Those of us deeply involved in climate action know that it is critical that we meet our collective goal of staying below 1.5°C and that halving the world’s emissions by 2030 is critical to meeting that goal. That is why Biden’s recently announced commitment to halving U.S. emissions by 2030 is so important and encouraging. We should take this moment to appreciate the Biden administration’s many other important steps to significantly reduce emissions: installing a cabinet filled with climate champions, immediately rolling back many of the damaging Trump executive orders, making climate action a top priority for all federal departments and agencies, re-instituting climate diplomacy and finally introducing the $1.8T infrastructure bill chock full of climate related measures.
Dedicated climate activists that you are, you have probably heard of shortcomings with respect to each of these accomplishments, but it is important for us to take this opportunity to celebrate how far Biden has taken us in such a short time. It is easy to forget that even prior to the train wreck of Trump’s anti-climate-change agenda, the climate crisis was not at the top of the agenda for any prior administration. Most of this change in the sense of urgency can be attributed to the attitude change of a wide swath of the electorate and their leaders. We all started to see more frequent climate change attributable disasters: wildfires, drought and more intense and frequent hurricanes. The IPCC issued its landmark report in 2018 entitled “Global Warming of 1.5°C” that underscored the urgency of immediate action to avert catastrophe. Also in 2018, Greta Thunberg started her climate strikes which catalyzed an our youth to rise up and demand that older generations not doom their futures by putting off climate action. Together, these events have moved all of us closer to action on climate. Those already concerned became alarmed, those not sure, became concerned, and many of those in denial about human caused climate change have come to acknowledge that at least some climate change can be attributed to human behavior.
Taking it back to what we do at Rebuild Climate, how can we help out? Right now, the priority needs to be on helping to build the political will to get Biden’s infrastructure bill enacted into law. Remember that politicians don’t lead. They take their lead from the electorate. If the Biden administration and Congress fail to pass this infrastructure bill, some part of the blame will fall on us. It is up to the climate activist community to build the political will that will give our elected representatives the support they need to make the necessary compromises and stick their necks out. Like any large piece of legislation, there will be things in this bill for everyone to hate. But that is the nature of the democratic process. We cannot let perfection be the enemy of the good enough.
At Rebuild Climate, we encourage our members to build political will through four levers: media, reaching out to your fellow local citizens (grassroots outreach), and by building relationships with and educating your local business, community and faith leaders (grass-tops outreach), and electoral politics. Of course, the fourth lever of the election process is off the table because the midterms will come after this bill has been enacted.
Media is broadly defined as traditional media and social media. Traditional media outlets include newspapers, magazines, radio and TV. You can write op-eds, letters to the editor, send press releases, offer interviews, even pay for ads if that is within your budget. For social media, you can post on your own channels to your friends/followers, but you can also comment on other channel’s posts including that of your elected representatives’ in a respectful way of course.
Grassroots outreach can include actions such as tabling at events, setting up presentations to educate the public, hosting house parties, organizing events that draw the public in and then give you the opportunity to make your pitch like a movie screening.
Finally, grass-tops outreach is more of a process of relationship building between you and your local community leaders. These folks have outsized influence with your elected officials because they have power and influence within your community. The key in approaching these VIPs is taking it slow, being prepared to actively listen. Invite them to coffee and ask them about their concerns about climate change, then weave in your story on what you believe is the way forward and how they can help sway their elected officials. In this case, in the service of passing Biden’s infrastructure bill.
How to utilize these levers of political will will depend on the political orientation of the elected representative you are working on influencing.
If you are in a swing district with a moderate Republican or Democrat in office, you need to send the message that they should support an ambitious infrastructure bill. These elected officials feel they will be vulnerable in the next election if they support a bill that would increase taxes on corporations or would increase deficit spending. You need to let them know that it is more important to invest in our country’s future with an expansive view of what constitutes infrastructure and to ensure that corporations pay their fair share.
If you are in a solidly blue district, you may have a representative who view’s any watering down of Biden’s infrastructure plan to gain votes of moderates as unacceptable. You need to send the message to your left leaning representative, that it is more important to pass something than to end up with no bill at all.
If you are in a solidly red district, you probably won’t be able to convince your representative to support this bill, but you can register your displeasure (always respectfully) that they will be voting no. At the same time, you could be ask that they come up with an alternative plan. It is important that the Republican party come up with its own version of what climate action should look like so that when Republicans inevitably return to power, we don’t head immediately in the opposite direction. Of course, it is always an option to volunteer your time with a national climate action organization or environmental group that is working on representatives in swing states.
As you can see, there is something to contribute to the cause regardless of where you live. We need to get out there and collectively build the political will to get his infrastructure bill passed with the level of ambition equal to the climate crisis. As soon as Biden’s infrastructure bill lands on his deck for his signature, it will be time to move on to the next important task, but for now, let’s focus on the task at hand and ensure that his bill crosses the finish line.