Activists Are Alarmed as Biden Picks White House Official Who Took Fossil Fuel Money
Biden has chosen Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond as a senior advisor and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, The New York Times reported Tuesday. As part of his role, Richmond will reportedly serve as a liaison between climate activists and business interests, according to POLITICO. However, The Daily Poster noted that Richmond has received $341,000 in fossil fuel money during his 10 years in Congress.
"[T]oday feels like a betrayal, because one of President-elect Biden's very first hires for his new administration has taken more donations from the fossil fuel industry during his congressional career than nearly any other Democrat, cozied up to Big Oil and Gas, and stayed silent and ignored meeting with organizations in his own community while they suffered from toxic pollution and sea-level rise," Sunrise Movement Executive Director Varshini Prakash said in a statement reported by Common Dreams. "That's a mistake, and it's an affront to young people who made President-elect Biden's victory possible."
The Sunrise Movement made contact with 3.5 million young voters in swing states, and now wants to leverage its get-out-the-vote efforts to hold Biden accountable to his promise to act on the climate crisis, The Guardian reported Monday. Biden has called climate an "existential threat" and promised a $2 trillion plan to create millions of jobs while transitioning to renewable energy. Since winning the election, Biden has also made climate change a priority on his transition website.
However, Richmond's appointment concerned activists who are worried it signals that fossil fuel interests will have an outsized say in Biden's administration.
"If Joe Biden continues making corporate-friendly appointments to his White House, he will risk quickly fracturing the hard-earned goodwill his team built with progressives to defeat Donald Trump," Justice Democrats executive director Alexandra Rojas said in a statement, Bloomberg News reported.
Richmond, who represents much of New Orleans, has received the fifth highest amount of money from the oil and gas industry of all House Democrats, according to The Daily Poster. That includes $40,000 from ExxonMobil and $10,000 each from Chevron, Phillips 66 and Valero Energy.
Richmond has also broken with the Democratic Party to support increased fossil fuel exports and oppose pollution restrictions on fracking. Further, he voted in favor of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, The Hill reported.
Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) defended Richmond's actions, arguing that he had been trying to preserve jobs for his constituents.
"That's the tragedy that Americans up to now have been faced with, that it's either fossil fuel jobs or bad-paying jobs. His district has been dependent on fossil fuels," McEachin told The Hill.
However, New Orleans and Louisiana have also disproportionately suffered from the impacts of the fossil fuel industry. Richmond represents seven of the 10 U.S. census tracts with the worst air pollution, The Daily Poster reported. And hurricanes like Katrina have become more extreme because of climate change.
In response to activist criticism, the Biden-Harris transition team reaffirmed its commitment to climate action.
"The incoming White House staff members are committed to building an administration that will tackle the climate crisis and fight for environmental justice," an official told The Hill.
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By Peter Giger
The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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