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I never thought I'd actually be able to honestly say this, but last week, we reached a major turning point in the climate emergency.
Let’s get one thing clear: the executive orders and promises of the first 10 days of the Biden-Harris administration are not a Green New Deal. But they’re definitely a first step towards one — the first step we have ever taken.
A quick run-down of last week’s action is impressive:
- Prioritizing climate change as a national security issue for the first time.
- Banning fossil fuel extraction on public lands.
- Directs all federal agencies to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies.
- Directing all federal agencies to purchase electric vehicles.
- Organizing a world leaders summit on climate change on Earth Day, 2021.
- Establishing a White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
- Establishing a Civilian Climate Corps.
- All this in addition to Biden’s first day actions of rejoining the Paris agreement, stopping the Keystone XL pipeline, and elevating his science advisor to Cabinet level.
The speed of Biden’s climate progress has reportedly stunned executives in the fossil fuel industry. And the most important piece of this: none of this would have been possible without the years of organizing pushing the Biden administration to put science and justice at the center of his efforts. None of this would have been possible without listening.
This practical approach to transformative change is going to be a hallmark of the Biden-Harris administration’s climate strategy, and it’s going to put us on the path to a zero carbon world in our lifetimes.
What makes the early days of Biden’s climate policy so exciting, to me, is that he’s listening.
Listening eats away at that nihilistic tendency that accompanies so much of climate change. Listening magnifies the efforts of frontline organizers working tirelessly for decades. Listening puts the fight squarely on the fossil fuel industry, where it should have been all along. Listening gives people hope. Listening is transformative.
transformative in shifting away from fossil fuel-driven extractive capitalism into jobs building a zero carbon economy.
transformative in using science to expand our idea of what’s possible and build optimism about the future.
transformative in repairing centuries of violent racism and marginalization and seeking justice.
Listening turns our weaknesses into our strengths. Because we can’t do this alone. We never could.
The Civilian Climate Corps, in particular, sounds super exciting to me. Modeled off the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps which helped build the US out of the Great Depression, this new program comes directly as a result of the Biden transition team listening to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sunrise Movement co-founder Varshini Prakash. Early estimates show the new CCC could put more than a million people to work by this summer. Here’s the description:
Biden will put a new, diverse generation of patriotic Americans to work conserving our public lands, bolstering community resilience, and addressing the changing climate, while putting good-paying union jobs within reach for more Americans, including women and people of color. This initiative will be complemented by a new generation of scientists and land managers committed to ecological integrity and natural climate solutions. These workers will use sound, science-based techniques to thin and sustainably manage our forests, making them more resilient to wildfire and enhancing their carbon intake and habitat integrity; restore wetlands to protect clean water supplies and leverage greater flood protection; repair dilapidated irrigation systems to conserve water; plant millions of trees to help reduce heat stress in urban neighborhoods; protect and restore coastal ecosystems, such as wetlands, seagrasses, oyster reefs, and mangrove and kelp forests, to protect vulnerable coastlines, sequester carbon, and support biodiversity and fisheries; enhance the carbon intake of natural and working lands, wetlands, reefs, and underwater mangrove and kelp forests; remove invasive species; improve wildlife corridors; build hiking and biking trails and access to other recreational amenities; and reinvigorate landscapes and seascapes, unlocking economic and climate resilience in places like the Great Lakes, the Everglades, our nation’s great river systems including the Colorado River, and the Gulf of Mexico.
Of course, a lot will hinge on how these jobs are structured and funded by Congress, but they could be transformative. What’s promising is that recent polling shows the idea of a Civilian Climate Corps has huge support nationwide, even from conservative Republicans who say they oppose climate action. That means that Biden’s practical strategy – doing the thing without saying you’re doing the thing – is working.
As John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy said, “It is now cheaper to deal with the crisis of climate than to leave it.”
None of this is a Green New Deal, but it’s the start of a Green New Deal.
That’s super important to say.
It’s not the end, it’s the start of the beginning. But it IS the beginning.
For years I've been telling myself that sooner or later there would be a president who really truly understood that the climate emergency encompasses everything – social justice, the structure of the economy, the ecological relationships humanity has with every other living thing on the planet – just so that one day I'd really believe it. And apparently my relentless idealism finally worked.
Now that we have a presidential administration that has demonstrated they can listen, we can finally start the work at a national scale that we’ve been doing on our own for so many years.
But now that we have a presidential administration that has demonstrated they can listen, we have the RESPONSIBILITY to continue relentlessly pressuring them to do more: Biden should also declare a climate emergency and use those powers to move even faster.
None of these actions announced last week on their own are enough. But in aggregate, it’s the start of being enough.
There's so much to do, but we've finally started.