Biden Can’t Keep Putting Off a Climate Emergency Declaration, Says One Democrat Leading the Charge

What kind of response have you gotten from the White House in response to your resolutions and in the calls for this emergency?

Well, in the past, it’s been polite interest—and that it wasn’t quite right, and that they have competing demands. But [the devastation] is unbelievable. As somebody who’s been pretty climate savvy, I have been deeply concerned. But this exceeds my worst fear for the intermediate term. I’ve had no doubt that this is where we’re going. But it’s happened much more rapidly and much more intensely. And I think that there’s an opportunity here, if the president makes that declaration, to capitalize on it. It’ll make his job easier, not harder.

I did want to ask about the “competing concerns.” The Supreme Court has tied the administration’s hands on some climate initiatives. We’re also heading into an election year that could determine how the US addresses—or does not address—climate change at a really critical window for reversing this or mitigating it. What do you see as the practical limitations or the political risks that the president has to maneuver, and how do you navigate those?

That’s where the declaration of the climate emergency comes in, because it does unlock broader powers—and makes it less likely that they will be torpedoed by the Supreme Court or get bogged down in understandable legislative morass. I think giving him that clarity of purpose, enhanced powers, will give him what he needs to be able to contend with these come competing, overlapping, accelerating challenges. I don’t know what the challenge is going to be next month. But I’ll bet it’s going to be something that we are going to need more resources for, more tools—and there will be greater urgency. The president has an unimaginable job—the competing interests, a war in Ukraine, a challenge with China, these are existential threats. But having a climate emergency declaration will help him meet these impossible demands, because they’ve never been more important, they’ve never been more compelling, they’ve never been more complex.

I don’t want to use the word “hopeful,” but just what is your sense of how the public pressure is going to build as these things just become more and more in-your-face and difficult to overlook?

I think that’s the reality for the president. It is going to build. I appreciate you referencing the politics. I think it should not be bound up in politics. But I think that emergency speaks to reinforcing some of the political dynamic for the president, because as you know, some of his supporters have been disappointed, to be charitable. People for whom this disaster has been building and building, and who can’t fathom why the federal government is not pulling out all the stops—I think this helps cut through that. I think it simplifies things for the president. And, as I said, we’re seeing every week, there’s some new metric about extreme heat, about what’s happening with the oceans, with fire, smoke, air quality—it is truly beyond my comprehension, in terms of how these overlapping crises are descending with greater frequency and greater intensity. I think it is something that is not going to be possible to ignore.

There’s still people who deny climate change, who think it’s a hoax. But we’re talking about a minority of the population, and I think the group we need to focus on are those who are persuadable, the folks in the middle, the folks who didn’t believe that it would ever get to be this bad. I think there is a mindset developing that will reward government action. There are people who are depending on government action as never before. Look no further than what’s happening with Hawaii. I think the number of people who care about this is growing. And I think the people who are climate deniers or who feel that there’s no role for the federal government are people who haven’t had their community catch fire—and it’s just a matter of time before that circle of need expands.

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