In-Depth: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, introduced this resolution (which also has a House version) to declare that the planet’s climate emergy demands a “national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization of the resources and labor of the United States” in order to “restore the climate for future generations”:
“Today, as we face the global crisis of climate change, it is imperative that the United States lead the world in transforming our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy. What we need now is Congressional leadership to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and tell them that their short term profits are not more important than the future of the planet. Climate change is a national emergency, and I am proud to be introducing this resolution with my House and Senate colleagues.”
Sen. Sanders says that he’d like to see lawmakers work together on climate change with the same urgency that they did after the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941. At that time, Congress quickly passed sweeping legislation in response to the Japanese attack on American soil. He explained:
“In some ways, and I know this sounds a little bit strange, I'm reminded today in terms of the crisis that we face in climate change about where the US was in 1941 when it was attacked at Pearl Harbor. And what happened at that point — having to fight a war on two fronts, in the East and in Europe — the US came together and within three years it had created the type of armaments program that was necessary, in fact, to win the war."
Sen. Sanders added that “[w]e know exactly what has to be done” to address climate change. Instead, he said, “I think the issue here is not that we cannot address this problem [of climate change]. The problem is the lack of political will."
In a press conference after introducing this resolution, Sen. Sanders said:
“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. 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.”
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who is the sponsor of this resolution’s House version, says:
“To address the climate crisis, we must tell the truth about the nature of this threat. Congressional Republicans have teetered on the brink of ignorance for far too long and now urgent, massive action is needed. This is an emergency. We must act now.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who is a cosponsor of the House version of this concurrent resolution, adds:
“Today we stand in solidarity with tens of millions of people from around the world in calling for a mass mobilization of our social and economic resources. It is time we began a swift transition away from fossil fuels and towards a sustainable renewable energy economy. Climate change represents not only our greatest threat but one of our greatest opportunities. Working to solve the climate crisis will create tens of millions of union jobs, empower communities, and improve the quality of life for people across the globe.”
The Guardian’s Emily Holden notes that even if passed (which is unlikely to begin with), this resolution wouldn’t force any action on climate change:
“Even if the resolution passed and was signed by the president, it would not force any action on climate change. But advocates say similar efforts in Canada and the United Kingdom have served as a leverage point, highlighting the hypocrisy between the government position that the situation is an emergency and individual decisions that would exacerbate the problem."
Writing for Grist, Paola Rosa-Aquino puts a finer point on the matter. She argues that declaring a climate emergency “sounds right, but [is] a long way from… actually addressing the problem.” She also points to Canada — where the Liberal Party “en masse to declare a climate emergency in the House of Commons” only for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to approve the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, which will pump almost 600,000 barrels of oil a day, only a day later — as an example of how toothless declarations of climate change as an emergency are.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board argues that this declaration could allow a future Democratic president to “justify extralegal executive actions that Congress has refused to pass” on climate change. It warns that both this and the Trump administration’s attempt to use a national emergency declaration to obtain funds for the president’s proposed southern border wall risk setting a precedent that both sides of the aisle will “exploit” for their own purposes in order to make end-runs around Congress.
This resolution is endorsed by 15 organizations, including Food & Water Watch, 350 Action, Public Citizen, Oil Change U.S., Climate Justice Alliance, The Climate Mobilization, Greenpeace USA, Mothers Out Front, Extinction Rebellion, the Progressive Democrats of America, and Justice Democrats. Additionally, over 450 elected officials, including mayors and state representatives from 40 states, have also called for declaring climate change an emergency.
This resolution has six Democratic Senate cosponsors. Its House version, sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), has 53 Democratic House cosponsors. Neither resolution has received a committee vote. This resolution is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate. It does, however, have a reasonable shot at passing the Democrat-controlled House.
Of Note: Canada’s House of Commons, Britain and Ireland have approved measures declaring climate change an emergency. Similarly, several U.S. cities — including New York and San Francisco — have done so at the local levels. According to The Climate Mobilization, over 700 local governments in 16 countries have declared climate change to be an emergency.
Weather and climate disasters in both the U.S. and abroad, including deadly wildfires, increased flooding, intensifying storms, heat waves, an increase in insect-borne diseases and dangerous algae growth, have all been attributed to climate change. With these events in mind, Sen. Sanders says, “There are many, many challenges facing this country. But at the top of the list must be the existential threat to our planet in terms of the damage that climate change is doing and will do."
In an August 2019 Special Report on Climate Change and Land by the UN Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Geneva, experts highlighted how rising global temperatures are increasing pressures on fertile soil and potentially jeopardizing the planet’s food security. Valérie Masson-Delmotte, Co-Chair of one of three Working Groups that contributed to the 1,200-page report, also noted that people are already suffering the effects of climate change, saying, “Today 500 million people live in areas that experience desertification. People living in already degraded or desertified areas are increasingly negatively affected by climate change.” Working Group Co-Chair Hans-Otto Pörtner stressed that there is “no possibility for anybody to say, ‘Oh, climate change is happening and we (will) just adapt to it.’ The capacity to adapt is limited.”
Due to climate change, the past half-decade is likely to become the warmest five-year stretch in recorded history. On a global scale, even small temperature increases can have major impacts on climates and ecosystems: for example, for every 1ºC increase, air’s moisture carrying capacity increases approximately 7% — leading to an uptick in extreme rainfall events. Those events can in turn trigger landslides, increase soil erosion rates and damage crops — and that’s only one example of how climate change can cause chain reactions.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / piyaset)