On the eve of the global Youth Climate Action Day 2020, more than 125 young elected officials from throughout the United States signed on to an open letter urging President-elect Joe Biden to take bold, necessary action to protect communities across the country and beyond from the human-caused climate emergency.
"No matter how the Senate roll call turns out, President-elect Biden will need support for his clean energy economy agenda from elected officials across the country."
—Alex Cornell du Houx, EOPA
Organized by Elected Officials to Protect America (EOPA), the letter explains that the signatories "believe it is imperative we take action on the climate crisis because it is a threat multiplier for water security, deadly disease, and environmental racism. It is time to enact a national Climate Emergency Plan that protects all our communities."
The letter comes as Biden is assembling his administration following an election that occurred in the midst of the deadly coronavirus pandemic and related economic fallout as well as a national uprising demanding racial justice—in addition to the ongoing climate emergency illuminated by a summer of devastating wildfires across the West Coast and a record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season.
Although Biden won last month and Democrats held on to their majority in the House, party control of the Senate will be determined by a pair of runoff races in Georgia scheduled for January 5. In a statement Friday, EOPA president Alex Cornell du Houx said that "no matter how the Senate roll call turns out, President-elect Biden will need support for his clean energy economy agenda from elected officials across the country."
"That's why our letter is so important," added the former Maine state representative. "Young elected officials help shape the public discourse and the policy agenda. They don't shy away from politically charged topics—they confront them with positive change like the young elected officials that are speaking today."
Though some of Biden's selections and possible future picks for his incoming administration have alarmed climate activists in recent weeks, the former vice president won progressive support ahead of his election in November by embracing a bolder vision for climate policy, including with a green energy plan unveiled in July.
"With President-elect Biden we have the chance to attack the climate crisis, invest in green 21st century jobs, and embrace the clean energy revolution our country, our young people are crying out for," said EOPA executive director Dominic Frongillo, a former Caroline, New York councilmember.
Did you know tomorrow is Youth Climate Action Day when young people all over the world will take action to combat the climate crisis – be that planting trees or walking instead of taking the car. You can take action and share it using #ClimateActionDay #FridaysForFuture pic.twitter.com/ClXalFHNow
— Dynamic Earth (@ourdynamicearth) December 4, 2020
Democratic Maine Rep. Chloe Maxmin last month won her challenge to state Senate Republican Leader Dana Dow after running a campaign that promised residents of a conservative, rural district a Green New Deal and "politics as public service." As Maxmin told Common Dreams after her victory, "When I talk to folks, I mostly listen, I don't show up and talk about myself... I really try and listen and make sure that the voices that I hear are reflected in our campaign."
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Maxmin, who signed EOPA's letter, reiterated on Friday that her approach to politics involves engaging with and working for the people who elected her, explaining: "I fight for my rural community and values, regardless of party or background. Our work is built on listening and mutual respect."
"We're at a moment where we can either let our divisions tear us apart or bring us together," noted the state senator-elect, who is currently the youngest woman serving in the Maine House. "With the climate spiraling out of control we have to work together for all our futures."
The EOPA letter urges both Biden and the next Congress to develop a federal climate emergency plan that includes, but is not limited to, the following objectives:
- Transition to 100% clean energy;
- Ensure everyone has access to clean and safe water;
- Investment in communities on the frontlines of environmental injustice, including Indigenous, communities of color, and economically vulnerable;
- Investment in clean, accessible, and affordable transportation systems;
- Investment in a smart renewable-energy grid;
- Transition to regenerative agriculture;
- Phase-out of plastics and toxins that threaten our global oxygen supply;
- Prevent foreign entities from unsustainably extracting U.S. water;
- Improve building energy efficiency; and
- Divest, phase out fossil fuels, and invest in new technologies;
"America must lead the world in protecting everyone from the climate emergency," the letter says, echoing a message from United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres earlier this week.
In an interview that preceded the release of two alarming U.N. climate reports, Guterres warned that "the way we are moving is a suicide" and humanity's survival hinges on the United States returning to the Paris agreement and achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Though President Donald Trump officially ditched the global climate deal the day after this year's election, Biden has vowed to rejoin it—though experts and advocates have advised that's merely a starting point.
"Young elected officials from all over the country are proposing legislation, passing laws, and standing up to fight [for] environmental justice so we can create an inclusive clean energy economy."
—Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick
"Young climate activists continue to push and support us to take steps towards a clean energy economy at the state level, but states can only do so much on our own," said Wisconsin state Rep. Greta Neubauer, a Democrat. "Having a president who understands the existential threat of climate change is critical, but he'll need the support of young climate activists and elected officials from every state in order to make the changes we need."
Neubauer joined fellow EOPA letter signatories Maxmin, Wake County Soil & Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors Vice-Chair Jenna Wadsworth, and Ithaca, New York Mayor Svante Myrick for a Friday event to discuss the joint message to Biden.
"Young elected officials from all over the country are proposing legislation, passing laws, and standing up to fight [for] environmental justice so we can create an inclusive clean energy economy," said Myrick, who in 2011 was elected mayor at age 24.
"I'm also encouraged by the wave of young activists demanding climate action," the mayor added. "There is no doubt that their momentum helped New York pass the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, putting us on a path to the future."