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After winning both Georgia elections on Tuesday night, the Democrats will now control the US Senate. That’s incredibly good news for the planet.
With Nancy Pelosi at the helm of the House and Joe Biden (the first climate president!) in the White House, we’re about to enter a high-stakes era of climate action that’s going to require pressure from all sides to become a reality.
According to the IPCC, we’ve got to cut global emissions in half this decade to gain a chance at stabilizing the climate at safe levels. That’s going to be incredibly difficult to do, and is going to require, in their words, “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” What happens in the next two years in the United States is going to be enormously important.
As I wrote in the days after Election Day, there’s an awful lot that Biden can do without Senate approval, but for lasting change to happen, winning a Senate majority was critically important.
Now, we’ve got that.
The implications of Tuesday night’s victories by Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock cannot be overstated in terms of climate action. The effects will reverberate for centuries and millennia in the climate system. For once, it’s OK to feel tremendous hope for the future. We’ve earned it. We deserve to look ahead to a livable future.
But, like I wrote on New Years Day, change won’t happen unless we demand it. This is the moment we’ve been preparing for. It’s time to celebrate a new era of possibility, and it’s time to get to work.
With the Senate now split 50/50, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will become the tie-breaking vote. There’s already a lot of talk among political pundits about a gang of six moderate Republicans and Democrats who will take advantage of that situation to effectively rule Washington, putting the brakes on any major chance of structural change, no matter how popular it is.
What’s absolutely clear to me is that this is the wrong way to think about it.
Over the past few years, we’ve entered a new era, forced by decades of inaction and the lingering attachment to business as usual. The overlapping emergencies of systemic racism, the climate crisis, and the pandemic have made it clear to people that the system is broken, and we’re not going back to the way things were. Climate change is now right at the top of our nation’s priority list for the first time in history, and people used to the status quo are going to be surprised at how quickly things will change.
The main political forces of 2021 won’t be centrist white men like Joe Manchin. It will be Black women, Indigenous water protectors, the Sunrise Movement, and frontline organizers everywhere who are fighting for their voices to be heard.
The Sunrise Movement placed more than a million calls to Georgia voters in the days before the election, wrote extremely wonky op-eds about tax policy in Teen Vogue, and went about just generally being shrewd and calculating political opportunists solely focused on winning the most progressive and justice-centered climate policy imaginable on an emergency timeframe.
The polls closed in Georgia only a few hours ago, and the Sunrise Movement is already going all out to train thousands of volunteers to help pressure the Biden Administration to declare a climate emergency, adopt a Green New Deal, and prioritize climate justice in every division of the federal government. These tactics, along with other progressive groups, are placing in-your-face pressure on the Biden Administration to remain accountable to his climate mandate and ensure this window for action doesn’t slip by without the radical changes we need. And, if the past few years are any example, these grassroots tactics will be enough to shift the conversation in Congress, too.
We can’t listen to the folks who are saying this work is too hard, or our goals are set too high. We have to keep remembering that there’s nothing wrong with asking for what you need to survive. That’s how you win.