At this point, climate change is an undeniable part of our reality. With wildfires burning like never before across Alaska and the West Coast, record heat waves, flooding, droughts, and extreme weather events, our nation’s leaders refuse to address the magnitude of the crisis, consistently failing to work across party lines for necessary solutions.
On Wednesday, President Biden announced new climate initiatives outside a former coal plant in Massachusetts, calling climate change an “existential threat to our nation and to the world.” But the president failed to go all the way by refusing to invoke a climate emergency. An emergency declaration would offer numerous opportunities for the federal government to curb carbon emissions and address the climate impacts that are driving the planet’s warming. For one, such a declaration would enable the Biden administration to access funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program for combating the impacts of heat waves, extreme weather events, and natural disasters and could enable faster implementation of critical mitigation strategies.
An official climate emergency announcement could also allow the Biden administration to curtail crude oil exports and stop offshore drilling through laws and exemptions related to national security and energy development. The Biden administration could access financial support for clean energy infrastructure through FEMA and the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, and it could cut energy costs for families by supporting domestic offshore wind projects, helping to facilitate an affordable clean energy transition.
For decades, climate activists have been calling for government leaders to treat climate change as an emergency. Almost 15 years ago, climate activist Rupert Read wrote a column titled “Emergency Talk” in The Guardian. “We should speak honestly of ‘climate chaos,’ ‘climate crisis,’ ‘global over-heating,’ and the risk of ‘climate catastrophe.’ To do so is to do no more than call attention directly to the utterly drastic consequences of untrammeled consumerism. It is, literally, truth-in-advertising.” Even now, our federal government fails to treat climate change as an existential threat, but an official emergency declaration from Biden could change that.
Instead, the president’s new executive orders mostly appear to prioritize clean energy development and improving building efficiency. Climate activists have demanded much more, calling on Biden to cut carbon emissions by ending fossil fuel use through the end of domestic fossil fuel subsidies and support overseas for fossil fuel projects and phase out incoming fossil fuel leases while imposing strict limits on tailpipe emissions, and tighter standards for permissible corporate emissions.
By failing to directly address the root of the climate problem—the overuse of fossil fuels—the Biden administration will be unable to curb the impacts of climate change, costing countless lives and taxpayer money in the future. The action needed is to reduce energy usage, not facilitate its mass consumption. This week’s lackluster actions may be better than nothing, but we need much, much more.
As we watch our leaders repeatedly fail to protect our future, young climate activists like myself are continually disappointed. We have to live with the consequences of inaction, growing older in a world scorched by wildfires, washed away by flooding, and ravaged by natural disasters. As President Biden continues to announce his plan for addressing the climate emergency, our generation looks to him to lead boldly to address the crisis we find ourselves in—a legacy that, at this crucial crossroads, could be a matter of life or death.