WASHINGTON — Environmental activists, distraught over slow government action on climate change, rallied outside the White House Saturday afternoon, calling on President Biden and Congress to quickly pass a climate bill that has been stalled in the Senate since December.
The White House rally was one of dozens of “Fight for Our Future” rallies held across the country to pressure the government to cut pollution that is dangerously warming the planet, capping a week of scheduled events. to coincide with Earth Day.
“We’re here because North Carolina keeps getting hit by hurricanes in a row and we don’t have anything fixed,” said Willett Simpkins, 68, a retired nursing home maintenance director from Wallace, NC. “And it’s getting worse. every year. It’s time they stop talking about it and do something about it.”
The event, which drew several hundred people under pale green trees in Lafayette Park, was hosted by the Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus, a nonpartisan group trying to engage young voters.
Many in the crowd work for environmental organizations, but among them were voters who wanted Biden to know that failure to enact climate legislation could cost him their vote.
Mr. Biden, who entered office promising urgent action on what he called the existential threat of climate change, saw his ambitious plans pass the House but watered down and stall in the Senate due to unified opposition from Republicans. and Senator Joe. Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, a powerful swing vote in an evenly divided house.
Rising gasoline prices due to the war in Ukraine have prompted Biden to take steps that are anathema to climate activists. He released a record amount of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and pleaded with oil and gas companies to step up drilling. In accordance with an order from a federal judge, Biden said he would open up more public land for drilling, despite a campaign promise to stop oil and gas drilling.
Gracie Chaney, 27, a Ph.D. candidate in physics at the University of Maryland, said those actions felt like a betrayal. “I’m pretty disappointed,” she said. “There were a lot of promises that she broke. It feels like we’re going back to the 19th century or something.”
The events come at a time when scientists say the window is rapidly narrowing for nations to avoid leading the planet into an irreversible future of deadlier storms, wildfires, floods, droughts, food shortages and mass migration.
Mr. Biden has pledged to cut greenhouse gases in half by 2050, a goal that is in line with what scientists say is needed in the United States to avert such catastrophes.
But if Democrats, who hold a slim majority in Congress, don’t enact major climate legislation in the coming months, many analysts say the window for reaching that goal will slam shut. Republicans are favorites to win control of at least one house of Congress in this fall’s midterm elections, and their staunch opposition to climate action would likely ruin prospects for new legislation anytime soon.
Scientists have been declaring with increasing urgency that nations must act now to avoid a harrowing future. A major scientific report released earlier this month concluded that countries must immediately and drastically move away from the fossil fuels that have sustained major economies for more than a century.
The Earth has warmed an average of 1.1 degrees Celsius (1.9 degrees Fahrenheit) since the Industrial Age, largely due to human activity, namely the burning of oil, gas and coal. Scientists say that every fraction of a degree of warming translates into more frequent droughts, more violent storms, more species extinction, impacts that are already being felt in all corners of the world. Once Earth passes a threshold of 1.5 degrees of warming (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), the likelihood of devastating heat waves, droughts, wildfires and storms increases significantly, scientists say.
Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, reminded the crowd of steps the Biden administration has taken to reduce pollution. But she stressed the need to pass her stalled legislation, which would provide more than $500 billion in tax credits designed to speed the country’s transition to wind and solar power, as well as electric cars.
“President Biden will use all levers, all tools, and leverage all resources to address climate change,” he said. “But Congress must also act.”
Mr. Simpkins has followed Mr. Biden’s actions, including cracking down on planet-warming methane leaking from oil and gas wells and banning hydrofluorocarbons, a greenhouse gas produced by refrigerants in refrigerators.
“That gas emissions thing, that was good,” he said. “The freon and air conditioning material was good. But they need even more. Those trees that are burned every year, are not replanted. The houses that are being hit are not going to come back.”
Mr. Simpkins voted for Mr. Biden in 2020, but said that if Mr. Biden fails to enact strong climate laws, he will not run in the 2024 election. “I hate to say that, but I wouldn’t vote,” he said.