Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced a resolution Tuesday asking Congress to declare that global warming is an emergency demanding a massive mobilization of resources to protect the U.S. economy, society and national security.
Over two dozen lawmakers, including most of the senators currently running for president, signed on as co-sponsors.
The resolution, introduced by Sanders (I-Vt.), Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), calls for "a national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization of the resources and labor of the United States at a massive-scale to halt, reverse, mitigate, and prepare for the consequences of the climate emergency and to restore the climate for future generations."
The sponsors described a need for a mobilization of the nation's resources and labor on par with when the country entered World War II.
"It's time for Congress to formally acknowledge the scale and depth of climate change," Blumenauer told reporters on a conference call announcing the resolution. "This is a national emergency; we need to act like it."
The resolution comes just a day after an extreme storm flooded parts of Washington, D.C., with nearly a month's worth of rain in an hour, and it follows record heat waves that sent Europe's temperatures soaring to 114 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ocasio-Cortez said the non-binding resolution was a "first step" in addressing climate change and the human-caused greenhouse gas emissions that threaten to push global temperatures beyond the thresholds in the Paris climate agreement.
Ocasio-Cortez was also an author of the Green New Deal resolution, which similarly called for urgency and a massive intervention to tackle climate change, but which offered a much broader and more holistic approach by including other elements like Medicare for all and job guarantees. Because of that, the climate emergency resolution could be easier for Democrats and possibly some Republicans to stand behind.
If passed, the U.S. wouldn't be the only country to declare a climate emergency. Canada's House of Commons, Britain and Ireland have approved similar measures, as have several U.S. cities, including New York City and San Francisco. But despite a Democratic majority in the U.S. House, the U.S. resolution would likely fail in the Republican-controlled Senate.
'Problem Is the Lack of Political Will'
Sanders, who's running for president in 2020, said declaring a climate emergency could be a step toward helping Congress enact more sweeping reforms, such as making massive investments in sustainable energy, revamping the countries transportation infrastructure, and even holding the fossil fuel industry accountable for spreading what he called decades of misinformation.
Sanders said he'd like to see lawmakers work together around climate change with the same urgency as the country did after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, when Congress quickly passed sweeping legislation in response.
"I think the issue here is not that we cannot address this problem," Sanders said of climate change. "The problem is the lack of political will."
The resolution also comes just a week after hundreds of U.S. mayors urged Congress to place a tax on carbon emissions, citing the Trump administration's moves to roll back environmental protections, such as freezing vehicle fuel economy standards or backing out of Obama's Clean Power Plan.
Supporters Point to Recent Flooding, Fires
A string of weather and climate disasters over the last year, including deadly wildfires, increased flooding and intensifying storms, has also heightened national attention to global warming. And lawmakers Tuesday cited those events as evidence that the U.S. needs to act immediately to address climate change.
Last month was the hottest June on record globally, and one study has already linked Europe's heat wave to climate change. Other recent studies linked global warming to an increase in insect-borne disease in the Northeast and to dangerous algae growth in the nation's waters.
"There are many, many challenges facing this country," Sanders said. "But at the top of the list must be the existential threat to our planet in terms of the damage that climate change is doing and will do."