Only weeks into 2023, communities across the country and world have already felt dangerous climate impacts. From increasingly deadly blizzards in places like Buffalo to widespread power outages caused by winter storms in the southern US—at the same time as record winter heat elsewhere—our energy infrastructure simply cannot keep up.
At the midpoint of President Biden’s term, we reflect on a mixed record on climate and vow to continue to hold him accountable to his climate promises—just like we did last week on the anniversary of Biden’s inauguration, joining with other members of the People vs. Fossil Fuels coalition to call on Biden to Declare a Climate Emergency.
2022 proved to be a pivotal year for climate, and with control of congress now split, community organizing holds the key to continued success and continuing that momentum throughout 2023. A vast majority of people understand that climate change is causing damage now and that we need real action, and we will use that people power to play both climate offense and defense.
2022 brought reminders of the formidable power of fossil fuel CEOs and their many backers. Gas and oil trade associations spent billions on advertising to promote fossil fuels. Joe Manchin tried to get his fossil fuel fast-tracking bill attached to must-pass legislation four times. But community organizers defeated his attempts all four of those times. As the political tide shifts, mass mobilization continues to strike back—and win.
Community organizing also paved the way for an unprecedented $370 billion in funds for clean energy through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The IRA followed decades of work changing popular opinion and waging fights to stop fossil fuel infrastructure led by communities on the frontlines, including fights like the Keystone XL pipeline and Dakota Access Pipeline that gave local climate impacts a national spotlight.
2023 also begins with a shifting political tide at the global level: COP27 opened up a much-needed conversation about loss and damage and global adaptation. Finally, global leaders are being forced to consider which countries are most responsible for creating the climate crisis.
Yet concrete plans for implementation and for payments from those countries—including the US—are so far lacking. Congress failed to include any funding in the omnibus bill for the United Nations Green Climate Fund, which would have allowed the US to begin to follow through on those claims of climate leadership at COP27.
So in 2023, leading climate organizers are moving to act on the renewable energy solutions we already have. We’ve spent over a decade mobilizing to make clear who the culprits of the climate crisis are, and name what we need to phase out to have a livable future. We have the answers, it’s past time to implement them, and community organizing is our best chance at moving the political tide as urgently as this emergency demands.
In 2023, we will keep the pressure on President Biden and our national representatives. We will call and email Congress to make sure they don’t make compromises that harm our own frontline communities and prevent the US from taking accountability for the climate damage we’ve helped cause in the global south.
With control of Congress divided, we will also look to the states. The climate movement has seen unprecedented growth this year and demonstrated its strength many times, from local pipeline resistance to successful state advocacy—36 states and the District of Columbia have established a renewable energy goal, with 12 of those states requiring 100% clean electricity by 2050 or earlier. We will keep building this local and state power, knowing that those cumulative fights will continue to shift the tide in our favor.
We will examine who is creating barriers to renewable energy. Investor-owned utilities—which governmental bodies allegedly regulate—are instead regulating us, creating unnecessary hurdles to supporting rooftop and community-owned solar, while inflicting unaffordable bills on customers. We need to hold them accountable as well.
Customers are not the only group bearing significant cost: there’s a stark divide in wages and working conditions between fossil fuel workers and renewable energy workers. Most mining or oil jobs are union jobs, with union wages and benefits. Yet the average renewable energy worker works for a web of subcontractors, lacks rights on the job, and must jump from one gig to the next, sometimes even sleeping in their car until their first per diem check comes in. We cannot have a just transition without justice in the workplace.
Building local renewable energy projects can create community strength, empowerment, and resilience in the face of an unreliable grid. We can wield the same people power that has fueled successful resistance campaigns to advance these just solutions. This emergency demands both offense and defense, so alongside ongoing campaigns to keep fossil fuels in the ground, we will use grassroots organizing to advance community-owned renewable energy, advocate for the rights of workers and consumers, and illuminate harmful greenwashing tactics.
That coordinated collective action, with justice at its center and the needs of frontline communities the priority, holds the key to our success in 2023 and beyond, both in terms of advocating for real solutions and in keeping fossil fuels in the ground once and for all.