Op-Ed: We can’t normalize climate catastrophe. Biden must act 

It’s not normal that children growing up in Detroit and across the United States today will hold summer memories of wildfire smoke, heat alerts and flooded streets.  

It’s not normal for millions of Americans to wonder when they can safely spend an afternoon outside, or take a clean breath.  

It’s not normal for this summer to reach record-breaking temperatures. 

But without urgent action from President Biden — leader of the world’s top producer of the oil and gas driving this crisis — this summer’s blistering temperatures, catastrophic flooding and wildfires will be remembered as just the start of something much worse.  

That’s especially true for communities on the frontlines of fossil fuel pollution, low-income communities and people of color who suffer the worst smogheat and other climate hazards.  

These deadly, unprecedented conditions will only get more supercharged the longer we extract and burn climate-heating fossil fuels. Calling it “our new normal” sets up a dangerous complacency. It also lets President Biden and those in power off the hook.  

This isn’t a moment for defeatism. It’s a moment for empowerment — to demand the climate action necessary to save millions of lives and preserve our planet and its ecosystems.  

That’s why thousands are preparing to take to the streets of New York on Sept. 17 to urge President Biden and other world leaders to phase out production of fossil fuels. 

The march comes ahead of United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres’s landmark climate ambition summit, where attending leaders will be expected to commit to no new fossil fuel projects and present their phaseout plans. 

President Biden can and must make this commitment — not just to join the summit’s first leaders in ending the fossil fuel era, but to regain the public trust in handling what he calls “the existential threat to humanity.”  

To be sure, the president has made important strides. The Inflation Reduction Act, his use of the Defense Production Act and a stack of clean-energy investments are boosting domestic manufacturing and deployment of renewable energy. If implemented well, the funds could reduce emissions and drive resilient energy systems.  

But these investments do not erase the devastating harm from the administration’s approvals of a disastrous onslaught of new fossil projects — from dozens of new or expanded gas export terminals along the Gulf Coast to the massive Willow Project in the Arctic.  

Even as Canada burned and a toxic haze descended on the White House, the administration made a deal with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to fast-track the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which threatens the air and water of Appalachian communities and could contribute nearly 90 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution every year. 

As long as the United States continues to extract dirty oil and gas and export it abroad, environmental justice communities at home will continue to suffer pollution and the planet will continue to burn.  

But none of this is inevitable. President Biden has more power than anyone on Earth to confront the climate threat facing us all and signal to world leaders that the fossil fuel era is ending. Here’s what he can do: 

  • Start by officially declaring a national climate emergency to speed the end of fossil fuels by using his ordinary executive powers and emergency executive powers
  • Halt approvals of new fossil fuel infrastructure projects, starting with the several proposed fossil gas and crude oil export terminals on the Gulf Coast where communities have become sacrifice zones.  
  • Phase out the production of oil, gas, and coal on our public lands and waters and revoke permits for the Willow Project and Alaska LNG, a massive liquefied gas export facility 10 times more climate-polluting than Willow. 
  • Use the National Emergencies Act to stop the flow of hundreds of billions of taxpayer and private dollars funding coal, oil and gas projects abroad. 
  • Direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to stop its harmful practices of building back fossil fuel status quo and instead invest disaster funds in renewable, resilient energy. 

Fossil fuels are driving this crisis. And normalizing the climate catastrophe we’re experiencing is exactly what the oil and gas industry wants so it can keep making record profits at the expense of our planet.  

There’s still time to rewrite our future and avoid the worst of climate catastrophe, but we need President Biden to move with urgency, courage and purpose. Nothing else will do. 

Rashida Tlaib represents Michigan’s 12th District. Jean Su is energy justice director at the Center for Biological Diversity and co-author of “The Climate President’s Emergency Powers” and “The Climate President’s Action Plan: Legal Authorities.”  

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