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BIDEN’S FAILURE TO DECLARE A NATIONAL CLIMATE EMERGENCY

By AriDy Nox (TCM Co-Leader and Director of Narrative Strategy) and Laura Berry (TCM Advisor and former Director of Research and Policy) 

Climate activists across the United States rejoiced this week when the Washington Post reported that President Joe Biden was considering declaring a national climate emergency. After a disappointing outcome for federal climate investment proposals during budget negotiations in the Senate, and with deadly heat waves sweeping the U.S. and Europe, calls for President Biden to exercise his executive authority to take action on the climate emergency have grown harder and harder for the President to ignore.  

But after a somewhat vague climate address, many are wondering if that is in fact what he intends to do. Though the President used a lot of language to indicate a national climate emergency declaration is still on the table, he stopped shy of what activists across the country have been pushing him to do for years: declaring climate change a national emergency. 

Standing yesterday afternoon before Brayton Point, a retired coal-fired power plant turned offshore wind manufacturing facility in Somerset, Massachusetts, President Biden announced a series of new executive actions the federal government will take to “address the climate emergency,” including additional funding to protect communities from extreme heat, a new federal guidance to support low-income families facing rising energy bills, and increased efforts to boost domestic offshore wind energy.

Yet President Biden, once again, stopped short.  Wildfires rage, extreme heat threatens over 100 million people, and federal climate policy seems increasingly out of reach: What more will it take for Biden to act? 

The “long emergency” of Biden’s climate policy

Unfortunately, Biden’s continued resistance doesn’t actually come as much of a surprise to long-time climate advocates. His refusal to take action at the speed and scale necessary to protect communities from the impacts of climate disruption (especially frontline communities already suffering from the climate crisis) is almost expected at this point. From his weak climate platform during the 2020 Presidential election, to allowing the major climate provisions to be stripped from his signature Build Back Better platform in the bipartisan infrastructure bill in 2021, the image of Biden as an FDR-like champion for climate justice was tarnished early on during his term as President. 

Yet the most recent instance of nearly three decades of federal climate policy failure has also been rooted in the actions of one individual: Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), who — despite his direct ties to the fossil fuel industry — represents a key Democratic vote in a 50-50 Senate and a consistent opponent to any new federal climate spending proposed by the Biden administration. So when Senator Manchin once again rejected the inclusion of any climate mitigation measures in a proposed budget reconciliation package last week, outraged climate advocates mounted a new effort in an ongoing pressure campaign urging Biden to declare a climate emergency and take executive action to limit fossil fuel extraction and massively expand domestic renewable energy. In response, Biden released a statement pledging he would take strong executive action if the Senate failed to take action on climate change and strengthening domestic clean energy.  

But that ultimately led only to his disappointing speech yesterday at Brayton Point. 

Nearly two years into his administration, Biden’s “whole-of-government” approach to climate change is ultimately too little, too late. Many climate groups and Democrats saw last week’s budget reconciliation negotiations as a “now or never” moment for federal climate policy ahead of the November midterm elections, and were looking for President Biden to truly fight on behalf of the frontline and marginalized groups already suffering from the impacts of climate devastation. 

It’s clear that Biden cannot afford not to use the full extent of his executive authority to limit climate harm. With the Supreme Court facing a crisis of legitimacy and Congress proving itself completely unreliable, Biden must take the opportunity to be the Climate Mobilization President we need – a leader who will support local communities across the country and build the Just Transition to a safe climate future. Whether or not he takes up this mantle, climate activists are ensuring that we come together to achieve these goals. The real question is whether or not the Biden administration wants to be part of this necessary and inevitable change. 

It’s still a climate emergency, whether Biden declares it or not

While Biden’s refusal to declare a climate emergency during his speech yesterday represents an abysmal failure to live up to his own rhetoric, a national climate emergency declaration remains one tool in a large policy toolbox that could make up a federal climate mobilization response. Declaring a climate emergency would certainly provide President Biden with a number of additional statutory powers to take critical actions to combat climate change that would only be possible at the federal level. Under an emergency declaration, President Biden could — and should — reinstate the ban on U.S. exports of crude oil, halt offshore drilling, expand supply from critical domestic industries like batteries or solar panels, and implement increased restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. Legal analysis on emergency powers from the Center for Biological Diversity has also suggested that under a federal climate emergency declaration, Biden could potentially redirect existing military funding to supporting the construction of renewable energy projects. 

While Climate Mobilization and over 1,200 climate groups have signed on to the People vs. Fossil Fuels campaign supporting a national climate emergency declaration, declaring a national climate emergency alone would not be enough to guarantee that President Biden would exercise those powers in a way that centers the needs of frontline and marginalized communities, or be rooted in the principles of Just Transition. The abuse of executive authority during the Trump Administration also shows us that a national climate emergency declaration should not be treated as a magic wand for national climate policy — and a climate emergency declaration under existing laws like the National Emergencies Act and International Emergency Economic Powers Act must limit the risk of executive overreach. Utilizing executive authority would facilitate fast, wide-ranging changes necessary for our cause, but it would have to be done in a way where Biden could be held accountable to the demands of frontline communities, especially Indigenous organizers who are the original caretakers of this land. 

That being said, Biden’s unwillingness to declare a climate emergency is symbolic of his continued refusal to show true climate leadership in a time of crisis, especially as many key pathways to reducing national greenhouse gas emissions still remain open to him. Beyond the additional powers that would be granted to him under a climate emergency declaration, President Biden already has the authority to take significant action on climate disruption, such as by halting federal fossil fuel leasing and infrastructure permitting, without the support of Congress — yet has failed to do so. While President Biden has utilized the Defense Production Act to support increased domestic renewable energy manufacturing, he could expand such efforts to drive a coordinated and widespread expansion of renewable energy infrastructure across the country — a key opportunity to target federal investments in frontline communities and communities of color who have been impacted most by fossil fuel extraction and climate devastation.

But as this critical window of opportunity to pass federal climate legislation closes, the pathway for Biden to lead the country away from even more dangerous and deadly levels of planetary heating is narrower and more treacherous than ever. 

Now more than ever, it’s up to us to win a Climate Mobilization

We know that relying on national elected officials to take action won’t win us the scale of society-wide action that climate justice requires — but that doesn’t mean we’re giving up. We support the continued push to get Biden to do the necessary thing and we recognize how much we have already accomplished without a national declaration.  In the absence of federal climate action, the Climate Emergency movement and climate activists across the U.S. have already mobilized millions of people across the country to take action on the climate emergency at the local and state level. Since 2016, over 200 governments have passed climate emergency declarations in cities and states across the U.S., and an ever-growing movement for emergency-speed action towards a Just Transition is now fighting for local climate emergency programs in communities across the U.S. From Hawaii to Maine, we’re the ones already winning the kind of climate mobilization we need.

In Acton, MA, Climate Mobilization has directly supported climate emergency activists who have mobilized renters across the city to ensure that access to safe housing, electric vehicle charging, and climate justice were core tenants of the Acton Climate Action Plan. Across Sonoma County, CA, Climate Mobilization is working with a local transit riders’ union and intersectional coalition of climate and community organizers to drive efforts to establish a fare-free bus pilot program and massively expand public investment in low-carbon transit infrastructure in support of transportation justice for low-income and marginalized residents. We applaud other efforts across the country like those in Ithaca, NY, community members and local government officials are driving forward a city-wide Green New Deal effort to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 through explicitly prioritizing marginalized communities and reducing historic inequity through equitable building electrification programs and centering of local community voices throughout decision-making.

In 2022, our collective future depends on us. A national climate emergency declaration is an invaluable tool and we challenge President Biden to finally use it. But it isn’t our only pathway to a safe future. No matter what, we need to organize and build power in our own local communities to demand equitable policies that eliminate carbon emissions as quickly as possible — and ultimately win the society-wide Just Transition we need to ensure a safe climate future for all of us. In his address, Biden urged us to work together on climate and we will. With or without him, we are mobilizing for a better future. Join us! 

Special thanks to Climate Emergency Fund who has been the leading funder of the Climate Emergency Declaration campaign, supporting The Climate Mobilization and other groups over the past 3 years.

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Alexia Leclerq

Network Coach

Alexia (she/they) is an environmental justice organizer based in Austin, TX. They graduated summa cum laude from NYU (’20), where they self-designed a major titled “The Politics and Economics of Inequality.” Their research focuses on political ecology, environmental justice, AAPI communities, inequality, postcolonialism. As an organizer and researcher they have spent the past 5 years working on various issues from preserving the Colorado River, water rights, fighting land use policy and zoning that enforces race-based discrimination, conducting ethnographic research on climate health, to organizing mutual aid, youth programming, and shaping national legislation alongside members of the Environmental Justice Leadership Forum and the Environmental Justice Health Alliance; today Alexia continues to work as an organizer with PODER, a grassroots EJ org. Alexia is also the co-founder of Start: Empowerment, a BIPOC led social and environmental justice education non-profit working with youth, educators, activists, and community members to implement justice-focused education and programming in schools and community spaces. S:E curriculum and programming has reached over 2,000 students, been recognized by the NYC Department of Education, and taught in universities. In 2021, their work was recognized by the prestigious Brower Youth Award.

Emmett Hopkins

National Organizer

Emmett organizes local-scale mobilization for the Sonoma County campaign, while supporting Climate Mobilization’s organizing efforts around the country. He brings over a decade of experience collaborating with diverse stakeholders to build community food systems, ensure equitable access to public lands, and mobilize resources towards a just transition to an amazing zero carbon future. He graduated from Stanford with a BS in Earth Systems and MS in Urban Planning & Sustainable Design. Emmett enjoys growing food and cultivating relationships, riding bikes and buses, and reimagining our communities to better serve all the people living in them.

Suha Dabbouseh

National Organizer

National Organizer Suha Dabbouseh leads national strategy for The Climate Mobilization. They are originally from Chicago but have lived, organized and rebel-roused in seven states and 11 cities. Suha received their law degree from CUNY-School of Law where they focused on social justice lawyering representing detainees at Guantanamo Bay. While practicing law, Suha had worked to advocate on behalf of domestic violence survivors, transgender clients and fighting employment discrimination. Their passion is building people power and organizing to dismantle structural inequities.

Matt Renner

Executive Director of The Climate Mobilization

Matt has worked as a nonprofit executive in clean energy, climate policy, and journalism for over a decade, focusing on the near-term social and economic impacts of climate change. He leads organizational expansion and works closely with the communications and organizing teams. Matt earned a BA in political science from UC Berkeley, where he was deeply inspired by the work of Professor George Lakoff.

Mariyah Jahangiri

Network Organizer

Mariyah leads Climate Mobilization Network’s recruitment, coordination, and organizing support. She has organized across movements and is passionate about addressing white supremacy in the mainstream climate movement and building capacity for youth-led, BIPOC-led intersectional climate movements. She has been inspired by her experiences organizing to defund the police in Boston, supporting mutual aid and food sovereignty projects in Iowa, Atlanta, and Puerto Rico, and working on a Make Big Polluters Pay campaign. Mariyah worked as an organizer with the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign and Planned Parenthood PAC. She graduated from Grinnell College with a Sociology degree.

Rebecca Harris

Co-Leader and Director of Organizing

Rebecca leads Climate Mobilization organizing efforts. Along with a history of social movement organizing, Rebecca he has worked as a journalist covering equity in Chicago public schools. Most recently, Rebecca worked as Development and Communications Manager at Latino Union of Chicago, an immigrants’ and workers’ rights organization. She is a 2017 graduate of the Reframe Mentorship in strategic communications and a 2019 participant in the Anne Braden Organizer Training Program.

Marina Mails

Co-Leader and Director of Operations
Marina manages operations and volunteers for both The Climate Mobilization and Climate Mobilization Project. She brings broad experience working in non-profit organizations, health care settings, and running her own private counseling practice. Before joining Climate Mobilization, Marina maintained a practice focusing exclusively on climate-related emotional coping, helping people make bold choices for lifestyle and professional change in response to the Climate Emergency. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science and Spanish from Wake Forest University and a Masters in Counseling from UNC Greensboro.

Meghann Beer

Co-Leader and Director of Resource Mobilization and Strategy

Meghann brings more than 20 years of nonprofit management and fundraising experience to The Climate Mobilization and Climate Mobilization Project. For over a decade Meghann has worked as a nonprofit consultant helping organizations expand their capacity, secure revenue, develop successful strategies, and effectively evaluate their programs, enabling them to create greater positive change in the world. She has also worked as an executive director, designed and facilitated international service learning experiences, and taught university courses in fundraising and nonprofit management. Meghann earned a MPA in Nonprofit Management and Comparative and International Affairs from The School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, in Bloomington, IN and a BA in Art History and American Studies from Tufts University in Boston, MA.

Cris Lagunas

Strategy Director

Cris is helping to grow the Climate Emergency Movement by supporting creative campaigns and extending the reach of the movement’s message. Cris is a co-founder of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, an organization dedicated to using direct action tactics to expose, challenge and dismantle the immigration detention system.Cris got his start in organizing when he was 15 years old, getting involved in a local group of fellow undocumented youth.

Zack Burley

Policy Associate

Zack provides policy support for the Climate Mobilization team, and brings a versatile set of policy skills and experiences in labor organizing, journalism, legislative politics, and legal practice to the climate emergency movement. Zack earned a JD from Denver University Sturm College of Law, is a founding organizer of the Political Workers Guild of Colorado, and formerly served as a legislative aide in the Colorado General Assembly.

AriDy Nox

Co-Leader and Director of Narrative Strategy

 AriDy Nox is a multi-disciplinary black femme storyteller and social activist with a variety of forward-thinking creative works under her/their belt. They create out of the vehement belief that creating a future in which marginalized peoples are free requires a radical imagination. Their tales are offerings intended to function as small parts of an ancient, expansive, awe-inspiring tradition of world-shaping, created by and for black femmes. They have over a decade of experience as a young social activist and organizer, within reproductive justice and racial justice frameworks with organizations like the Young Women of Color Leadership Council with Advocates for Youth, the Toni Cade Bamabara Collective at Spelman College and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated. They bring creativity, enthusiasm and a tremendous capacity for organization to her/their role and deep belief that times of apocalypse are opportunities for rebirth. We need first imagine the world we want in order to create it.