For scientists and activists alike, the 2020 election was a turning point for global climate action.
Under the Trump administration, the fight for climate action became increasingly difficult as the U.S withdrew from the Paris Agreement and rolled back environmental regulations. In contrast, President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to make climate change a cornerstone of his administration, aiming to rejoin the Paris Agreement and achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
On campus, the win was a relief for organizations like Climate Justice Cornell. Climate Justice Cornell focuses on student-run campaigns that promote action on climate change — a crisis it views as a larger social justice issue.
Zasu Scott ’22, who leads CJC’s political action team, described how the outcome of the election was reassuring for climate activists. She said a new administration in the White House will allow organizations like CJC to throw its efforts behind federal legislative action, as well as local and state initiatives.
“Because Trump has been in office, there’s just been a total vacuum of federal action on the topic, so it’s not that people were so much worried about retracting a specific policy but more worried about if anything was ever going to happen,” Scott said. “Now that Biden has won, there are so many possibilities.”
In previous years, CJC has focused on advocating for climate-related reforms at Cornell and in the greater Ithaca community. Last year, the organization ran a successful campaign pushing the administration to divest from fossil fuels. Now, CJC’s projects focus more on advocating for political action.
This semester, CJC is hanging banners around campus to raise awareness for New York climate legislation with QR codes to link students to different petitions for issues like the New York Green Deal, the New York Divest bill and a “Climate Justice Recovery” plan,which aims to create greener jobs and invest in communities severely affected by COVID-19.
“Activism on climate anywhere and everywhere is warranted,” Scott said. “However, my view is that New York is really positioned to set standards because we just passed this bill, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. Focusing on the work here in New York can really set a precedent for the rest of the country.”
One of the other petitions urges Biden to meet with the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“A big piece of our movement is supporting the BLM movement,” Scott said. “The BLM movement is all about defunding the police and investing in communities. We’re all about defunding fossil fuel communities and putting that money into communities.”
However, Scott acknowledged that while Biden’s election was certainly a victory for the fight against climate change, it only marks the beginning for substantive change.
“It’s important to remember that this election was a mixed bag. We didn’t really get the blue wave we were anticipating,” Scott said. “I think there’s tentative excitement but it’s not full-on ecstasy. There’s still a lot of work to be done.”