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Young activists call on Biden administration to declare climate emergency

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Kathryn Carley

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(Maine News Service) Young activists are pressuring President Joe Biden to declare a climate emergency and use the additional powers to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

While Biden's Inflation Reduction Act made record-breaking climate investments, activists said a formal declaration would allow the United States to end oil exports or funnel more federal dollars toward renewable energy.

Maya Kellett, a high school junior and organizer for the Franklin County hub of the climate justice group Sunrise Movement, said young people want more action to protect the planet.

"As a 17-year-old not being able to vote, I'm just frustrated with the lack of transparency and actual commitment to change that our leaders promise but never actually pull through with," Kellett explained.

Kellett added she was disappointed in Biden's approval of the oil-drilling Willow Project and saying he "practically" declared a climate emergency. Opponents of a climate declaration argued it would only face legal challenges. 

The Sunrise Movement gained national attention in 2018 when activists occupied former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office and began calls for a Green New Deal. Since then, they've successfully lobbied Biden to create the American Climate Corps and helped elect climate activists to Congress.

Kellett noted some young people reject these climate efforts based on their parents' political beliefs but become supportive once they learn the details themselves.

"There's not actual change happening based on what we need as young people," Kellett contended. "Because these older adults are too caught up in their political labels or their parties."

Kellett pointed out Sunrise Movement members are working to educate their own community about the risks of climate change through climate-related scavenger hunts, marches and neighborhood beautification efforts.

She said the efforts have helped her realize she is not alone in worrying about climate change and she can make a difference for others.