(Drazen Zigic via iStock)

Thousands of environmental justice advocates are taking to the streets today to call on Congress to act boldly on climate change. The Green New Deal Network (GNDN), a coalition of climate justice advocacy organizations, is hosting a day of action in cities and towns across the nation calling on policymakers to “seal the deal” on a $3.5 trillion budget framework to fund clean energy, universal preschool, affordable housing, and other investments. With 68 events currently planned across the country, organizers are pushing Congress to pass the current spending plan without introducing cuts.

The day of action comes a week after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report warning that the world will be unable to contain global warming without rapid, drastic reductions in carbon emissions. Even in the best case scenario of net zero emissions by 2050, global temperatures are expected to rise by at least 1.5 degrees Celsius. This week, Northern California and Utah are being seared by wildfires, the Colorado River faces a water shortage, and tropical storms lurk off the Eastern Seaboard. 

“It’s already affecting people and it disproportionately impacts poor, Black, and brown communities, and these crises will only get worse unless we act,” said Stephen Leas, political co-chair for Sunrise Movement Baltimore and one of the organizers of Thursday’s #SealtheDeal Rally in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We stand to lose a lot, and I think people don’t really grasp it until their town is on fire.” 

While the Senate passed a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill last week that invests in some climate recovery efforts such as flood resilience, Leas and other climate justice advocates believe these provisions are not enough. The $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation plan proposed by Senate Democrats would make unprecedented investments in decarbonization and climate-adaptation, and organizers of the #SealtheDeal rallies are asking for the plan to be fully funded. 

The current proposal would incentivize power companies to use renewable energy through a Clean Electricity Payment Program, levy fees on polluters, and help climate vulnerable communities better adapt to and recover from disaster. It would also launch a Civilian Climate Corps, a major priority of the Sunrise Movement, that would employ young people to address the challenges of the climate crisis. 

Details of the budget are still yet to be determined, and climate justice policy advocates are focused on making sure the total investment stays at $3.5 trillion and spending priorities are centered around racial and economic justice.

“This budget is one of those things that will impact all of our lives,” said Adrien Salazar, policy director of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance. “We want to make sure it’s bold and sets the stage for the transition to a regenerative economy that centers climate justice, care, and good jobs for everybody.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi currently plans to bring the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the $3.5 billion budget plan to the floor simultaneously in an effort to bridge the gap between centrist and progressive Democrats with different priorities. The rallies, town halls, and other events happening today will target several congressional representatives, including long-time supporters of climate change investments, moderates, and political opponents, to build support for the budget package.

“We already know what the problem is, we know what the solutions are, and we need to move quickly to address the climate crisis where we have a closing window of about a decade,” said Rahwa Ghirmatzion, the executive director of People United for Sustainable Housing Buffalo, which is co-sponsoring the #SealtheDeal Rally in Buffalo, New York.

Ghirmatzion hopes to have at least 100 people at the event in Buffalo, which will feature an appearance from Rep. Brian Higgins. In addition to the federal legislation, climate change organizers in New York are pushing for the state to pass the Climate and Community Investment Act of 2021, which would raise funds for decarbonization efforts by taxing companies that fail to lower emissions. 

“We on the front lines are going to do everything necessary in our power to raise the alarm regarding what passes,” said Ghirmatzion. “We hope our elected officials will have the courage to do the right thing.”

Sravya Tadepalli is a freelance writer based in Oregon. Her writing has been featured in Arlington Magazine, Teaching Tolerance, the Portland Tribune, Oregon Humanities, and the textbook America Now. Sravya...