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The US Government Should Declare Climate Emergency

The havoc that will soon be wrought by climate change is unfathomable. It's a crisis — one which Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Sen. Bernie Sanders demanded yesterday the US government recognize. It's a needed step towards winning a Green New Deal.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks during a rally at Howard University May 13, 2019 in Washington, DC, for the Green New Deal. Alex Wong / Getty Images

To justify his administration’s barbaric actions at the Southern border, Donald Trump is using the language of crisis. In May 2019, a scaremongering statement from the White House declared that the United States “has been invaded by hundreds of thousands of people coming through Mexico.” This “sustained influx of illegal aliens” is “overwhelming our schools, overcrowding our hospitals, draining our welfare system, and causing untold amounts of crime,” the administration said.

This, of course, is bullshit.

The United States is currently seeing a net outflow of undocumented immigrants. And even if we weren’t, these people have a right to migrate in order to create a life free from wanton violence and economic devastation — chaos largely created by the United States.

Immigrants do not “overwhelm” us; they are us, and their presence in this country does not constitute a crisis. Their abuse at the hands of our government, however, absolutely does.

The Trump administration recently invoked the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to justify its inhumane treatment of immigrants on US soil. This struck Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon as unjustifiably hypocritical. What if we used the language of crisis to instead describe an actual mass emergency: the looming threat of climate disaster, which the Trump administration categorically neglects and which, unlike the presence of undocumented immigrants, requires drastic and immediate political action in order to ensure public safety?

Blumenauer has teamed up with Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to propose legislation declaring global warming a national and international emergency. The resolution was submitted to the House of Representatives on Tuesday. In order to address the crisis at hand, it 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 legislation may have been inspired by Trump’s duplicity, but the idea did not spring fully formed from Blumenauer’s mind. It is a response to climate activists, who have been increasingly demanding that national, state, and local governments around the world declare the climate crisis an emergency.

In April, the new group Extinction Rebellion occupied central London for ten days. “The science is clear: It is understood that we are facing an unprecedented global emergency,” says the group. “We are in a life or death situation of our own making. We must act now.” Extinction Rebellion’s first demand is that governments “must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.”

Declarations of emergency are also the most urgent demand of The Climate Mobilization, a US-based climate activist group waging a campaign to pressure governments to sign on. The group states that “declaring Climate Emergency is the critical first step to launching the comprehensive mobilization solution required to rescue and rebuild civilization.”

In response to the Extinction Rebellion protests, the United Kingdom House of Commons declared emergency in May. Similar declarations around the world are pouring in. To date, climate emergency has been declared by 740 jurisdictions globally, one of which is New York City, which declared emergency in June. Los Angeles appears set to follow suit. The joint resolution proposed by Blumenauer, Ocasio-Cortez, and Sanders would make the United States the seventeenth and largest nation to heed the crisis declaration call from climate activists.

It remains to be seen whether the US federal climate emergency resolution has the support needed to pass into law. The United States government sustains intimate ties with the fossil fuel industry, ties that have so far prevented political representatives from touching anything that opens the door, as this resolution does, to a national mobilization to cease fossil fuel extraction and transition to a zero-emissions economy. Even though the resolution is nonbinding, it clearly gestures toward the implementation of a Green New Deal which, as envisioned by Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders, would spell the end of the fossil fuel era.

There’s another reason legislators may be hesitant, despite clear evidence that we are indeed facing a climate emergency, to vote for a bill that paves the way for a Green New Deal. The GND isn’t just about saving the planet: it’s about doing so in a way that builds the power of working people and erodes inequality, on the basis that the current capitalist system brought us to the brink of destruction to begin with.

To this end, the GND would create millions of green jobs, and insists that they come with “a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States.”

American politicians aren’t just beholden to the fossil fuel industry; they’re beholden to the capitalist class writ large. Reducing unemployment and building worker power — including providing universal healthcare, education, and housing, also outlined in the GND — makes exploitation harder, which means profits for the few will sink even as living standards for the many improve. There’s no doubt that the GND will face tremendous pushback in the halls of power, and that pushback may begin with shooting down this declaration.

The best shot we have at muscling this bill through is to raise hell in the streets. It’s sound politics: when the people in power don’t want to budge, the majority must create pressure from the outside to force their hand. It’s no easy task. But if people fight hard enough, we might be able to get the United States — the biggest carbon polluter in world history — to formally acknowledge the real crisis at hand.