By Kevin McCall
Arts & Features Writer
At UNC Asheville, the activist group Sunrise Movement works to inform the student body of the impending dangers of climate change.
“Climate change is a really important issue to me. I work with a lot of kids and I want them to have a livable future and for them to grow up and not have to worry about having access to clean air and clean water,” said Eliana Franklin, coordinator of Sunrise. “We just had a lot of flooding here, so we’ve seen the impact. I really want to prevent those impacts that are happening on the environment and on people.”
Isa Klich, a member of the Sunrise Movement, said climate change affects everyone involved and members of the community must come together to fight it if they wish for a better future.
“I think climate is something that affects everybody. We are all living on the same Earth and we should really care about what’s going on because if we are planning to have kids or just living in the future, we want this place to be somewhere livable,” Klich said.
Associate Director of STEM Education Evan Couzo said the rapid warming of Earth’s climate will persist for the foreseeable future.
“The new climate report from the IPCC said we’re locked into climate change for the next 30 years. No matter what we do, we’re going to see a warmer climate in the next 30 years,” he said. “We’re not trying to fix the 2030s, we’re trying to fix the 2050s.”
When it comes to the movement’s political activism, Franklin said the Sunrise Movement coordinated with various other organizations in 2020 to support politicians that advocate for action toward climate change and protest against those who ignore its dangers.
“We did a lot last year with the election. We did a lot of campaigning for progressive candidates as well as for Biden to defeat Trump in the election last year,” Franklin said. “Later in the year we did a good jobs-for-all action in front of Senator Burr’s office to advocate for the creation of good paying union jobs that would fight the climate crisis.”
Klich said Sunrise’s advocacy for political change throughout the country could create new jobs for millions of people through the THRIVE agenda, an economic renewable plan that focuses on different crises such as climate change and racial injustice.
“I think the THRIVE agenda is really huge in politics right now,” she said. “It’s basically a recovery package that will give people green jobs.”
Klich said anybody on campus can become involved with the Sunrise Movement, regardless if they are knowledgeable about the issue.
“You don’t have to know anything to join our club,” she said.
For 21-year-old Abigail Blatz, Sunrise helped her overcome her naturally introverted personality and she became inspired by the political activists within the community.
“One big struggle that I had before was just learning to be my own person and coming out of my shell a little bit more. I think that by finding a group of people that essentially go out and do actions and protest and promote their collective voices, that was very empowering to me and actually helped me kind of find my niche,” she said.
Franklin said the rising momentum of the Sunrise Movement on campus was cut short due to COVID-19 shutting down the campus in 2020. However they managed to continue the spread of awareness despite the unexpected setbacks.
“We’re pretty new to campus, we’ve been around for about a year and a half. We were around before COVID but we were just getting started before everything shut down,” she said.
Despite COVID-19 slowing down Sunrise, Couzo said the movement managed to find a loud voice through social media outlets which helped the members stay connected and continue to spread its message.
“Social media has given Sunrise a staying power,” he said. “Now there is a way for people to stay in touch to organize climate rallies all across the country and all across the world.”
Couzo said he witnessed many movements during his life, such as the Occupy Wall Street protests, that faded through time. However, climate change activism continues to grow and remain strong.
Not everybody will be convinced to help fight the cause, but the important part of activism is convincing enough people to help shift views and keeping an eye on the main goal, Couzo said.
“Don’t give up. I have a lot of respect for what young people are doing,” Couzo said. “One caution would be that compromise doesn’t have to be bad as long as you are always making progress towards the goal.”
According to Couzo, change cannot happen overnight and activists must continue to fight for their cause.
“The status quo absolutely has to change, but it can not change with one bill. It will not change with a single election cycle,” Couzo said.
Klich said she recognizes the struggles that some pushback may bring, but the group continues to push through on their fight for a better future.
“Just fight what you believe,” she said. “I can’t convince everybody, but I can try my best, and that’s really what matters.”