Climate emergency: Dems face calls for ‘WWII-scale’ mobilisation

At first presidential primary debate in Miami, environmental groups are demanding action to address ‘escalating crisis’.

Traffic moves past the venue where 20 Democratic U.S. presidential candidates will hold the first debate of the 2020 election in Miami
Twenty Democratic US presidential candidates are debating over two nights in Miami, Florida [Jim Bourg /Reuters]

As Democratic presidential contenders take the stage in Miami on Wednesday and Thursday nights, a coalition of activist groups is insisting that the United States Congress declare a “climate emergency”.

The implication of such a political move – more than just semantics – would be to shift the discussion from one centered on climate “change” to a national “mobilisation” for managing an urgent global threat.

“The planet is in crisis, and our leaders are asleep at the wheel,” says an online petition posted by The Climate Mobilization, a nonprofit advocacy group. “We urgently need a massive effort to reverse global warming and protect humanity and the natural world.”

Founded five years ago, the organisation is pushing for the US to acknowledge the “escalating crisis now” and jump-start a transition to a net-zero emissions economy and avoid a “collapse scenario within decades”.

Other climate justice groups backing the petition include Zero Hour, Earth Uprising and Extinction Rebellion. On Saturday, 66 members and supporters of Extinction Rebellion were arrested during a protest in New York City to pressure The New York Times to frame the issue of climate as an “emergency” – amidst a successful effort to compel city officials to declare a climate “emergency”.

A statement released last week by The Climate Mobilization in advance of the first 2020 presidential debate said the group urges all candidates to “affirm their commitment to declaring a national climate emergency in their remarks, particularly in light of the DNC’s decision not to host a climate debate”.

Recasting climate change as an emergency has won powerful backers this year.

Last week, Pope Francis declared a “climate emergency” at a meeting with executives from multinational energy corporations. The move followed a similar declaration by Canada’s House of Commons, as well as parliaments in the United Kingdom, Portugal and Ireland. France is expected to follow suit. 

Local initiatives are also gaining traction, with more than 600 provincial and city governments around the world declaring climate emergencies.

‘Tell the truth’

As the Democratic candidates clash during the first debate – taking place across two evenings in Florida’s biggest city – Miami faces increasing doubts about whether its metro population of five million people is ready to cope with increasingly common scorching temperatures and rising floodwaters.

The state’s Republican governor recently appointed a chief science officer – and is enlisting a chief resilience officer – to do battle against elevated sea levels and other perils. The appointments are seen as recognition of more desperately needed measures to come.


“Governments and other institutions need to tell the truth, communicating with the public about the danger we face,” said Margaret Klein Salamon, director of The Climate Mobilization.

Salamon told Al Jazeera that an emergency declaration by Congress – admitting the country has a problem – is the first step towards making real change and waking people up.

“That is true in individual psychology, and it’s true on a societal level as well,” said Salamon, a former clinical psychologist who views her role as providing climate therapy to Americans traumatised by what is happening to the planet.

“The [federal] Green New Deal is a huge step forward, but as of today, it doesn’t exist as a policy programme. It’s a vision,” said Salamon, adding that the mobilisation effort her group proposes – as in World War II – will not be one piece of legislation but packages of bills that restructure the government around a new number-one national priority.

She says the US government can fund the mobilisation by increasing taxes on the wealthy, issuing sovereign bonds, and deficit spending.

“If we don’t, and we fail, then it’s lights out,” she said.

Source: Al Jazeera