Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont teamed up with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Oregon’s Rep. Earl Blumenauer on Tuesday to unveil a new resolution that would declare climate change a national emergency.
“There is a climate emergency which demands a massive-scale mobilization to halt, reverse, and address its consequences and causes,” the bill’s authors wrote. While it does not call for specific action, the legislation states in sharp terms that climate change is a human-made problem that threatens the fortunes of millions of Americans and demands immediate political action.”
The largely symbolic legislation has little chance of making any headway in the Republican-held Senate, but it provides Sanders – who has proposed radical steps to effectively wipe out the fossil fuel industry – with a tangible example of his efforts to take on major problems of particular concern to young voters.
While the Senate resolution originates out of Sanders’ Capitol Hill office, it has obvious implications in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. The Vermont independent has found himself lagging behind former Vice President Joe Biden, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a progressive ally who recently rolled out a preview of her vision for the Green New Deal, is surging. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, too, is enjoying a post-debate bump. Sanders and his team have projected confidence despite the bouncing poll numbers, plowing ahead with policy rollouts and proposals designed to highlight his progressive credentials and priorities.
His campaign has also attempted to build the case that his brand of progressive politics is consistent and unique – with this legislation as a prime example. Sanders said that setting to work building a coalition of world leaders to address climate change, while confronting fossil fuel industry leaders, would be at the top of his to-do list on his first day as president.
“The problem is the lack of political will,” Sanders said on a call with Ocasio-Cortez, Blumenauer and climate activists. “The fact is that the problem is that we have a President who is ignorant regarding this issue, completely and dangerously ignorant.”
All three lawmakers said Tuesday that the declaration was necessary because the issue of climate change, given the scientific consensus around its causes, had moved entirely into the realm of politics. By taking this step, they argued, Congress would signal its willingness to enact significant changes, including taking the first steps toward turning the controversial, and still largely conceptual, Green New Deal into a reality.
Ocasio-Cortez and Blumenauer cast the resolution as a necessary beginning in what they view as a long fight ahead to implementing key pieces of the Green New Deal.
“In order for us to enact the scales of solution, we have to acknowledge the scale of the problem,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “And that’s exactly what declaring a climate emergency does.”
The trio, along with the activist supporters, cast Trump’s willingness to agitate for unrelated or dubious national emergency declarations in contrast with their own goal, which brings a legitimate crisis, with global implications, to the forefront.
“We are going to have to take on the greed of the fossil fuel industry and the ignorance of Donald Trump and transform our energy system in a very bold way,” Sanders said. “And not only that, climate change is not just obviously an American issue. It is a global issue. And what we need is American leadership demanding that countries all over the world work together to transform our energy system.”
While the resolution faces an uphill battle in the Senate, it is expected to meet a more welcoming reception in the House, where Democrats hold the majority. But even the introduction of the resolution, no matter its immediate fate, is likely to become a political weapon used against Sanders and other primary candidates. Republicans have argued that Democratic support for the Green New Deal could lead to economic disaster.
It is a charge Ocasio-Cortez rejects.
“What we have seen is a decades-long attempt by the fossil fuel industry to sow discord and misinformation as it relates to climate change,” she said. “And I do think there should be an effort to hold them accountable.”