One last push: Climate activists gather in the White House and in the US


WASHINGTON — Joe Biden was not Vincent Vertuccio’s first choice as president. But as a high school student on Long Island, Mr. Vertuccio hundreds of young people to help him choose, driven by a single problem: climate change.

On Saturday, the day after Earth Day, Mr. Vertuccio outside the White House at one of dozens of “Fight for Our Future” rallies planned in cities across the country to pressure the government to cut pollution that is dangerously warming the world. planet.

The event organizers are bringing together a broad coalition of youth activists, unions, civil rights groups and mainstream environmental groups to urge the president, Congress and the state legislature to take aggressive climate action.

They worry that time is running out – both for the atmosphere, which is rapidly warming to dangerous levels, and for legislative action to limit the damage. Many supporters believe that after Memorial Day, Washington’s focus will shift to November’s midterm elections, making it nearly impossible for lawmakers to negotiate important legislation.

Failure to act will undoubtedly have political ramifications for Mr. Biden and his party, jeopardizing the support of young voters who came in record numbers in 2020 to help Democrats secure control of the White House and Congress. coming.

“Young people have chosen Joe Biden to take action,” Vertuccio said. “If we don’t see climate action, I think that will be a huge betrayal by the Democratic Party to young people.”

In interviews with more than a dozen people lobbying, protesting and mobilizing support for climate legislation, most said they see despair among their peers.

Mr. Biden, who took office and pledged to take urgent action against what he called the existential threat of climate change, has seen his ambitious plans pass the House but then watered down and stalled in the Senate due to united opposition from both Republicans and Senator Joe Manchin III. , Democrat of West Virginia, a strong vote in an evenly divided chamber. Meanwhile, the conservative majority in the U.S. Supreme Court stands ready to rule in a case that could greatly threaten Mr. Biden’s plans to use the executive branch to enact strict new rules for the pollution of greenhouses from power plants and cars. to limit.

And soaring gas prices resulting from the war in Ukraine have prompted Mr. Biden to take steps that are anathema to climate activists. He released a record amount of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, begged oil and gas companies to drill more and temporarily relaxed environmental regulations to allow gasoline blended with ethanol to be sold during the summer months, when it’s normally banned due to concerns. that it contributes to smog. He said he would open up more public lands for drilling, undoing a promise he made during his campaign. The fossil fuel industry, which was on the defensive a year ago when it came to climate policy, has now been encouraged again.

While all this was taking place, the United Nations released a landmark report in which top scientists from around the world warned that time is running out for countries to move away from fossil fuels or face a future of climate catastrophe.

Rob Sherrell, an oceanographer and professor at Rutgers University, said he has been talking to students about the threats of climate change, including those from rising seas, wildfires and extreme storms, since the 1980s. “We are in great danger and I am frankly very scared,” he said. “Our government has done virtually nothing about this problem for decades.”

dr. Sherrell plans to attend the meeting in Washington with his students, who are filling a bus for the trip.

“There is a lot of malaise,” said Dr. sherrell. “Students are exhausted and demoralized.” Without legislation, he added, Mr. Biden and the Democrats “will lose the support of the next two generations of people, and I can’t imagine what that means.”

Analysts agree. “There are real implications for the president,” said Abby Kiesa, deputy director of the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning at Tufts University. In 2020, the center found that voters between the ages of 18 and 29 played a critical role in Mr Biden’s election, favoring him 61 to 36 percent over President Trump.

Young voters overwhelmingly cited climate change as one of their top three issues, Ms Kiesa said. And those who prioritized it exhibited what she called “high civic readiness” — an opportunity to get involved with local and national organizations.

“These are young people who are clearly involved,” she said.

Christy Goldfuss, the senior vice president for energy and environmental policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, said climate law supporters feel “terrified, demoralized, tired.”

She said many are concerned that the climate provisions in Mr Biden’s legislation — including $550 billion in clean energy tax credits to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, wind, solar and other clean energy — are “in the dark.” will die” when priorities such as the war in Ukraine are central.

Ms Goldfuss, an organizer of the event, said she fears the fragile alliance between disparate groups that support climate action — which was often divided during the Obama era — could fall apart again if the legislation isn’t passed.

“You have a bunch of youth organizers that we’ve worked closely with who think the system is broken and needs to be blown up, who don’t see a chance to work with either side anymore,” she said.

Biden will speak in Seattle on Friday to highlight the efforts his administration has made on climate, beyond legislation. Those include heavy pressure on solar and offshore wind development, new regulations to curb carbon dioxide from tailpipes and methane from oil and gas wells, and a ban on hydrofluorocarbons — global warming chemicals used in air conditioning and refrigeration. He will also sign an executive order Friday to inventory mature and old-growth forests on federal lands, and establish what the White House calls “climate-smart management and conservation strategies” for those forests.

“We really hope to hear that they are ready to deliver on the promises President Biden has kept,” said Betamia Coronel, a New York organizer with the Center for Popular Democracy advocacy group.

Ramon Cruz, president of the Sierra Club, said activists angry at the Biden administration are misdirecting their anger.

Fossil fuel companies and lawmakers blocking legislation “should be the target of our frustration and anger, not the people trying to do something,” Cruz said.

Organizers of the Washington rally tightly choreographed the event in concert with the White House, with government speakers including Ali Zaidi, the White House’s deputy national adviser, lining up to try to blame the to turn away Mr Biden.

John Paul Mejia, 19, a spokesperson for the Sunrise Movement, a climate advocacy organization, became involved after experiencing Hurricane Irma in his hometown of Miami and witnessing firsthand the challenges facing poorer communities.

He called passing climate legislation “my generation’s struggle” and spoke of the “heartbreaking uncertainty about the people and places I’d love to be here tomorrow” as sea level rise, severe storms and flooding threaten Miami.

“Young people gave this government a bold mandate for action on climate,” said Mr Mejia. He said he did not regret supporting Biden, but evaded whether he would do so in 2024.

“I cannot say that President Biden has acted with enough zeal and clarity to live up to the weight of the moment,” he said. “I’ll have to decide that when he walks.”

Christopher Flavelle reporting contributed.

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