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Redondo students win support for Green New Deal

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The student proponents of the Green New Deal resolution wait to offer their presentation before the Redondo Beach City Council. Photos by Kayla Rebentisch

by Martha Farah

Last month, incoming Redondo Union High School seniors Eva Lovell, Grace McGonigle, and Vanessa Rebentisch proposed that the Redondo Beach City Council support the federal Green New Deal, a resolution that lays out a plan to address climate change. On July 2, the City Council approved the student-proposed resolution, supporting it with a 3-1 vote, and one abstention.

“The UN says you have 11 years before the effects of climate change are irreversible, but in 11 years, I’m not even going to be 30 yet. That’s just crazy to me,” Rebentisch said. “In the future, it’s going to cost [communities] way more to adapt — building sea walls, moving the infrastructure inland and treating climate-related [problems]…There are just going to be way more problems if we don’t fix it now.”

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The Green New Deal is a congressional resolution introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Edward J. Markey of Mass., that proposes the federal government eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and invest in renewable energy sources by 2030.

Both the State of California and the City of Redondo Beach have developed climate programs. Redondo’s existing Climate Action Plan includes identifying ways to reduce vehicle emissions, setting energy-efficiency standards in construction and encouraging “urban greening” with green open space.

Lovell, McGonigle and Rebentisch are members of RUHS’s local Sunrise Movement club, which joins young people together to take action against climate change. With the help of national Sunrise Movement membership, the club drafted a resolution for the Council to consider.

RUHS seniors Samantha Aldover, Jacklyn Lowenstein, Eva Lovell, Vanessa Rebentisch, Grace McGonigle and Emma Stanfill hold posters to spread awareness about climate change. Photos by Kayla Rebentisch

The three knew they would have to address critical misconceptions, including the theory that the Green New Deal would restrict airplane use.

“That’s not the case. It’s not about stopping transportation but modifying our energy use,” McGonigle said. “Our facts were from a reliable source, and you can’t ignore that. You can’t just dismiss them as irrelevant because facts are facts.”

Lovell, McGonigle, and Rebentisch focused their arguments on the effects of climate change globally, and in Redondo Beach specifically, given that Redondo Beach is a coastal community, as they spoke about sea-level rise.

Passing this resolution does not cause direct changes in the city, but it shows Redondo Beach’s support for federal action to be taken. It will be sent to federal legislators, including Rep. Ted Lieu, Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, and the White House.

The three students kept an open mind when listening to opponents, but stood by their research. When a critic argued that sea levels are not rising, Rebentisch countered by stating that they have been rising for decades, about one-eighth of an inch annually, according to the National Ocean Service.

“We had the evidence on our side,” Lovell said.

“We wanted to be tactful about what we had to say. We didn’t want to attack anyone, but we wanted to work with them,” Rebentisch said. “We’re not there to create a giant debate and controversy.”

But City Council member Nils Nehrnenheim opposed the resolution for just that reason: he believes the Green New Deal creates an unproductive “political firestorm.”

“I fully support what they are doing in terms of getting more environmental awareness and moving the ball forward, but the Green New Deal is meant to create a political wedge between the two parties at a national level,” unrelated to the environment, Nehrenheim said, referring to social justice issues related to indigenous people and income inequality.

“The Green New Deal does not actually move the ball forward to create environmental awareness and policies,” Nehrenheim said, before crediting the three incoming seniors for their skillful presentation.

Councilman Todd Loewenstein believes that some individuals are in denial of climate change, and that he had doubts about the opposition’s arguments.

“Other than some talking points that they had, I didn’t hear anything that involved facts. I didn’t know where they were getting their figures from,” Loewenstein said.

Loewenstein helped the students by informing them when their item was on the agenda and by guiding them on the next steps to take throughout the process. 

“I know that a number of them were in an AP Environmental Science class and that they have done their homework at a college level. It was very impressive what they presented to the council,” Loewenstein said.

Lowenstein encourages students to stay active in politics because today’s decisions will impact them. He believes that climate change is an “existential issue” that needs to be addressed.

“I hope that the students realize that my generation and the older generation aren’t ignoring the problem. I don’t want my kids to say to me in 20 years, ‘Why weren’t you addressing this issue?’ I want to address this issue and show them that we care,” Lowenstein said. “The world should be in a better way than we found it.”

“This resolution was a jumping-off point for us and for Redondo Beach. We want to get the conversation about climate change started here and end up taking more direct action,” Rebentisch said. “This is just our starting point. It’s a big goal, but if we don’t have big goals, then nothing is going to get accomplished.”

Though Nehrenheim opposed the Green New Deal resolution, he offered the creation of an “environmental commission” to create a “more green-friendly city.” His motion to do so died in a 2-3 vote. The students’ plan is to build off of Nehrenheim’s idea by writing a proposal for such a commission, which they are currently working on with Nehrenheim and Loewenstein.

“We want to leave the planet better than we found it. It’s a global issue. It’s not Redondo Beach’s nor California’s, but it is the U.S.’s issue,” Rebentisch said. “The environment has given us so much and that’s why we’re here, so not taking care of it doesn’t make sense to me. Taking action is just the right thing to do.”

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