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Sunrise Movement Moves Beto O’Rourke To Sign Fossil Fuel Pledge

Beto O'Rourke speaks to attendees at a forum in El Paso, Texas - February 22, 2012 (Photo: Beto For Congress)
Beto O'Rourke speaks to attendees at a forum in El Paso, Texas - February 22, 2012 (Photo: Beto For Congress)

“This is the spirited commitment to bold climate action that young people are looking for in our next president.”

Last Wednesday, Beto O’Rourke pledged to refuse campaign contributions of over $200 from fossil fuel companies, declaring his campaign would return previous donations that don’t meet his new standards. O’Rourke, who was criticized for taking money from the fossil fuel industry during his Senate bid last year, said he was inspired to sign the ‘No Fossil Fuel Money’ pledge by youth activists from the Sunrise Movement.

“The greatest threat we face — which will test our country, our democracy, every single one of us — is climate change,” said O’Rourke.

As the crowded Democratic primary heats up, candidates are striving to stand out by delivering bold and comprehensive policy outlines. 2020 is the first year where climate change is appearing as one of voters’ highest concerns, and hopefuls like Beto O’Rourke have responded with ambitious climate proposals like O’Rourke’s $5 trillion plan to combine executive, congressional, and private sector action to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Despite the plan’s impressive scale, the Sunrise Movement initially criticized it for having an insufficiently aggressive deadline. The Sunrise Movement is pushing to fulfill the IPCC recommendation to cut carbon emissions to zero by 2030, and argues 2050 would be too late to avert ecological catastrophe.

The group has since revised its remarks on O’Rourke’s climate stance, praising his signature of the fossil fuel pledge and his initiative on offering a comprehensive policy, but remaining critical of his 2050 deadline.

“We came out a bit too hot on @BetoORourke’s climate plan, focusing just on his timeline & not enough on everything that’s spot on [about] it. 2050 is too late a deadline for the US to reach net zero [greenhouse gas] emissions, but Beto’s plan was a great start & I hope many others follow suit,” Sunrise leader Varshini Prakash tweeted.

The student movement has now convinced half of the 2020 Democratic candidates to refuse fossil fuel donations. Hopefuls like Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker have rolled out initial policy details, and Washington Governor Jay Inslee has centered his entire campaign around climate change.

In a field of over 20 competitors, Gov. Inslee’s 2020 presidential bid has been relatively quiet. Inslee’s plan is markedly more aggressive in meeting the 2030 deadline than O’Rourke’s, winning him the praise of the Sunrise Movement:

“Jay Inslee’s first policy proposal shows that he’s willing to put the full weight of the federal government behind a 10-year full-scale mobilization to move towards the 100% clean energy future we deserve. This is the spirited commitment to bold climate action that young people are looking for in our next president,” said Sunrise Executive Director Prakash.

In a CNN poll last week, Democratic voters cited climate change as the single most important policy issue of 2020. A Monmouth University poll of Democratic voters in Iowa showed climate change as their second highest concern after healthcare.

Prominent climate activist Bill McKibben has long decried climate change’s absence in American public debate, but in a recent interview with NPR, he expressed his belief that America’s priorities  would be changing in 2020:

“This time around I’m not worried in the least. I think it’s going to be one of the central topics in the primary, and then I think whoever wins the Democratic nomination is going to try and ram the issue straight down Trump’s throat.”

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Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a freelance writer with a Master’s degree in International Conflict Resolution. He has traveled throughout the Middle East and Latin America to gain firsthand insight in some of the world’s most troubled areas, and he plans on publishing his first book in 2019.

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