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Indigenous leaders and other environmentalists demonstrate outside the White House on October 13, 2021. (Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The 411 on Climate 911: Why Families Showed Up at Ron Klain's House Dressed as Firefighters

President Biden should act like he believes what he says and marshall the tremendous emergency powers of the presidency that he is not yet using.

As parents, we would do anything to protect our kids. And nothing threatens their survival or their futures more than the climate crisis. That's why, on a (fittingly) 96 degree Saturday morning, we joined a dozen families with young children in visiting White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain's home in Chevy Chase with a message for President Biden: Declare a climate emergency, stop new fossil fuel expansion, use every executive tool possible to meet his own clean energy targets, and support Supreme Court expansion to protect the executive branch's ability to act on climate.

[Biden] must declare an emergency and use every tool he gains from the declaration to transition our nation off fossil fuels.

We invited the President's chief of staff to meet with us at the White House on Friday. Since we got no response, we paid him a visit at his home. Families from New York, Pennsylvania, and the D.C. area paraded down his tree-lined street towing red wagon firetrucks full of kids wearing fire hats, spraying play fire extinguishers, and singing a classic firefighter song with remixed lyrics: "Hurry hurry make some rules, outlaw outlaw fossil fuels, we are in a climate crisis, use your executive power!" That's a mouthful for a three-year-old, but our kids understand that climate change is an emergency and we need our leaders to act like it. When we arrived, we were greeted by secret service agents who wouldn't allow us on the public sidewalk. Two moms with babies on their chests asked politely if Klain would come talk to the assembled families. But Klain stayed in his air conditioned home instead of engaging with us.

When Biden ran for president in 2020, he promised to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. His campaign's platform included a comprehensive plan for a transition off fossil fuels that prioritized green jobs and justice. His promises gave us—and families around the country—hope for a livable future. Many of the families who joined the protest this weekend even volunteered to support the Biden campaign in the general election, making calls and knocking on doors in between work, parenting and dealing with COVID. 

Now, two years into Biden's term, signs of the climate emergency are everywhere: Whether it's record breaking fires and droughts in the Western U.S., this spring's deadly heat waves in India and Pakistan and the current "heat apocalypse" in Europe, the record heat this weekend, or storms that pummel the Atlantic Coast on an annual basis, climate change is already killing and displacing families in America and across the world.

After Biden's election we worked hard to advocate for his Build Back Better agenda, only to see him prioritize a much more modest bipartisan infrastructure bill over its passage. This choice combined with fossil fuel funded Joe Manchin's obstruction tanked efforts to pass climate legislation through Congress. Meanwhile, the President approved more new drilling permits than Trump in his first year in office and has continued to support increased investment in fossil fuel infrastructure, the opposite of the climate leadership he promised in 2020. 

Last week, Biden announced modest steps to invest in resiliency and wind energy via executive action. This is a start, but doesn't go nearly far enough. Biden said it himself last Wednesday, "climate change is literally an existential threat to our nation and to the world."

President Biden should act like he believes what he says and marshall the tremendous emergency powers of the presidency that he is not yet using. He must declare an emergency and use every tool he gains from the declaration to transition our nation off fossil fuels.

According to a report from the Center for Biological Diversity, declaring a climate emergency allows Biden to "halt crude oil exports", stop coastal oil and gas drilling and "grow domestic manufacturing" of renewable energy via the Defense Production Act and other emergency powers.

Once he takes these steps, Biden must champion unrigging the Supreme Court to ensure the extremists on the bench can't undermine our nation's climate progress—and our children's futures. Biden has yet to express support for the Judiciary Act, which would expand the court to 13 justices. In order for his emergency declaration and the actions that go with it to survive beyond this term, he must support court expansion and use his platform to get senate democrats on board. 

President Biden has a choice: continue with business as usual and doom our babies to an untenable future, or treat climate change like the emergency it is and fight for all of us. We as parents are going to do everything in our power to ensure he makes the right choice.

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

Liat Olenick

Liat Olenick is an organizer with Climate Families NYC, public school teacher and parent to a 4 month old.

Anna Buning

Anna Buning is a member of Climate Families NYC, a CFO, and parent to a 1 and 3-year-old.

Wilhelmina Peragine

Wilhelmina Peragine is a creative director with Climate Families NYC, an arts educator, and parent to a 2 and 4-year-old.

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