The two of us are different in many ways. One of us is an Iñupiaq, queer woman whose people have called the Arctic slope of Alaska home for more than 12,000 years, and one of us is a Black multiracial, queer organizer living in Minneapolis. Thousands of miles separate us, but we share a vision for a world beyond fossil fuel racism.
The Biden Administration has drastically different values and priorities from what we experienced during the Trump era. In just the first week of Biden’s presidency, we celebrated massive movement victories like stopping the Keystone XL pipeline, placing a moratorium on drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and directing 40 percent of climate and clean energy investments to environmental justice communities. Respect for human rights, food and water security, and our planet should not be as shocking as they feel right now. And after a traumatizing four years of chaos, destruction, and disregard for human life, words cannot describe what it is like to know Deb Haaland will be the first Indigenous person to be appointed to the Cabinet — to a position where she can reclaim Indigneous caretaking of our lands.
And yet, Biden must do more than simply reverse Trump’s damage. It is not enough to return to a ‘normal’ in which communities like ours are subject to fossil fuel exploitation and state-sanctioned violence every day. After all, it was our communities who got Joe Biden elected. Black, Indigenous and people of color across this country mobilized in record numbers to give Joe Biden this chance to lead. Now, it’s time he uses his executive power to keep his promises to us.
Even with the progress Biden has initiated, fossil fuel companies still have our homes squarely in their crosshairs. As Enbridge continues construction on the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota and oil and gas drilling threatens the Arctic, we’re writing to you from the frontlines of the climate crisis. We see these projects and the fossil fuel cronies who stand behind them, and we recognize them for they really are: racist attempts to turn our communities into fossil fuel sacrifice zones.
The crises of climate change and racial injustice are interwoven, and our government’s response to them must be, as well. It’s not just that oil and gas pollution, extreme weather, uncontrollable fires, and climate change itself impact Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities more than white people, though this is true. It’s that fossil fuel corporations and executives are deeply invested in white supremacy. They poured millions into electing (and attempting to re-elect) a white supremacist to the White House. They fund police foundations and militarized private security forces that exist to terrorize communities of color. They even donated money to the members of Congress who incited a violent, white supremacist attack on our democracy this month.
Extraction, pollution, and racism have poisoned our bodies, our environment, and our democracy for long enough. As COVID-19, cancer, respiratory illnesses, and mental health illnesses plagued frontline communities, the last administration looked the other way. The health and identity of our Indigenous and Black communities lie in our land, water, and bodies, and we will continue to fight for our right to care for the planet that gives us life — but we cannot do it alone.
It’s time for Joe Biden to look fossil fuel CEOs in the eye and tell them their interests will never again come before our people. In Alaska and Minnesota — and nationwide for everyone dealing with the fallout of the climate crisis — it is not enough to Build Back Better. We must Build Back Fossil Free. Biden can stop dangerous projects like Line 3 and Arctic drilling by rejecting all permits for fossil fuel projects and implementing a climate test for other federal permitting. The science is clear: there is no such thing as a safe fossil fuel project. They will always fail the climate test.
To keep warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, we can’t afford a single new fossil fuel project, and most developed oil and gas fields and coal mines must be shut down before their reserves are fully depleted. It’s time for our government to stop pouring money into the dirty, racist energy systems of the past and secure a livable future. Now is the time to invest in a just, people-centered, renewable energy economy and create millions of jobs that restore our air and water rather than pollute them.
This is what Joe Biden promised us, and this is what we’ve come to collect. We deserve a world beyond fossil fuels: a world in which community health, people’s well-being, and our shared climate come before corporate profits. Black, Brown, and Indigenous people have given Biden a chance to lay the groundwork. We’ll be here to make sure he keeps his word.
Siqiniq Maupin is the director of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic; She lives in Fairbanks, Alaska. Sophia Benrud is an organizer with MN350 and 350.org; They live in Minneapolis, Minnesota.