The climate emergency is substantial, urgent, and vital to the health and security of our communities and planet. These dangers can also seem daunting. Yet we have seen the world come together to solve global environmental issues, including the ozone hole. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan, overruling dissenting members of his Cabinet, urged Congress to ratify an international cap-and-trade treaty aimed at protecting the Earth’s ozone layer. The treaty is often considered one of the most successful environmental efforts in history.

As a major contributor to the climate change and world leader, U.S. leadership is needed to successfully protect our nation and planet. Now is the time to highlight a way forward through proven existing solutions. One of the first steps is to enact a National Climate Emergency Plan.

The below plan is not designed to be an exact framework, but a collection of proven innovative solutions and policy examples that will protect our communities and planet, while creating increased prosperity.

CLIMATE EMERGENCY LETTER

We, the undersigned elected officials believe it is imperative we take action on the climate crisis because it is a threat multiplier for water security, deadly disease, and environmental racism. It is time to enact a national Climate Emergency Plan that protects all our communities.

As an example of the racial and environmental injustice made worse by the climate crisis, in the predominantly African American community of St. Louis County, Missouri, radioactive and dioxin waste is being spread further by floods; this is exacerbated by climate change. The year preceding the recent Midwestern floods was the wettest on record. Now the community is a cancer and autoimmune disease cluster.  

Suffering from almost 20 years of megadrought, the Navajo Nation reached a grim milestone with the highest per-capita COVID-19 infection rate in the U.S. At a time when access to clean water and handwashing facilities is a matter of life and death, a third of the Navajo Nation’s population does not have running water.

At least 40 states will face water shortages this decade. And yet, Saudi Arabia and China are extracting American water at an alarming rate.

Globally, 37 acute conflicts, many unresolved, are due to water insecurity. Our intelligence and military community understand the climate emergency as a threat to national security.

These are serious examples of the dangers created by the climate crisis that is driving drought, disease, floods, fires, extreme temperatures, and storms.

These are clear and present dangers, but innovation, resilience, and the American spirit have created many proven existing solutions that can unify and protect us. Despite political inaction and misguided regulations that have held us back, there is hope. For example, California’s first solar thermal desalination plant recently went online; it can even clean agricultural wastewater. 

In Maine, clean energy innovators have deployed a revolutionary floating offshore wind turbine. These are just two of the many already working innovations that energize our economy. Clean, renewable energy is already less expensive than using fossil fuels and can generate millions of jobs.

We call on the president and Congress to develop a federal Climate Emergency Plan that can include, but not limited to the following objectives:

  • Transition to 100 percent clean energy
  • Ensure everyone has access to clean and safe water
  • Investment in communities on the frontlines of environmental injustice, including indigenous, communities of color, and economically vulnerable
  • Investment in clean, accessible, and affordable transportation systems 
  • Investment in a smart renewable-energy grid
  • Transition to regenerative agriculture
  • Phase-out of plastics and toxins that threaten our global oxygen supply
  • Prevent foreign entities from unsustainably extracting U.S. water 
  • Improve building energy efficiency
  • Divest, phase out fossil fuels, and invest in new technologies

America must lead the world in protecting everyone from the climate emergency.

 

FRONTLINE STORIES: WHY WE NEED IMMEDIATE ACTON

The climate emergency is substantial, urgent, and vital to the health and security of our communities and planet. These dangers are daunting. Yet we have seen the world come together to solve global environmental issues, including the ozone hole. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan, overruling dissenting members of his Cabinet, urged Congress to ratify an international cap-and-trade treaty aimed at protecting the Earth’s ozone layer. The treaty is often considered one of the most successful environmental efforts in history.

As a major contributor to climate change and as a world leader, U.S. leadership is needed to successfully protect our nation and our planet. Now is the time to highlight a way forward through proven, existing solutions. One of the first steps is to enact a National Climate Emergency Plan.

The plan outlined below is not designed to be an exact framework, but a collection of proven, innovative solutions and policy examples that will protect our communities and planet, while creating increased prosperity.

Suffering from almost 20 years of megadrought, the Navajo Nation reached a grim milestone with the highest per-capita COVID-19 infection rate in the U.S. At a time when access to clean water and handwashing facilities is a matter of life and death, a third of the Nation has no running water. A lack of clean water across the Navajo Nation compounds the crisis, as 30 million tons of toxic uranium mining, coal, oil, and fracking waste has polluted their land and water. Pollution contributes to the reasons why members of the Navajo Nation are 600 times more likely to die of tuberculosis and nearly 200 times more likely to die of diabetes than any other group. Despite all the ways the U.S. has failed the Navajo people, we have an opportunity to right continued historical wrongs and bring the latest clean energy technology, regenerative agriculture, and water generation to create a healthy circular economy that can be an example for communities across America.

Missouri State Representative Maria Chappelle-Nadal has been fighting climate change and environmental racism for decades. In the predominantly African American community of St. Louis County, Missouri, radioactive and dioxin waste is being spread further into parks and communities by increased flooding — an example of the racial and environmental injustice made worse by the climate crisis.

The community is now a cancer and autoimmune disease cluster. Last year, many parts of the Midwest and South were swamped by floodwaters which caused $6.2 billion in damages, according to the NOAA. Special Flood Hazard Areas set by FEMA do not account for the areas increasingly likely to flood due to the effects of climate change: Nearly 70 percent more houses may be at significant risk of flooding than FEMA designates as in Hazard Areas. The dangers in Missouri are mirrored nationally as flooding disproportionately harms African American neighborhoods.

Fresno California City Council Member Miguel Arias’ 12-year-old daughter Anaii had to deliver water to low-income kids of color because half of Fresno’s water is polluted from toxic contamination from nearby oil and gas drilling. Adding economic injustice to environmental racism, water costs more than soda in many stores. Anaii also goes to school next to a brownfield that is too polluted to effectively develop. The ground in the area is projected to sink 13 feet due to drought over the next 20 years unless urgent action is taken. Fresno is pursuing a $100 million settlement, and a nearby town won a $22 million settlement. When Sacramento Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela, who grew up in oil-producing Kern County, came back to tour the area, children told her that they were scared to go to sleep because their friends would go to bed and never wake up.

While deployed to Fallujah, Iraq, with the Marine Corps infantry, former Representative Alex Cornell du Houx gained firsthand insight into how climate change, water security, and our safety and prosperity are inseparable. During a routine patrol on a sweltering hot day, a roadside bomb exploded and hit his HUMVEE. As the dust cleared and after they had checked their limbs for damage, they quickly caught the assailant as he tried to escape. Fortunately, this military-age man had not been well trained, and most of the blast had missed the vehicle. After securing the area, they investigated and soon learned that he was a desperate farmer with little or no explosives experience. There was a record-setting drought driven by climate change, and his crops had failed. Vulnerable, he had been turned into a terrorist, paid to attack Americans. These dangers are now directly impacting the U.S. The same ongoing drought is affecting Saudi Arabia, as their aquifers are 80 percent depleted. They are now buying up U.S. water rights in the drought-stricken Southwest. 

CLIMATE EMERGENCY WATER SECURITY DANGERS

Water unites us. Elected Officials to Protect America mobilizes lawmakers who are veterans or frontline elected leaders as well as youth leaders and business leaders, to educate lawmakers, the public, and media on the dangers associated with the climate crisis—which is a threat multiplier to the water crisis, exacerbating diseases and environmental racism. The following are water-related dangers imperative to address at the local level and by implementing a federal climate emergency plan.

Fossil Fuel Water Pollution – The US Government Accountability Office has found that 40 U.S. states expect water shortages in 10 years. Nearly a fifth of Americans, 63 million, were exposed to  unsafe water in the last decade. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the U.S. drinking water delivery system a D on its most recent infrastructure report card, based on the high number of leaks and the presence of both legacy contaminants like lead and new threats like PFAS – making it even more susceptible to climate change disasters like flooding and extreme storms. 

In Fresno, California, half the water is polluted, as fossil-fuel companies have sold their toxic waste to farmers as a pesticide, which was found to be carotenogenic and unfilterable. Fresno is pursuing a $100 million settlement, and a nearby town won a $22 million settlement, yet the local papers have provided minimal coverage to the Fresno water crisis. Additionally, the area is projected to sink 13 feet due to drought over the next 20 years unless urgent action is taken.

Plastic pollution is so widespread we are eating and drinking a credit card worth of plastic each week according to a study by Australia’s University of Newcastle. The largest source of plastic ingestion is by drinking water. Plankton provides over half the world’s oxygen. Plastic blocks sunlight from getting to plankton, which prevents the organism from photosynthesis and thereby oxygenate the ocean and world. Plastic production is projected to be nearly half of global oil demand growth by 2050.

At any given time half of the world’s hospital beds are  suffering from diseases associated with contaminated water. The World Health Organization estimates that every year more than 3.575 million people , making it one of the leading causes of deaths worldwide. In the United States where illness from public drinking water systems is not well-documented range 32 million cases each year.

At any given time, half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from diseases associated with contaminated water. The World Health Organization estimates that  more than 3.5 million people die as a result of water-related diseases every year, making it one of the leading causes of death worldwide. In the United States, where illness from public drinking water systems is not well documented, estimates are around 32 million cases each year.

A CDC report found that the number of cases of illness transmitted by ticks more than doubled between 2004 and 2016. And by the end of this century, almost all almost all of the world’s population could be exposed to mosquito-borne diseases that were once limited to the tropics, making this the world’s most dangerous animal. Drought increases contact between water-stressed animals and humans, further spreading disease.

Arizona and much of the western United States have faced a twenty-year-long  mega-drought, yet China and Saudi Arabia are extracting water from the region. Driven by mismanagement and climate change, Saudi Arabia banned wheat harvesting, because their aquifers are 80 percent depleted. They are now targeting the Southwest U.S., buying up water rights and planting alfalfa to ship back home to feed 170,000 cows.

The Center for Naval Analyses has released a report explaining how water insecurity can empower violent extremist organizations and place stable governments at risk. They also found that 70 to 80 percent of conflicts in rural areas stem from disputes over water. The UN reports that since 1948, there have been 37 incidents of acute conflict over water.

Drought – Scientists agree that as global warming progresses, many now dry regions will become drier, and wet ones will become wetter. Drought is affecting Agriculture throughlivestock and crops, including cornerstone commodities like corn, soybeans, and wheat. At the height of the 2012 drought, the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared a natural disaster in 71 percent of the United States. Droughts also harm water levels on rivers of commerce like the Mississippi where transport barges need at least nine feet of water. It also buckles roads and the heat prevents jets from taking off. Droughts exacerbate wildfires and raise concerns about the reliability of electricity production from plants that require water flow or cooling water to maintain safe operations.

Long droughts and limited rainfall make for more frequent, powerful, and deadly fires across the U.S. From 2000 to 2018, wildfires burned more than twice as much land area per year than fires from 1985 to 1999. The high number of mega-fires — fires that burn more than 100,000 acres (156 square miles) — did not occur before 1970 and 61 percent of all documented wildfires have occurred since 2000. The extent of California that burns from wildfires every year has increased more than five-fold since 1972. To make matters worse, by 2016, the average wildfire season in the Western U.S. was 78 days longer than it was 50 years ago.

River, coastal, flash, and urban flooding all contribute to making floods the most common natural disaster in the United States, occurring in 98 percent of the nation’s counties. Even small floods are costly, as just one inch of flooding is capable of racking up more than $25,000 in damage to the average home. Despite this, a mere 15 percent of American homeowners had a flood insurance policy in 2018, as they cost on average about $1,000 per year.

May 2018 through May 2019 was the wettest on record in the United States, making for the mass flooding of the Midwest, according to NOAA. Nearly 38 inches of rain fell, almost eight inches above average. In the Great Lakes region, the past five years have been the wettest ever recorded in the region. During the 2020 Michigan floods, The National Weather Service reported record rainfall where more than 4 inches (10 centimeters) fell across parts of Midland in 48 hours: The Edenville Dam then collapsed on the evening of May 19, sending floodwaters south across the landscape. About an hour later, water spilled over the Sanford Dam and further flooded the Tittabawassee River and the surrounding area.

 

The ocean absorbs about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide that is released in the atmosphere. Ocean acidity has increased about 25 percent from preindustrial times to the early 21st century, a pace faster than any known in Earth’s geologic past. If we continue emitting CO2 at the same rate, by 2100 ocean acidity will have increased by about 150 percent. This will end shellfish industries. In Maine, lobsters are moving north and further away from the coast, from the $500 million per year industry.

In the Gulf of Mexico, nutrient pollution from runoff is combining with carbon pollution in the atmosphere to cause waters to acidify much more quickly than scientists expected, putting the $10 billion fishing industry there at risk. And in Alaska, where half of the seafood caught in this country comes from, rapidly acidifying cold water is endangering 70,000 jobs.

 

SUGGESTED POLICY SOLUTIONS

  • Declare a national climate emergency and align national policies to address the scale of the crisis
  • Join 1,760 jurisdictions in 30 countries that have declared a climate emergency, representing more than 820 million people by declaring a National Climate Emergency under the National Emergencies Act.
  • Recommit to the Paris Climate Agreement and lead the world in combating climate change. 
  • Align government policy, regulation, investment, and procurement with achieving 100 percent clean energy and zero emissions.
  • Reinstate, enforce and strengthen clean water standards.
  • Support farmers in transition to organic, regenerative agriculture and implement policies to limit agricultural runoff.
  • Promote urban planning that absorbs runoff and utilizes the latest building technologies, including new material that allows water to pass through, but is stronger than concrete.
  • Expand proven water filtration technologies, like California’s first solar thermal desalination plant that recently went online, which can also clean agriculture’s wastewater. In Oregon, the Navy works with a clean energy company’s innovative process to produce fresh water from wastewater while creating energy.
  • Invest in water conservation, efficiency, management, infrastructure maintenance, and protection from drought, pollution, flooding, and saltwater infiltration.
  • Ensure federal rules, programs, and monitoring for water and soil quality are fully enforced and funded, and close regulatory loopholes for water contamination from drilling, agriculture, and mining.
  • Support community water systems in developing safe drinking water plans, and ensure water affordability and access for vulnerable populations.
  • Increase the national fund to upgrade water and wastewater infrastructure, and replace lead pipes nationally.
  • Update and enforce rigorous science-based drinking water standards for all known toxins and harmful chemicals.
  • Invest in programs and adopt policies to protect source waters and aquifers that protect drinking water and enhance climate resiliency, including fully funding and enforcing superfund and brownfield cleanup programs.
  •  
  • Invest in and build resiliency in frontline communities injured by pollution and the climate emergency, especially Indigenous, Black, and Brown, economically vulnerable communities.
  • Invest significantly in disadvantaged communities and areas most harmed by pollution and climate change.
  • Expand and align federal energy financing programs to fund clean energy projects and decentralized models such as community solar, worker-owned cooperatives, community choice aggregation.
  • Ensure all strategies achieve rapid emissions reductions and reduce dangers to vulnerable communities.
  • Establish a national Climate Emergency and Community Protection Corps to employ youth from vulnerable communities.
  • Transition to a 100 percent clean energy economy, creating millions of jobs, reducing pollution, and energizing our economy while lifting up workers and frontline communities
  • Expand policies that increase access to clean energy as it is already less expensive than fossil fuel energy in many places and can generate millions of jobs. In the Midwest and Northwest wind and agriculture have created sustainable partnerships powering a third of Iowa.
  • Invest in clean energy innovation as illustrated by the University of Maine developing the first floating offshore wind turbines in the U.S., which can harvest wave energy and grow $2 million in muscles annually.
  • Provide investments, financing, and loan guarantees to clean energy developers, rural electric cooperatives, and public power to fast-track 100 percent clean energy.
  • Support local, state, and tribal governments in expanding clean energy.
  • Create a national program to support affected workers and communities transitioning from dirty energy and polluting industries to the clean economy.
  • Invest significantly in disadvantaged communities and areas most harmed by pollution and climate change. 
  • Expand and align federal energy financing programs to fund clean energy projects and decentralized models, such as community solar, worker-owned cooperatives, community choice aggregation.
  • Ensure all strategies achieve rapid emissions reductions and reduce dangers to vulnerable communities. 
  • Establish a national Climate Emergency and Community Protection Corps to employ youth from vulnerable communities.
  • Expand programs that take biowaste and turn it into fertilizer for regenerative agriculture, while being able to power 100 homes.
  • Reform regulations so aeroponics, hydroponics and other innovative urban farms can grow food with up to 95 percent less water.
  • Shift subsidies, investments, and procurement programs to increase supply and demand for organic and healthy foods grown and raised with low-pollution methods, including support for farm-to-school programs.
  • Ensure subsidies, prices, land access, and regulation for regional food systems and new farmers. Transition away from heavily polluting, large-scale monoculture production and industrial animal agriculture.
  • Provide financial and technical support, so farmers phase out dangerous fertilizers and pesticides and adopt sustainable soil management practices.
  • Support community gardens and farms, farmer cooperatives, and regional and small-scale food processing.
  • Ensure imports of all food and agricultural products, including animal and ocean agriculture, conform with rigorous sustainable agriculture and ecosystem protection standards.
  • Promote programs that reduce food waste and create clean, healthy soil with organic material.
  • Invest in modernizing and enhancing the resiliency of our nation’s electricity grid, energy infrastructure, and storage capacity, through smart grids that work with increased renewable interconnections, electric vehicle charging, and protect from cyber threats. 
  • Electrify our nation’s transportation system — including passenger vehicles, mass transit, rail, and trucking — with large-scale public funding and national EV charging infrastructure.
  • Enact high-performance fuel economy and vehicle emission standards, and phase in 100 percent zero-emissions vehicles. 
  • Direct transportation investments to increase use of public transit, walking, bicycling, and electric bicycling to reduce vehicle miles traveled.
  • Join the more than 1,200 institutions that have divested more than $14.6 trillion from fossil fuels. Shift public investments to accelerate the transition to 100 percent clean energy.
  • End permitting of new oil, gas, and coal production and infrastructure, including pipelines, terminals, storage facilities, refineries, and petrochemical facilities.
  • Begin a swift, managed decline of fossil fuel production, starting with phasing out production within a 2,500-foot public health buffer zone around any occupied buildings and vulnerable areas, where the greatest harm occurs.
  • End public subsidies, incentives, and funding for fossil fuel production and infrastructure, while imposing a fee on greenhouse gas emissions to pay for the $435 billion needed to cap abandoned wells and support low-income American’s access to clean energy.
  • Create a national jobs and investment program to safely close and fully remediate all oil and gas wells and fossil fuel production sites.
  • Require strict pollution and methane emission limits on existing oil and gas operations, phase out fracking, and swiftly phase out dangerous and high-pollution extraction methods.
  • Implement advanced efficiency standards for buildings and appliances, phasing in 100 percent net-zero-emission new buildings.
  • Educate governments on how to enable local, “circular” economies and help zero-waste systems to thrive.
  • Work with every level of government to modernize building codes for high energy efficiency, electrification, and enhanced resiliency.
  • Provide financing to home and building owners for electrification, weatherization, energy efficiency upgrades, and clean renewable energy generation.
  • Expand the Weatherization Assistance Program and establish new programs to upgrade energy efficiency and to install clean energy generation for every low-income home in America.
  • Enact restrictions on foreign states and entities from unsustainably extracting American water.
  • Expand policies that increase access to clean energy, as it is already less expensive than fossil fuel energy in many places and can generate millions of jobs. In the Midwest and Northwest, wind and agriculture have created sustainable partnerships, now powering a third of Iowa.
  • Invest in clean energy innovation, as illustrated by the University of Maine developing the first floating offshore wind turbines in the U.S., which can also grow $2 million in mussels per turbine annually.
  • Provide investment, financing, and loan guarantees to clean energy developers, rural electric cooperatives, and public power to fast-track 100 percent clean energy.
  • Support local, state, and tribal governments in expanding clean energy.
  • Create a national program to support affected workers and communities transitioning from dirty energy and polluting industries to the clean economy.

Join the Call for a National Climate Emergency Plan