By Julia Conley
“My fellow Americans, we are facing a climate emergency. This summer, we have seen record-shattering heat waves sweep across our nation… If we do not act urgently to curb fossil fuel pollution, these deadly heat waves will only grow worse in frequency and severity.”
That was how Fossil Free Media director Jamie Henn suggested U.S. President Joe Biden address the public on Thursday as he announced new measures to address the record-breaking heat that spread across the country from the Southwest to the Midwest and Northeast, placing more than half the U.S. population under heat advisories.
The climate campaigner was among those urging the president to make a clear connection between the extreme heat—which was expected to push temperatures to 105°F in Minneapolis and 107° in New York as Phoenix saw its 27th consecutive day with a heat index of at least 110°—and the climate crisis.
Instead, Biden did not utter the words “fossil fuels,” “oil,” or “gas” throughout his remarks, despite the fact that World Weather Attribution reported this week that the extreme heat seen in the U.S. and other countries would have been “virtually impossible” without the climate crisis and continued fossil fuel extraction.
Sigh. In today's speech on extreme heat and climate change, President Biden didn't announce a single new measure to combat the climate crisis, let alone declaring a climate emergency. He also didn't reference fossil fuels or Big Oil a single time. pic.twitter.com/zQ3D5kuUc7
— Jamie Henn (@jamieclimate) July 27, 2023
The president spoke two days after Rep. Greg Casar (D-Texas) led a vigil and thirst strike on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, calling for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to establish a new federal standard to prevent heat-related work injuries, illnesses, and deaths.
In his remarks, Biden said the Department of Labor will issue its first-ever hazard alert for extreme heat and strengthen enforcement to protect workers, increasing safety inspections in industries such as construction and agriculture.
The hazard alert “clarifies that workers have federal heat-related protections,” said Biden. “We should be protecting workers from hazardous conditions, and we will. And those states where they do not, I’m going to be calling them out, where they refuse to protect these workers in this awful heat.”
The speech also highlighted investments made under the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to expand water storage in drought-affected states and improve the nation’s weather forecasts.
Juley Fulcher, worker health and safety advocate for Public Citizen, noted that Biden made his speech on the same day that the World Meteorological Organization announced that this month is likely to be the hottest month ever recorded on Earth and said the hazard alert falls short of the demand for a federal workplace heat safety standard.
“While OSHA is able to educate employers and inspect workplaces for heat hazards, it is a Band-Aid for a problem that won’t be solved until employers are required to protect workers,” said Fulcher. “OSHA has limited options to hold employers accountable for failing to implement basic safety protocols to protect workers from extreme heat. Only a workplace heat standard will give OSHA the tools to fully protect workers.”
Jean Su, energy justice director for the Center for Biological Diversity, called the steps Biden announced “embarrassing” and lamented his refusal to declare a climate emergency.
This list of actions is embarassing. People & workers are cooking in the streets.
— Jean Su 蘇安君 (@ajeansu) July 27, 2023
As climate scientist Peter Kalmus wrote in The Guardian on Thursday:
“Declaring a climate emergency would unleash additional powers such as banning oil exports and further accelerating renewable energy buildout on a scale not seen since the mobilization for the Second World War. It would send an unmistakable signal to investors still living in the past, to universities that have been shamefully slow to divest [from fossil fuels], to media outlets that have failed to connect the dots, to all the dangerously lagging institutions of our society.”
“The planet is desperate for visionary leadership,” he added. “The planet is desperate for policy that creates an equitable transition away from fossil fuels, and into climate emergency mode as a society.”
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