Sunrise Funding

New Reporting Sheds Light On Who Is Funding Sunrise

The foundations supporting the nationwide legal actions against energy companies are reportedly the same contributors backing the Sunrise Movement, the organization advocating for the Green New Deal.

According to Inside Philanthropy, the Rockefeller Family Fund and Wallace Global Fund, key donors to Sunrise, are also linked to the national litigation effort.

Sunrise, formed in 2017 by activists from earlier anti-fossil fuel campaigns, has garnered significant financial support, raising nearly $1 million in 2018.

While institutional funders constitute 55 percent of Sunrise’s annual budget, the organization aims to increase its funding to $2.5 million this year.

The Rockefeller Family Fund and the Wallace Global Fund are significant financial backers of EarthRights International (ERI), a non-profit based in Washington, D.C. ERI is representing Boulder County, Boulder City, and San Mateo County in their legal action against ExxonMobil and Suncor.

The lawsuit accuses the defendants of being responsible for climate change-related damages.

This legal effort is part of a broader national campaign, wherein local governments collaborate with non-profits and plaintiff attorney firms to file lawsuits against major energy producers in state courts.

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Sunrise Movement’s Push for the Green New Deal

The Sunrise Movement advocates prominently for the adoption of a “Green New Deal,” which entails substantial investments in renewable energy and a fundamental shift away from an economy reliant on fossil fuels.

The ultimate goal is to achieve 100 percent renewable energy and generate millions of jobs through new infrastructure projects.

In addition to its environmental goals, Sunrise actively engages in the political arena. During the 2018 midterm elections, the group targeted specific states to influence outcomes and initiated the “Sunrise Semester,” deploying participants for six months on the campaign trail.

This political involvement reflects the organization’s commitment to shaping policy and supporting candidates aligned with their environmental and economic objectives.

Rolling Stone recently interviewed Varshini Prakash, co-founder of the Sunrise Movement.

When asked about targeting politicians like Pelosi, a past climate legislation supporter, Prakash emphasized the need to keep climate action on the agenda.

She expressed the belief that Democrats genuinely care about addressing climate change but stressed the importance of urging them to take decisive action commensurate with the scale and urgency of the crisis.

Sunrise is concentrating its efforts on Congressional Democrats, perceiving them as more responsive to advancing climate legislation under external pressure.

Varshini Prakash, co-founder of Sunrise, expressed concern about insufficient climate action within the Democratic Party, pointing to Nancy Pelosi’s revival of a decade-old committee as inadequate.

The organization relies on a grassroots network of young volunteers nationwide to employ direct action and political lobbying, emphasizing climate change as a top voter concern.

Sunrise’s strategy has seen success, with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez becoming a prominent advocate for the Green New Deal.

Other lawmakers, including Democratic Presidential Candidate Elizabeth Warren and former Texas Senatorial Candidate Beto O’Rourke, have also endorsed the idea, highlighting the impact of Sunrise’s pressure campaign.

Despite significant funding from wealthy foundations for climate change communication efforts, recent studies indicate that the issue has not become a top priority for voters. Research led by Northeastern Prof.

Matthew Nisbet analyzed over $556 million in donations from 19 major environmental foundations between 2011-2015, with more than 80 percent dedicated to promoting renewable energy, climate change communication, and opposing fossil fuels.

However, during that period, polls consistently ranked climate change near the bottom of priority issues for respondents.

Challenges in Shifting Climate Change Perception

Sunrise suggests that institutional funders, potentially due to longstanding relationships and a concentration of donations to established organizations, have been hesitant to fully embrace their grassroots organizing-based approach.

The skepticism regarding the effectiveness of this strategy may be contributing to the lack of full commitment from certain funders, impacting the broader impact of climate change communication efforts.

Sunrise acknowledges ongoing discussions with potential donors, expressing optimism about their recent impact and achievements.

According to William Lawrence, Sunrise’s co-founder and development director, the organization’s ability to prominently position ambitious and equitable climate action on the agenda has garnered attention.

Lawrence suggests that this unexpected success has opened doors that may have been previously closed, as more people recognize the value of the movement-building approach undertaken by Sunrise.


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