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A climate activist with Stop the Money Pipeline holds a sign during a rally in midtown Manhattan on April 17, 2021. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Climate Movement Must Wake up Senate Democrats Before Last Chance Is Gone

Indescribable global suffering will be our legacy if we allow time to run out.

Gary Houser

"Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future." —IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, Feb. 2022

The window within which to sustain life on earth as we know it is ''rapidly closing.'' It does not get any more stark than that. Many who have long labored in the climate movement struggle to function in a soul-crushing dilemma. Year after year we watch as irreplaceable time is squandered away while we realize the tipping point to "out of control" moves closer. Yet knowing the entire precious gift of life on earth is at stake, we cannot allow ourselves to give up. So we slog on.

"This is the one opportunity. If we don't do this now....this planet has no chance…We have a few years left and that's it...the planet is dying." —Congressman Allan Lowenthal

In order to do so, we put up a shield to protect ourselves from despair and collapse. But there is a price. Sometimes, in order to keep going, we use that shield to take mental breaks from the grisly details on how bad things actually are. But when we are approaching the actual end point, we must gather the courage to open our eyes wide so we are able to sound the warning.

It sounds like hyperbolic exaggeration, but an objective view which contrasts the stark scientific warnings with what is happening in the Senate reveals we are teetering on the very edge. Humanity has already squandered vast time in the massive failure to act on the scale required. Science tells us the inexorable laws of physics cannot be stopped. The earth system cannot absorb another interminable delay. There IS such a thing as out of time. While it is impossible to fully grasp the existential meaning, as a video producer this writer has tried to approximate what such a breakdown of life might look like in this very brief [just over one minute] collage of images.

The last time Democrats controlled both the presidency and both halls of Congress was in January of 2009 after President Obama was elected and lasted only two years. The Waxman-Markey climate bill failed to be passed, and we have witnessed the unspeakably tragic absence of meaningful national legislation on the climate emergency ever since.

Due to an electoral miracle in Georgia in 2020, the Democrats regained a razor-thin one vote majority [counting the tie-breaking vote of the vice-president]. Biden campaigned on by far the biggest green energy transition in history, and we allowed a flicker of hope to re-enter our lives. Coal state Senator Manchin has placed road blocks, but from the beginning there has been a path to the finish line.

Democrats must retain the urgency of what is at stakein the words of the classic  civil rights anthem to ''keep their eyes on the prize and hold on." If we measure a political failure in terms of its impact on the future of life, this would be the most consequential in human history. Again this sounds like hyperbole, but if such failure seals in the crossing of the dreaded tipping point, can this be described as an exaggeration?  

Other issues have interveneda brutally cold-blooded invasion of Ukraine, a global economy disrupted by Covid impacts and dependence on Russian fossil fuel, and seemingly runaway inflation. All deserve attention but cannot be allowed to eclipse the greatest threat looming over humanity and the window for action about to close in our collective face. 

"The party doesn't even seem to realize that it's blowing a once-in-a-decade chance to pass meaningful climate legislation." —Robinson Meyer, "Democrats are Sleepwalking Toward Climate Disaster"

Yet we see this briefing by White House officials on April 25, 2022:  ''White House officials briefed House chiefs of staff on Monday about their priorities for the next 100 days.  While [they] mentioned Build Back Better, administration officials were more focused on addressing toxic exposure for veterans, a China bill, additional funding for COVID-19….The officials said the goal is to hit "singles, doubles and triples..." 

The greatest threat in history just ''mentioned?'' We should settle for small ''base hits?'' Precisely when clear vision is urgently needed, the transcendent danger of a climate collapse seems to have unconscionably become blurred.

This is NOT a failure that can be blamed on Republican obstructionism. The ball is clearly in the Democrats' court, and they must be held accountable in the strongest terms. Manchin has in fact signaled he is prepared to sign on to much of the climate part of ''Build Back Better'' as long as it is not his name on what would unequivocally be a partisan bill if it was pushed through using the ''reconciliation'' process - a simple majority vote. A source familiar with Manchin: "He's not going to write a partisan bill. That's not who he is." So why are the Democrats not writing this bill?  And why not 3 months ago?

There is no guarantee the Biden climate measures will be enough to prevent the tipping point. But it is the best chance in 12 years to take a substantial step as a country in the right direction. As someone fully active in the climate movement since 2008, this writer understands emotional exhaustion. Yet for our children and those already experiencing the leading edge of the horrific suffering that will descend on this planet, is there not a deep moral obligation to be counted at this juncture when all is on the line?

There are warnings about Democratic distraction, but no visible sign of a climate movement mobilizing. The masses of the People's Climate March, the millions of young people who took part in climate strikes, where are you now? If this is not an ''all hands on deck'' moment, then what is? Can we reach out to our brothers and sisters who collectively hold the future of life in our trembling hands and lift each other up one more time? Will we press the Democrats to at least provide a chance of "turning the corner" against the frightening climate apocalypse? As someone who is a faith-based activist, I will pray that we can and we will.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Gary Houser

Gary Houser

Gary Houser helped organize one of the first major climate civil disobedience actions in the U.S. in 2009, which contributed impetus toward the Keystone pipeline campaign.  For ten years he has worked for a green transition in Ohio, and now produces video resources—an example being one used to recruit people for the climate summit in Scotland. Email:  climatecollapsefilmproject [at] gmail [dot] com

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