Fossil Fuels Are a Threat to National Security

The youth movement urges President Biden to act—with or without Congress.

This story was originally published by the Nation and is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of news outlets strengthening coverage of the climate story.

How much more unpredictability must the American people endure as a result of our reliance on fossil fuels before we finally cut ties with Big Oil and build a stable, affordable clean-energy economy? It seems like President Biden is out of options, given the intransigence of the fossil fuel–friendly Congress. But he has one: use his authority as president to invoke the Defense Production Act to dramatically scale up production of clean energy, while simultaneously protecting national security.

In the past six months alone, we’ve seen how fossil fuels fund Russia’s brutal war crimes against Ukrainians. Many of that war’s victims are younger than us (17, 20 and 34). Yet the initial US response was to cut ties with Putin by pursuing oil purchases from other petro-state dictators known for their own human rights abuses.

We have also seen the US Department of Defense warn the White House that continued reliance on fossil fuels poses a major threat to national security by accelerating the climate emergency. Wildfires are currently burning earlier and hotter than ever before in California and New Mexico, tearing through dry vegetation at a pace 71 percent above the average for this time of year. This crisis demands urgent action from Congress and the White House, yet the US response has been to simply increase domestic drilling.

Every year, our families experience unpredictable oil and gas prices in the wake of global crises, from wars to pandemics. In comparison, clean energy prices are declining year after year, undercutting even the cheapest fossil fuels on cost. Yet Senator Joe Manchin and his fossil fuel–friendly colleagues in the GOP continue to block public investment in stable clean energy while gaslighting the American public into believing that more investment in unpredictable fossil fuels is the path to energy security.

Just this week, a new United Nations report demonstrated that greenhouse gas concentrations, sea-level rise, ocean temperatures, and ocean acidification—the four horsemen of the climate apocalypse—all hit their highest-ever recorded levels in 2021. Is this still not enough information to spur Biden to act? Are we to assume that the policy of the United States is instead to wait for our food system to collapse over the next 10 years, as the Pentagon warns will happen? Do we plan to take action only after widespread civil unrest and military conflicts explode and populations are forced to compete for scarce resources? Or do we wait until wet-bulb events begin to wipe out entire nations overnight?

This does not have to be our future. We still have a clear path forward, despite the dysfunction of our legislative branch. Democrats’ thin majority in the Senate may have given corrupt politicians like Manchin disproportionate power to block President Biden’s clean energy agenda in Congress—but Manchin is just a coal baron, not a king. Congress has already granted Biden broad emergency powers as commander in chief to shepherd energy production and adoption in defense of national security.

It’s time for President Biden to use those powers.

On March 31, Biden took the first step to secure clean energy independence by invoking the Defense Production Act to increase the raw materials needed for electric vehicles, battery storage, and other clean energy technologies. This is a hopeful sign. But he can do more. He must now invoke the Defense Production Act to ramp up manufacturing of not only EVs and batteries but also heat pumps, rooftop solar panels, wind turbines, and other sources of renewable energy like geothermal and tidal power.

After a year of climate obstruction in Congress, the best and last way to bring our generations back to the table this November is for President Biden to take meaningful executive action now. This administration has stumbled, and the window of time to course-correct before the midterms is closing quickly. We remember the promise Biden made to us to center climate change in all government decision-making. This must include a response to the energy crisis unfolding in the wake of the war in Ukraine.

As another record-breaking wildfire season once again begins to sweep the nation, millions of Americans now know this to be true: The climate emergency is no longer an issue for “the future” that we can push to the side when other crises inevitably arise. The climate emergency is happening right now, alongside other crises, and implicating people like us—young people who are watching our world fall apart and our houses burn down, while politicians line their pockets and industries pour gasoline on the fire.

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