Energy & Environment

Climate activists call on Biden to take more forceful action

Ask young activists about the Biden administration’s efforts to address the climate, and they’re quick to point out the problem isn’t close to being solved.

Despite historic climate moves put in motion by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which hit its first anniversary last week, many in the critical voting bloc of young Americans want to see the Biden-Harris administration rein in fossil fuels and declare a climate emergency.

“It’s not enough now for the Democratic Party to wipe their hands and say, ‘IRA solved it all.’ We’re still in a crisis. This is still an emergency,” Michele Weindling, electoral director at the youth-led progressive environmental advocacy group Sunrise Movement.

President Biden marked one year since “taking the most aggressive action ever on climate energy — ever” with the wide-ranging climate and infrastructure bill. By 2030, the IRA is projected to help triple wind power, increase solar power eightfold, and shift the nation’s electric power grid to 81 percent clean energy, Biden touted to applause. 

“Imagine the impact on climate and the air we breathe. The law is going to help meet all of my bold climate goals by cutting carbon pollution in half by 2030,” Biden said. 

Weindling said her movement sees the IRA as a historic step that delivered “an insane amount of climate investment,” but contended that “the reality is, the IRA isn’t enough for young people” in the face of escalating environmental concerns, like the onslaught of extreme weather this summer alone. 

As Biden lauds the IRA among his administration’s environmental achievements on the 2024 campaign trail — along with rejoining the Paris Agreement, his new national monument designations and the establishment of the new White House Office of Environmental Justice — young activists are re-upping concerns about the administration’s moves to open more land to oil drilling, and stressing that the White House can’t rest with the IRA.

“I frankly think that it’s absurd that while … the Biden administration is celebrating the one-year anniversary of the Inflation Reduction Act, it is going unacknowledged that the administration has not done enough to address fossil fuel supply,” Zanagee Artis, a founding member and executive director of the youth-led climate group Zero Hour said last week

The Biden administration controversially approved the Willow Project, an oil drilling operation, in Alaska earlier this year, and pushed forward the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Virginia and West Virginia. The administration also OK’d a Trump-era decision to let Alaska LNG to export liquified natural gas to countries with which the U.S. doesn’t have a free trade agreement.

“They’ve done a lot of great work on electrification and the build out of renewable energy. But we think that commitment to environmental justice and the phase-out of fossil fuel production is sorely lacking,” Artis said.

Both Zero Hour and the Sunrise Movement are among the youth activist groups calling for Biden to declare a climate emergency, which experts say would give the president more power to act on climate change.

The president earlier this month said in an interview with the Weather Channel that he’s “in practice” declared a climate emergency, though the White House has not formally done so.  

Asked recently about the label, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden “has called it an emergency since day one” and is taking the crisis “very seriously.” She also noted that Biden declared climate “as a basis for emergency action” under the Defense Production Act to set aside funds for bolstering the electric grid and other initiatives.

Treating climate change as an emergency is “a completely different thing” than declaring one, Artis said. He also warned against “youth-washing” the issue — which he described as inviting young people to be part of outreach and the celebration of the IRA, but ignoring youth calls to stop the Willow Project or oppose the Mountain Valley Pipeline. 

The climate is consistently a top issue for the young voter demographic of Americans ages 18 to 29 — who helped Biden to victory in 2020, turned out significantly for Democrats in the midterms and will likely be key for Biden and his fellow Democrats in 2024. 

Climate change was a “hugely motivating” issue for young voters when Biden won in 2020, said Ashley Aylward, a research manager at the public opinion research firm HIT Strategies — adding that she’s optimistic the matter will be just as mobilizing in 2024.

But Aylward said young voters, are not fully recognizing what the White House has accomplished. 

“Young voters just aren’t realizing that Biden is delivering on the promises that young voters wanted him to deliver on,” she said. But when given more information and details about Biden’s work, young voters’ approval of his record goes up “a lot more.” 

The campaign will also need to acknowledge the work still left to do, Aylward said, “because for young voters it’s still not — it’s never enough.” 

The Biden campaign has said it’s working to “meet younger Americans where they are” and underscored its commitment to issues that matter to them, including climate change. 

And the Biden-Harris reelection bid scored the first joint endorsement from four major environmental organizations early in the campaign: the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund, the Sierra Club, NextGen PAC and the NRDC Action Fund.

NextGen America President Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez said her group is gearing up to reach millions of young Americans and share what’s in the IRA, how it impacts their lives and why they need to keep voting come 2024. 

“The climate crisis will not be solved with one piece of legislation. We have to have an entire overhaul and we have to elect the candidates that are most likely to deliver on where we need to move forward and continue to make progress. And that is clearly Biden-Harris,” she said.

Tags Climate change Inflation Reduction Act Joe Biden young voters