With large swaths of the planet currently in the grips of hellish, record-shattering heatwaves and devastating wildfires, U.S. President Joe Biden is reportedly considering declaring a national climate emergency this week as a senator with deep ties to the fossil fuel industry continues to obstruct much-needed renewable energy spending.
Biden's plans for a possible emergency declaration, first reported late Monday by the Washington Post, come as the White House is facing mounting pressure to take unilateral climate action as its agenda remains stalled in the upper chamber of Congress, hampering U.S. efforts to rein in planet-warming carbon emissions as temperatures soar worldwide.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a coal profiteer who has received more money from the oil and gas industry than any other member of Congress this election cycle, reportedly told Democratic leaders in a closed-door meeting last week that he would not support any new green energy spending. Manchin's decision threw into serious doubt the majority party's chances of approving key climate investments ahead of the November midterms.
Proponents argue that a formal climate emergency declaration would allow Biden to take a number of sweeping actions—without needing congressional approval—to curb fossil fuel production and accelerate the nation's transition to renewable energy sources as the U.S. continues to fall behind on its emissions targets.
In a report published earlier this year, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) noted that an emergency declaration would empower the president to "halt crude oil exports," "stop oil and gas drilling in the outer continental shelf," "restrict international trade and private investment in fossil fuels," and "grow domestic manufacturing for clean energy and transportation," among other potential actions.
"Biden needs to deploy every executive power, starting with banning crude oil exports," Jean Su, director of CBD's Energy Justice Program, wrote on Twitter late Monday. A Greenpeace analysis published in 2020 estimated that reviving the ban on U.S. crude oil exports could slash global greenhouse gas emissions by up to 181 million tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent per year.
"He can put Manchin's gaslighting behind us and show the world we have a climate president we can believe in," Su added. "Critically, a climate emergency declaration would put wind under the sails of all agencies to use their maximum powers possible" to combat runaway warming.
But Saul Levin, a staffer for Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., emphasized that it's not enough for Biden to simply declare a climate emergency; he must "publicly commit to using its powers immediately."
"Otherwise, we climate policy staff may have no choice but to put our bodies between Joe Manchin's greed and the people we serve," added Levin. "Stand with us—we must win."
The heatwaves that've engulfed much of Europe, parts of the U.S., Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa in recent weeks have come as no surprise to climate scientists, who have been sounding the alarm for years about the dangers of allowing planetary warming to accelerate unabated.
Steven Pawson, chief of the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, said last week that the record-high temperatures scalding Europe, Asia, and Africa are "another clear indicator that emissions of greenhouse gases by human activity are causing weather extremes that impact our living conditions."
"Such extreme heat has direct impacts on human health, as well as having other consequences, including these fires that are occurring now in Europe and Africa, and which have been rampant over the past few years in North America," Pawson added.
Since early July, Spain and Portugal alone have reported more than 1,100 heat-related deaths. France, which is facing what experts have dubbed a "heat apocalypse," is expected to release casualty figures later this month. The U.K., meanwhile, is set to witness its hottest day on record on Tuesday.
"The extreme heat we are experiencing... is one of the many frightening faces of climate change," Mary Church, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said Monday. "Climate breakdown is here, it is deadly serious, and it will get much worse unless we act urgently to end our reliance on oil and gas."
Parts of the U.S. are also enduring scorching temperatures. As the New York Times notes, "Dangerous levels of heat are forecast in the South, West, and Midwest on Tuesday," and nearly 69 million people reside in areas "expected to have dangerous levels of heat."