woman wades through flood waters from Hurricane Idalia

A woman wades through flood waters from Hurricane Idalia after having to evacuate her home on August 30, 2023 in Tarpon Springs, Florida.

(Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Florida-Bound Biden Faces Calls to Declare Climate Emergency After Hurricane Idalia

Campaigners also argue that "Big Oil CEOs and politicians like Ron DeSantis must be held accountable for knowingly fueling the climate crisis that heats our oceans and strengthens deadly storms."

As U.S. President Joe Biden plans to visit Florida on Saturday to tour the wreckage from Hurricane Idalia, climate campaigners this week have yet again renewed demands for the Democrat—who is seeking reelection next year—to declare a climate emergency.

"I don't think anybody can deny the impact of the climate crisis anymore," the president said in a Wednesday speech about the hurricane response and wildfire recovery efforts in Maui. "Just look around: historic floods—I mean historic floods; more intense droughts; extreme heat; significant wildfires have caused significant damage like we've never seen before."

Biden suggested during an interview earlier this month that he had "practically" declared a climate emergency—which campaigners forcefully refuted, stressing that actually doing so would unlock various powers to tackle the global crisis.

After the president on Thursday confirmed his upcoming trip to Florida, the youth-led Sunrise Movement wrote on social media that "Biden must declare a climate emergency and do everything he can to prevent future disasters now."

White House Homeland Security Adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall told reporters on Thursday that Biden will "visit the areas most impacted" by the storm and has been receiving regular updates from her and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Deanne Criswell "on the latest developments with Hurricane Idalia, and also of course with the ongoing recovery operations in Hawaii on the island of Maui," according toCNN.

Since the Category 3 hurricane made landfall in Florida early Wednesday before moving on to Georgia and the Carolinas, multiple groups, including Greenpeace USA and the Center for Popular Democracy, have called for a climate emergency declaration.

Scientists have warned that continuing to heat the planet through human activities like fossil fuel use will lead to increasingly devastating hurricanes—particularly because the global ocean has absorbed most of the warming from greenhouse gases in recent decades.

"We can see climate change fueling hurricanes," Andra Garner, a hurricane expert at Rowan University in New Jersey, toldNPR on Wednesday, explaining how hotter ocean water is tied to more intense storms. "Think of it like getting a coffee in the morning and getting a couple extra shots of caffeine in there."

Along with calls for a climate emergency declaration, demands are also mounting for the fossil fuel industry—and the politicians who support it, like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a 2024 GOP presidential candidate—to be held accountable for driving the disasters.

"As we Floridians face the devastation of yet another massive hurricane, we know exactly who is responsible for making these countless disasters exponentially worse: the Big Oil CEOs profiting off the climate crisis and their political allies," CLEO Institute executive director Yoca Arditi-Rocha said Thursday. "Big Oil CEOs and politicians like Ron Desantis must be held accountable for knowingly fueling the climate crisis that heats our oceans and strengthens deadly storms—then leading the fight to strip away resources our state could use to respond."

John Paul Mejia, a Miami native and national spokesperson for the Sunrise Movement, shared that "it's hard to see the people and places I love suffering after yet another climate disaster. But the truth is, Florida is standing out as an example of what a world ruled by fossil fuel executives and the politicians they employ looks like."

"By turning down millions of dollars in climate investments while people suffer, Gov. DeSantis has shown he's more willing to shield Big Oil executives from accountability than serve the people of Florida," the campaigner added. "My generation won't forget this and we will do anything in our power to defeat politicians like him."

"It's time to hold Big Oil accountable for the climate disasters they're fueling," declared Jamie Henn of Fossil Free Media, which recently bought billboards in U.S. communities blaming heatwaves on fossil fuel giants. "Big Oil executives are sitting in cushy corner offices making massive profits while people in Florida, Hawaii, and all over the world are losing their homes, businesses, and lives. Finally holding this industry accountable for the damage they're causing has become a major priority for the global climate movement."

As frontline communities and activists seek accountability, including through climate liability lawsuits against oil and gas companies, "the spate of summer disasters has highlighted another potentially looming crisis in the U.S." Inside Climate News reported Tuesday. "The federal Disaster Relief Fund, which allocates billions of dollars to help communities recover after a major disaster, is set to run out of money this fall if Congress can't come to an agreement on how to replenish it."

As the outlet detailed:

On Monday, the Biden administration announced nearly $3 billion in funding for hundreds of communities across the U.S. to reduce their vulnerability to climate-fueled extreme weather events. The money, which will come from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that Congress passed in 2021, will go toward building more weather-resilient infrastructure and flood mitigation efforts, among other projects.

But that money—though important—is geared toward preventative measures and is separate from FEMA's disaster relief fund, meaning it won't help communities recover from this summer's devastating weather. If the relief fund isn't replenished soon, the agency could be forced into a difficult position, having to choose which disaster recovery efforts to fund and which to postpone.

Climate scientist and activist Peter Kalmus said on Democracy Now! Thursday that "the public just doesn't understand, in my opinion, what a deep emergency we are in. This is the merest beginning of what we're going to see in coming years. And to me, it's absolutely horrifying."

"I don't think people really fully appreciate how irreversible these impacts are," he continued. "We can't just reverse this. It's not like cleaning up trash in a park. How hot we allow this planet to get is how hot it will stay for a very long time. And I feel like climate scientists, including myself, have been being ignored for decades by world leaders. They just don't seem to get this, either."

"I'm glad to hear President Biden finally using his bully pulpit a little bit to try to wake people up that this is real, but he continues to expand fossil fuels at breakneck pace," Kalmus added, pointing to drilling on public lands, the Willow project in Alaska, and the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Appalachia. "And that's the cause of all of this damage that we're seeing."

"I've got two sons, and it breaks my heart to see the Biden administration continue to expand fossil fuels and take us deeper into this catastrophe, instead of trying to bring us back from this," said the expert, who has called on the president to declare a climate emergency. "He's deeply on the wrong side of history."

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