Climate change is an imminent threat to humanity and the planet, and we are time is running out. This is as settled as science can be, yet Congress continues to clear its throat and fail to take any meaningful action.
President Joe Biden must show much-needed determination and declare a national emergency to work on what lawmakers don’t want.
The move would be politically tense and faces strong organized opposition, but the power of the presidency can send a critical signal that half-measures are no longer enough to address this looming crisis.
However, when Biden spoke on Wednesday, he lagged behind. He called climate change a “clear and current danger‘ and enumerated the toll it is already taking on America, including extreme weather events – exacerbated by a warming world – that caused $145 billion in damage last year.
“The health of our citizens and our communities is literally at stake,” he said. “Our national security is also at stake. Extreme weather is already damaging our military installations here in the States. And our economy is in jeopardy. So we must act.”
In lieu of the emergency declaration, he announced an allocation of $2.3 billion to help build climate-resilient infrastructure and develop federal workplace warmth standards, and announced a $3.1 billion investment to weatherproof homes and make them more energy efficient. All of these are commendable measures, but they will have little impact on the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change.
Biden’s reluctance can be explained politically. Even in Washington, where lawmakers have taken stronger action to curb carbon pollution, climate change is barely a priority for voters.
A recent Seattle Times poll found that likely state voters prioritize abortion and inflation as the top priorities in the upcoming election. Climate ranked a distant fifth among all respondents and independents, fourth among Democrats, and posed virtually no concern for Republicans surveyed.
Under a national emergency, Biden could act decisively limiting fossil fuel production — like halting offshore oil and gas production — but such a move would likely lead to even higher gas prices, an area where the president should tread carefully.
More likely are actions such as those advocated by a group of US Senators led by Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. in the A letter to Bidenthey urged him to use the National Emergency Act to redirect spending on expanding renewable energy systems to military bases, implement large-scale clean transportation solutions, and fund distributed energy projects to increase climate resilience.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is not part of this letter but noted the impact of climate change on Washington when asked if she would support a declaration of emergency. She cited the wildfires in Chelan that drove people from their homes. last summer’s heat wave the roads bent, and longer and more severe droughts that affected the state.
“Barring action from Congress, we need the President to use the full force of his executive powers to mobilize a whole-of-government approach that addresses the climate crisis in every way possible,” she said.
The threat of climate change requires this whole-of-government approach. Biden says he understands the urgency — that means hurry up and do something.