One day after President Donald Trump delivered an environmental policy speech devoid of any mention of climate change, Democrats in Congress are introducing a resolution seeking to declare a “climate emergency” in the United States, one requiring a “massive-scale mobilization to halt, reverse, and address its consequences and causes.”
U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders plans to introduce the resolution in the Republican-controlled Senate, where it will face an uphill battle against a party led by a president who has called human-caused global warming a “hoax.” But in the Democrat-controlled House, the same resolution, to be introduced by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), may have a better chance of passage.
"The scientific community is telling us in no uncertain terms that we have fewer than 12 years to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels and toward energy efficiency and sustainable energy," Sanders said in a Tuesday morning press conference. "If we are going to leave this planet in a state that’s healthy and habitable for our children and grandchildren and future generations, this is a moral imperative. We have no choice."
Even if passed, the resolution would not institute a national emergency declaration, or force the federal government to take any specific actions to combat greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global warming.
But its supporters call it an important step in focusing national attention on the dire effects of global warming, ranging from increases in extreme storms, flooding, drought, heat waves and sea level rise, to the potential for massive human suffering as a result — particularly for the poorest and most marginalized populations.
"In order for us to enact the scale of the solution, we have to recognize the scale of the problem," Ocasio-Cortez said in Tuesday's press conference. "That’s exactly what this climate emergency does."
Specifically, the resolution calls for "a national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization of the resources and labor of the United States at a massive-scale to halt, reverse, mitigate, and prepare for the consequences of the climate emergency and to restore the climate for future generations.”
The resolution doesn’t detail the terms of this massive mobilization. But Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez are both supporters of the Green New Deal, an aggressive and wide-ranging plan to combat climate change proposed by Democrats in Congress, which could be taken as a template for the efforts required. The resolution, introduced in February, calls for 100 percent clean energy to supply all U.S. power through a decade-long national mobilization on the scale of that undertaken to fight World War II.
"The green new deal is that framework," Blumenauer said in Tuesday's press call, before catching a plane to Washington D.C. to submit the resolution in the House of Representatives. "I think that declaring this emergency is a first step."
Ocasio-Cortez mentioned a few potential policy efforts in support of the climate emergency resolution, such as lawsuits against oil companies, or public funding mechanisms to serve as an alternative to Wall Street. But "we cannot begin to have these conversations until we declare a climate emergency," she said.
The latest resolution follows similar declarations by more than 700 local government in 16 countries, according to the nonprofit group The Climate Mobilization. These include the UK's May declaration, followed by Ireland, France and Canada since then, as well as hundreds of cities including New York City in June.
Tuesday’s move comes amidst a rising push from activists to force governments to reduce carbon emissions far faster than current policies are achieving, including in the United States. On Monday, the Rhodium Group released a report indicating the U.S. will miss its 2020 greenhouse gas reduction targets set in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, the predecessor to the Paris Climate Agreement of 2016, which the U.S. withdrew from under Trump’s direction in 2017.
An October 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that limiting global warming to 1.5°C, the goal of the Paris agreement, will require a 45-percent reduction in human-caused carbon dioxide emissions from 2010 levels by 2030 – a rate of decarbonization that will require “rapid and far-reaching transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities.”
Tuesday’s resolution was welcomed by environmental groups pushing for big changes in environmental policy. “There’s no doubt that we’re in a climate emergency, and it’s time all of our elected officials started acting like it,” Greenpeace USA Climate Campaign Director Janet Redman said in a prepared statement.
Despite this warning from the world’s top climate scientists, Trump’s speech on Monday, purporting to extol his administration’s environmental policy record, made no mention of “global warming” and “climate change.” Instead, Trump claimed credit for improvements in air and water quality that began far before he took office, and have in some cases worsened under his administration.
Trump’s speech also contained several lies.
Trump claimed that U.S. air quality has improved since he took office, but carbon emissions and air pollution have increased during his term, according to analyses from the Rhodium Group and the Associated Press. Trump said that over the past decade, U.S. carbon emissions from energy production have declined "more than any other country on Earth," but more than a dozen countries, many of them in Europe, have achieved more than double the U.S. rate of reduction. And Trump repeated a false claim that the Green New Deal will cost $100 trillion — a figure that its initial promoters have conceded lacks any basis in reality, and which exceeds the economic output of all countries on Earth.
Trump’s speech also failed to mention that his proposed Affordable Clean Energy rule, his administration’s replacement of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, will result in far higher greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants over the coming decades. It did not mention the Department of Energy’s so-far unsuccessful efforts to force utilities and energy markets to buy electricity from money-losing coal and nuclear power plants at above-market rates.
The speech also left out the administration’s efforts to undermine current fuel economy standards for motor vehicles through its Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient Vehicles proposal, or its efforts to weaken efficiency standards for appliances, furnaces, water heaters, consumer electronics, light bulbs and other equipment.
Sanders singled out Trump, whom he called "dangerously ignorant," and the fossil fuel industry, which he accused of lying "every single day" about their impact on global warming, as key opponents to carbon reduction efforts.
"No plan will be implemented unless we have to courage to take on the greed and dishonesty of the fossil fuel industry," he said. "They lie every single day, they try to obfuscate what they’re doing in terms of carbon emissions and what that’s doing to the planet."