drought, the G7 Summit and climate, and of course the weekly digest of climate stories.

Happy reading!

The Sunrise Drama Is More Complicated Than It Looks

By Georgia Wright

On Tuesday, the former Creative Director of the Sunrise Movement dropped a bomb of a thread on Twitter. Alex O’Keefe, a prominent Black leader within the movement who led projects such as Ed Markey’s Green New Dealmaker ad, claimed that he had been terminated as a staff member after sending out an internal letter.

The thread aired a number of concerns and complaints about Sunrise Movement leadership, from the personal to the structural. However, the narrative immediately became more complex. Within hours, Sunrise Executive Director Varshini Prakash had tweeted, “Alex, I love you... but this isn’t what happened. You haven’t shown up for work in months.” The next day, Prakash’s response was corroborated by a public letter signed by the remaining fifteen members of Sunrise’s full-time Black staffers.

As a former volunteer for the NYC chapter of Sunrise, I was one of many young people on a rollercoaster of conflicting emotions last week. It feels impossibly sad and complex to see the movement’s noble goals derailed by such serious claims, and it would be so much easier to come down hard on one side or the other, to throw my weight ferociously behind a single narrative and be done with it. But black-and-white thinking doesn’t get at the root causes of anything, even if Twitter rewards it. We have to lean into the nuance here.

What is helpful, I think, is teasing apart the personal claims (O’Keefe’s firing and behavior as a staff member) from the larger claims (Sunrise doesn’t contribute to mutual aid, for example). Let’s leave the personal claims to the side, then, and focus on the structural ones instead.

Some of these bigger allegations: Sunrise is co-opted by megadonors, Sunrise doesn’t care about mutual aid, Sunrise is abandoning the Green New Deal, Sunrise is failing to recruit and maintain Black membership. The problem with analyzing these big claims (and, probably, the reason that many of them exist) is that Sunrise has scaled up MASSIVELY in a short period of time. They are not the first movement to experience growing pains as they leverage their newfound political power (a seat at the table in the Biden White House!) while simultaneously managing the concerns of their base (an ever growing number of disparate, volunteer-led hubs springing up across the country).

So while I can’t synthesize everything from my vantage point, here is what my own experience analyzing the movement has taught me: Sunrise, on the whole, is very white. They’ve struggled with their partnerships with POC-led organizations, even as they’ve made good-faith efforts to repair them. There is often tension between the (paid) members of the National staff and the (unpaid) members who are the lifeblood of the local hubs, like Sunrise NYC. It is a struggle to communicate between leadership and volunteers. Often, it feels like the local hubs are completely discrete organizations from the conglomerate of paid folks at the top. Burnout is a big problem, particularly for the unpaid volunteers. And of course, the fact that most positions are unpaid means that many low-income folks (primarily folks of color, then) have an intrinsic barrier to entry.

Zooming out even further, we stumble upon an even bigger truth: extractive capitalism and white supremacy are terrifyingly powerful forces. They have a way of poisoning even the most value-driven nonprofits and grassroots organizations, they force well-intentioned people to capitulate and make tough decisions, they try to make us fail. They are the cause of the climate crisis. They are why a generation of young people is in the position of self-governance in the first place – our government has become too broken by these forces to respond appropriately to the crisis that these forces, too, have caused. It is the challenge of all of our lifetimes to resist them. Our future quite literally depends on it.

Instead of “cancelling” Sunrise, or defending it mindlessly, we can use the issues that have been raised over the course of this week to analyze how these big, harmful, deeply rooted forces are trying to shape our interpersonal relationships, our organizations, and our world. Engaging deeply is our only chance of survival. So let’s get to it.

Oil and Gas Refugees

By Mary Annaïse Heglar

Last year, the New York Times and ProPublica collaborated on a masterful series on the climate migration phenomenon. It documented the places that are predicted to lose—and the one place that is expected to gain—population as the climate continues to warm, and all the legal red tape that keeps people from finding safe harbor.

The role of climate as a migration motivator was invisible no more, even though “climate refugee” is not yet a legal designation. (Granted, the United Nations made a ruling last year that acknowledged climate refugees can exist, but still has a ways to go before making it official or accessible.)

I want to posit that there’s another rampant refugee creator out there that we don’t talk about nearly enough: the fossil fuel industry. A good deal of colonialism and neocolonialism was driven by the pursuit of oil and gas. It destabilized the entire Middle East and led to the nasty, neverending wars all over the world. It destroyed the ancestral homelands of Indigenous people throughout the Amazon in South America, displacing people from homes that had been theirs since the beginning of time. Even when it doesn’t create wars, it makes land unfarmable, air unbreathable, and life unlivable. And that’s before climate change.

So, perhaps “climate refugees” shouldn’t be thought of as a subset of “environmental refugees.” Perhaps what we truly need is a new category of “oil and gas refugees.” And perhaps then, we’d see people fleeing from war and people fleeing from storms all under the same umbrella. And then we’d see the moral obligation to save them includes not just giving them somewhere to run to, but to stop the thing they’re running from.

California's Drought Is a Window Into Our Climate-Constrained Future

By Amy Westervelt

California had a historically dry winter, which means the state's snowpack hit zero percent of average by June 1st. As a lifelong Californian, that is fucking terrifying. For everyone else, though, let me explain what that means: California's water is directly tied to the snowpack in its Sierra Nevada mountains, it provides a third of the state's fresh water supply.

I happen to live in those mountains and they are known for epic amounts of snow. Roofs have to be engineered differently here—that's how much snow we get. The winter before this past one? We got more than 20 feet in February alone. Remember back in 2014 when all you heard about was the Cali drought? Well, a bunch of people declared the drought “over” after a couple of heavy-snow winters. They were wrong then and they’re wrong now. Because the climate has changed already. So here we are, just a year after the latest crazy winter and people are talking about the state's mega-drought. As mega-drought mixes with hot vax summer and people begin driving and camping all over the state, the likelihood of disasterous fires will increase too. Last year more than twice the number of acres burned in California than have ever burned, but there is still plenty of fuel for fire, and all the ingredients are there.

What's even more concerning than the rapidly melting snow is the fact that it's not even making it to rivers and reservoirs because the land is so parched. That's left the state's reservoirs at well below capacity. All the reservoirs in Northern California are at half capacity or less, for example, prompting most counties in that part of the state (which includes the Bay Area and Silicon Valley) to issue emergency water restrictions. 95 percent of the state is now officially in a "severe drought."

Now look, this is not the first time we've seen such restrictions. When I was a kid and I traveled to a different state for the first time, I marveled at how they just *give* you water in restaurants. For most of my life in California, one of the many little ways we saved water was that you had to ask for it in a restaurant. You don't water your lawn, you don't take long showers—this is part of life as a Californian. But the key, of course, is not just individual residents curbing their water use.

Water is a commodity here, and it has been for a long time. Which means there's an intense amount of corruption and mismanagement around it. When journalists come here from the East Coast, one of the first things they do is write about how crazy the politics and grift are around water, and us locals chuckle and go "yes, yes, welcome." But it's just sort of been that way forever. Now, with not only drought but intensifying heat and wildfires, it's time to do something about it, to adapt not just our behavior but the state's entire approach to water. To re-think how reservoirs are built and whether they fit the changing climate, to really grapple with whether it makes sense to send so much of the state's water to farmland that should never have been planted in the first place, to force the state's cities to embrace better water conservation approaches, and to fix all the damn leaky pipes already. In other words, it might be time for California's intensely localized water policy to become more of a regional affair—one that, while we're at it, should include parts of Mexico too because nature doesn't give a shit about arbitrary lines on our maps. But of course, that's unlikely to happen while the governor is embroiled in a dark money-backed recall election.

California—and really the North American West, from British Columbia on down to Baja, and over to Chihuahua, Arizona, and Colorado—is a harbinger for what happens as water becomes more constrained in a climate-changing world. And it's not looking good.

No Return to Normal for Climate Coverage

By Mary Annaïse Heglar

As vaccines roll out—albeit with woeful inequity—the media landscape is finally offering space to more topics of discussion. While the pandemic might not be over, the panic about it is subsiding, at least in the United States. As far as media coverage on climate, though, a return to normal would be a mortal sin. We’ve never seen climate change get the robust, intersectional, vigorous discussion that it deserved. Thankfully, in May 2021, we saw signs that the media might finally be prepared to cover climate in a whole different way.

First the numbers: climate coverage in May 2021 was up by 76 percent from May 2020. It was still down by 18 percent from the previous month (April 2021), but when you consider that April is “Earth Month,” the drop is less concerning. Also, I’m more interested in the type of coverage we saw this month. May included the hacking of the Colonial pipeline, the beautiful mutiny at Exxon and Chevron, and the Hague ruling on Shell. Once upon a time, these would have been covered as “business” or “energy” stories. But not this time. Journalists from outlets all over the world made the climate connections plain and clear. And a good many stories made the climate JUSTICE connections clear as well. That, folks, is progress.

At the same time, this week, the 2020 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced and… there’s not a single climate story among the awardees. How this happened in a year with the worst wildfire and hurricane seasons on record, when stories broke left and right about the connections between the police and climate change, is an indictment on the entire media industry. In 2021, let’s please do better.

If the G7 Want to Stick it to OPEC Once and For All, They Should Act on Climate

By Amy Westervelt

You know what's really fucking telling about how serious the G7 countries are about taking on climate? It's not a named topic. Officially on the agenda for the days in which global leaders have said they will be discussing climate change are: "economic resilience, foreign policy and health." I guess human survival is tied to all three, but... damn, Gina!

Before we get into their current discussions, a brief bit of history on the G7. The name comes from the Group of Seven, meaning seven countries: the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom. Together they represent 40 percent of the world's wealth and 10 percent of its population. It used to be the G8 until Putin started fucking with the Ukraine and got Russia kicked out. Which in a way makes sense because the original Group didn't include Russia either. Back then, in 1975, it was the Group of Six—France, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and West Germany—the globe's non-communist powers coming together to discuss matters of global concern related to the economy and national security. At the time that mostly meant: How are we going to deal with OPEC? Another acronym! OPEC stands for Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. It was formed in 1960 by Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, and it now also includes Qatar, Indonesia, Libya, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Nigeria, Ecuador, Gabon, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, and Congo. In 1973, the Arab members of OPEC (at the time, everyone but Venezuela) imposed an oil embargo on the United States over its involvement in the Arab-Isreali war (both resupplying the Israeli Army with munitions and other supplies, and involving itself in post-war peace talks). Honestly folks, I cannot recommend enough just boning up on even a tiny bit of this history in the face of the climate crisis. Just knowing these few facts makes a lot of things slot into place, yes?

ANYway, so the non-OPEC countries got a big taste in the 1970s of the power that oil-exporting countries had. And they realized: he who controls the world's oil, controls the world. So they got together because together they could leverage their collective power to hold those guys in check. The rest of us have been hostages to that power struggle ever since. Now fast forward a few decades, and the U.S. embrace of natural gas starts to make a lot more sense: The fracking boom gave the U.S. more power, globally. It was seen as a way to break free from the always-looming threat of another OPEC oil embargo. If WE became an energy exporter, then we would not only be free of that threat but we would hold more power.

Now, knowing all that, let’s take a look at the current G7 summit. Honestly, in the context of the entire history of the Group of Six, then Eight, then Seven, it would make a helluva lot of sense to tackle climate in a big way. What’s the best way to neutralize the threat of oil-exporting countries? Get yourself off that oil, son! And yet, still they dither, no one country wante to be the one to take an economic hit, even if it meant long-term stability for their country and the rest of the world. Even if failing to go big enough on climate will also erode their economic power.

These countries came together because they knew their economic power could match the OPEC countries’ oil power, and that this global brinksmanship could, in a way, keep the whole world “safe.” Of course that also led to global neoliberalism and the idea that markets keeping each other in check was the way to go. So now here we are and the G7 faces a critical moment: if they want to eliminate the power of OPEC, they could move quickly and decisively on climate, but any misstep could end in failure.

The answer is to deliver a kill shot to oil. Here’s hoping they don’t shoot themselves in the foot instead.


A curated list of this week's climate coverage.

Rising Temperatures, Rising Tides

Maps Show the Severe Drought Gripping California and the West by Nadja Popovich for The New York Times

Climate and nature crises: solve both or solve neither, say experts, by Damian Carrington for The Guardian

Landmark Report Links Earth's 2 Biggest Existential Threats for, by Dharna Noor for Earther

‘It was sad having to leave’: Climate crisis splits Alaskan town in half, by Julia Ilhardt for The Guardian

Why California is building new houses in the path of wildfires, by Nathanael Johnson for Grist

Ticks are out of control this year — it's not just your imagination, by Zoya Teirstein for Grist

It's raining 'forever chemicals' in the Great Lakes, by Jena Brooker for Grist

'Glacier Blood' Is the Latest Climate Change Horror, by Dharna Noor for Earther

We Broke a Carbon Dioxide Record Despite Pandemic Lockdowns, by Molly Taft for Earther

Turkey's Leaders Vow to Defeat Unprecedented Outbreak of 'Sea Snot', by Alyse Stanley for Earther

Scientists Extracted DNA From 'Blood Snow' in the Alps. Here's What They Found., by Becky Ferreira for Vice

First heat wave of the season to bake Southern California amid worsening drought, by Hayley Smith for The LA Times

The Pine Island glacier is speeding up as its ice shelf disintegrates, by Sarah Kaplan for The Washington Post

Measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide peaked at record levels in May, by Brady Dennis and Steven Mufson for The Washington Post

The Climate Presidency

For Lease: Windmill Space in the Atlantic Between Long Island and New Jersey by Lisa Friedman for The New York Times

Joe Biden Is Already Failing on Climate Policy, by Dharna Noor for Gizmodo

The Department of Energy is trying to make clean hydrogen this generation's 'moonshot', by Emily Pontecorvo for Grist

Kamala Harris told migrants 'do not come' but didn't address the biggest cause of displacement, by Adam Mahoney for Grist

The climate bill even Big Agriculture loves, by Tom Philpott for Grist

Biden Moves to Protest Tongass National Forest, Overturning Trump, by Dharna Noor for Earther

Biden Nominates Lawyer Who Represented Exxon to Major Treasury Role, by Dharna Noor for Earther

What Joe Manchin Doesn’t Get About the GOP’s Voter Suppression, by Katrina vanden Heuvel for The Nation

Chuck Schumer's Bipartisan Bill Is Bad for the Planet, by Kate Aronoff

Why Did Republicans Just Block Governor Roy Cooper's DEQ Nominee?, by Nick Martin for The New Republic

Collapse of Infrastructure Talks Risks Biden's Climate Priorities by Coral Davenport, Lisa Friedman and Emily Cochrane for The New York Times

Climate Accountability

In Nigeria, Gas Giants Get Rich As Women Sink into Poverty Women in Niger Delta say, by Shola Lawal in Vice News

Our Response to Climate Change Is Missing Something Big, Scientists Say by Catrin Einhorn for The New York Times

Leading investors urge governments to end support for fossil fuels, by asper Jolly for The Guardian

The company behind the Keystone XL pipeline ended the project on Wednesday, ending a fight that stretched more than a decade, by Brady Dennis and Steven Mufson for The Washington Post

Shell chief vows to bolster emissions strategy after court ruling, by Joanna Partridge for The Guardian

Poland to close Europe’s most polluting power plant by 2036, by Reuters Staff for Reuters

The Line 3 pipeline protests are about more than climate change, by Alexandria Herr for Grist

Cops Use Facebook to Target Line 3 Protest Leaders, New Docs Reveal, by Molly Taft for Earther

Gas and coal companies among recipients of $50m in Coalition grants from carbon capture fund, by Adam Morton for The Guardian

Wealthy nations breaking climate pledge with gas dash in global south, by Jonathan Watts for The Guardian

The controversy over Bill Gates becoming the largest private farmland owner in the US,by Rebecca Heilweil for Vox

How bankruptcy lets oil and gas companies evade cleanup rules, by Naveena Sadasivam for Grist

Why Haven't New York Democrats Made More Progress on Climate? By Kate Aronoff for The New Republic

Justice Is Justice Is Justice

Climate Fwd: How Disaster Aid Favors White People by Christopher Flavelle by The New York Times

The Keystone XL pipeline is dead. But the fight against similar projects is far from over, by Jariel Arvin and Vox

Climate Justice, for the First Time Ever, Is on the G7 Agenda, by Mark Hertsgaard for The Nation

Protestors descend on Minnesota's Line 3 pipeline construction site, by Joshua Partlow for The Washington Post

Glimmers of Hope

Owner cancels Keystone XL pipeline months after Biden revoked permit, by Reuters Staff for Reuters

Birth of 3 Wolf Pups Means Colorado Has Its First Native Wolves in 80 Years, by Ed Cara for Earther

Alaska Natives strike conservation deal in Bristol Bay that could impede Pebble Mine, by Joshua Partlow and Juliet Eilperin for The Washington Post

US building sector aims for net-zero emissions by 2040, by Ben Ikenson for the Washington Post

Climate in Culture

United's supersonic planes would be a 'massively polluting' disaster,by Shannon Osaka by Grist

What makes a 'regenerative' egg better than the rest?, by Eve Andrews for Grist

Illegal Cannabis Farms Are Making the Climate Crisis Worse, by Clara Murray for Vice News

Plus More

Half of clothes sold by online fashion brands ‘made from virgin plastic’, by Zoe Wood for The Guardian

We are running out of time to reach deal to save natural world, says UN talks chair, by Patrick Greenfield by The Guardian

Texas Republican asks: can we fix the moon’s orbit to fight climate change? By Edward Helmore for The Guardian

Great apes predicted to lose 90% of homelands in Africa, study finds, by Damian Carrington for The Guardian

Ban Ki-moon wants to solve the climate crisis with kindness, by Shannon Osaka for Grist

Rep. Gohmert Suggests Shifting Earth's Orbit to Fight Climate Change, by Whitney Kimball for Earhter

These Dream-like Photos of the Amazon Reveal a Hidden Nightmare Multispectral photography shows damage to, by Jody Serrano for Earther

All Cars Should Have Been Hybrids By Now, by Aaron Gordon for Vice

What the Pandemic Felt Like From an Icebreaker Trapped in the Arctic, by Becky Ferreira for Vice
How the Pandemic Changed Antarctica, by Leah Feiger for Vice


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