Jessica Corbett

Warren and Smith reintroduce 'critical' bill to block US from starting nuclear war

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Adam Smith on Thursday reintroduced legislation to establish that "it is the policy of the United States to not use nuclear weapons first."

"Threatening to use nuclear weapons first makes America less safe because it increases the chances of a miscalculation or an accident," said Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in a statement. "There are no winners in a nuclear war, and the U.S. should never start one."

Smith (D-Wash.), chair of the House Armed Services Committee, concurred, saying that "the United States should never initiate a nuclear war."

"This bill would strengthen deterrence while reducing the chance of nuclear use due to miscalculation or misunderstanding," he explained. "Codifying that deterring nuclear use is the sole purpose of our nuclear arsenal strengthens U.S. national security and would renew U.S. leadership on nuclear nonproliferation and disbarment."

In addition to Warren and Smith, the bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

Warren and Smith's ongoing push for the No First Use Act was welcomed by arms experts and advocates for the elimination of nuclear weapons, some of whom pointed out that President Joe Biden has previously expressed support for such a policy.

Stephen Young, senior Washington representative and acting co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), highlighted Biden's remarks when he served as vice president under former President Barack Obama.

Biden said in a January 2017 speech that "given our non-nuclear capabilities and the nature of today's threats, it's hard to envision a plausible scenario in which the first use of nuclear weapons by the United States would be necessary or would make sense in the view of the president and me."

Young said Thursday that "indeed, initiating a nuclear strike would be an enormous strategic and humanitarian disaster, most likely leading to a counterattack against the United States. The resulting mass death and destruction is why a U.S. president should never choose or be allowed to start a nuclear war."

"The legislation introduced today by Sen. Warren and Rep. Smith is strikingly short and simple," Young noted. "In 14 words, it commits the United States to never launching nuclear weapons first. These lawmakers deserve huge thanks for continuing to push for this sensible policy change."

"A no first use policy will reduce the likelihood of nuclear war in two ways," he continued. "First, no president will be able to start a nuclear war based on faulty information, like the false warnings of incoming nuclear attacks that have happened too many times in the past. Also, adversaries will be less pressured to use their nuclear weapons first during a crisis if they are confident that the United States won't attack them first and wipe out their nuclear arsenals."

Young urged Congress to urgently pass and Biden to sign the bill—a call echoed by Derek Johnson, chief executive officer of Global Zero, an international movement for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Johnson endorsed the "common-sense" bill "in the strongest possible terms" and called its reintroduction "an important step to enhance American and global security by helping ensure nuclear weapons are never used again."

"It is long past time for the United States to adopt a realistic policy that forgoes the possible first use of nuclear weapons," he said. "The risks that nuclear weapons will be used are unacceptably and unnecessarily high. The major risk of nuclear use today comes from the danger that a small or accidental clash or conflict will escalate quickly through confusion or fear and cross the nuclear threshold. America's decadeslong policy of threatening its own possible first use of nuclear weapons only adds to this danger."

Johnson continued:

Codifying no first use into law is the most important and immediate step the U.S. can take to lower the risk of nuclear conflict, strengthen global stability, and create new opportunities to pursue reductions in these dangerous and expensive arsenals.
There is no plausible scenario in which the first use of nuclear weapons by the United States makes sense. Threatening to do so only makes it easier for others to do the same, adding to the pressure on all to escalate quickly. Any use of nuclear weapons would be horrific and catastrophic, and we must take decisive action to make this scenario less likely in parallel with our long-term efforts to eradicate them.

He also cited Biden's 2017 speech, when the then-vice president expressed confidence that the U.S. can defend itself and its allies through non-nuclear means.

According to Johnson, "It is high time to act on that confidence, and for leaders in the U.S. and all nuclear-armed states to accept that true security cannot be built on threats of mass destruction."

Scientific American to use 'climate emergency' in magazine's future coverage

After over 175 years of publishing, Scientific American made a major editorial announcement on Monday: the historic U.S. magazine will officially adopt the term "climate emergency" for its coverage of the human-caused crisis.

The move came as part of a new initiative led by Covering Climate Now, a global consortium of media outlets dedicated to improving climate coverage. SciAm was one of the nine initial signatories of the Climate Emergency Statement.

Common Dreams is a member of the consortium, has signed on to the new statement, and has been using the term climate emergency in our reporting for several years.


Mark Fischetti, a senior editor at Scientific American, detailed the decision on the outlet's website Monday. He wrote:

An emergency is a serious situation that requires immediate action. When someone calls 911 because they can't breathe, that's an emergency. When someone stumbles on the sidewalk because their chest is pounding and their lips are turning blue, that's an emergency. Both people require help right away. Multiply those individuals by millions of people who have similar symptoms, and it constitutes the biggest global health emergency in a century: the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now consider the following scenarios: A hurricane blasts Florida. A California dam bursts because floods have piled water high up behind it. A sudden, record-setting cold snap cuts power to the entire state of Texas. These are also emergencies that require immediate action. Multiply these situations worldwide, and you have the biggest environmental emergency to beset the earth in millennia: climate change.

"This idea is not a journalistic fancy. We are on solid scientific ground," Fischetti added, citing a climate emergency declaration from over 13,800 global scientists.

That declaration, as Common Dreams previously reported, initially came in late 2019—but has garnered additional support since—and was spearheaded by William J. Ripple of Oregon State University's Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society.

"Global surface temperature, ocean heat content, extreme weather and its costs, sea level, ocean acidity, and area burned in the United States are all rising," Ripple said at the time. "All of these rapid changes highlight the urgent need for action."

Ripple and other scientists who launched the effort wrote for Scientific American in January that "as we move into 2021 and beyond, we need a massive-scale mobilization to address the climate crisis, including much more progress on the six steps of climate change mitigation." They outlined various priorities for energy, short-lived pollutants, nature, food, economy, and population.

Fischetti highlighted another pair of lines from the piece by Ripple and his colleagues:

The adverse effects of climate change are much more severe than expected and now threaten both the biosphere and humanity... Every effort must be made to reduce emissions and increase removal of atmospheric carbon in order to restore the melting Arctic and end the deadly cycle of damage that the current climate is delivering.

Echoing the new Climate Emergency Statement, Fischetti concluded that "journalism should reflect what science says: the climate emergency is here."

Scientific American's new policy comes months after another major move. Last September, SciAm's editors gave President Joe Biden the first-ever presidential endorsement in the magazine's long history, warning that "the 2020 election is literally a matter of life and death."

GOP official seeks to 'build an army' of poll watchers as Texas lawmakers target voting rights

Common Cause Texas on Thursday shared a leaked video of a Harris County GOP official discussing plans to "build an army" of 10,000 election workers and poll watchers, including some who "will have the confidence and courage" to go into Black and Brown communities to address alleged voter fraud that analyses show does not actually exist.

The pro-democracy advocacy group's release of the footage came less than a week after the Republican-controlled Texas Senate passed legislation that critics charge disproportionately targets minority and urban voters by curbing their ability to participate in elections with restrictions like limiting early voting hours.

In response to the video, which Common Cause Texas described as "alarming," opponents of Senate Bill 7 specifically raised concerns about the legislation empowering partisan poll watchers to film, record, and photograph people casting their ballots—with the supposed intent to send the material to the Texas secretary of state.

The unnamed GOP official explains in the video that the goal is to build an "election integrity brigade" of "motivated and highly competent folks" in Harris County—which includes Houston, the Lone Star State's most populous city—who will "safeguard... our voting rights."

Using his cursor on a local map, the official also claims that a diverse, urban portion of the county "is where the fraud is occurring."

"What we see in this video is a concrete, real-world example of why it is a downright dangerous idea to expand poll watcher powers while removing the ability of election workers to kick a disruptive poll watcher out," said Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas, in a statement.

"Volunteer poll watchers who have no ill intent and who do not plan to disrupt voting would have no need to be 'courageous' about going into predominantly Black and Brown communities," he said. "When I hear someone say he needs 'courageous' volunteers to be part of an 'army' that will keep an eye on voters in minority neighborhoods, I hear all the same old dog whistles with a slightly updated harmony."

The Common Cause Texas leader tied legislative efforts to embolden poll watchers to the nation's long legacy of voter suppression targeting people of color.

"Giving partisan poll watchers the exclusive power to surveil voters and election workers and then secretly submit video and photos to the secretary of state and attorney general is an evolved tactic that has its roots in the Jim Crow Era," he said. "It should be a cause for alarm for anyone who cares about racial justice, privacy, and whether we want the state government encouraging partisan actors to spy on their fellow Texans while they try to cast their ballot."

Gutierrez pointed out that "there have been documented instances of poll watchers disrupting poll sites and intimidating voters by doing things like standing too close to voters."

"If these bills become law, those poll watchers could now stand too close to a voter receiving assistance while they record video on their phone, and an election judge would not be able to kick them out," he warned. "These proposals would weaponize poll watchers and empower them to disrupt and delay voting at any poll site in Texas."

S.B. 7, which passed the state Senate in a 18-13 party-line vote, now heads to the Texas House Elections Committee, which advanced House Bill 6, another anti-voting measure, on Thursday. Texas is among the majority of U.S. states where GOP lawmakers this year have proposedor passed—bills that opponents call clear efforts to suppress the vote.

The Washington Post reported Thursday on the video—which Common Cause Texas released in full, along with a short version—and the response from a local GOP leader:

In a statement to the Post, the Harris County Republican Party said Common Cause was "blatantly mischaracterizing a grassroots election worker recruitment video." The party chair Cindy Siegel accused the group of trying "to bully and intimidate Republicans."
"The goal is to activate an army of volunteers for every precinct in Harris County," Siegel said. "And, to engage voters for the whole ballot, top to bottom, and ensure every legal vote is counted."

Gutierrez described the GOP effort quite differently.

"It's a new whistle but the tune is the same," he said. "The myth of voter fraud is frequently used to target the communities of color to delegitimize their vote and silence the voice of a rising electorate that simply wants to claim their rightful place in our democracy. It has to stop."

Other activists and advocacy groups concurred.

"This is exactly why we need to restore the full power of the Voting Rights Act: because discrimination against voters of color is still a huge problem in Texas," said the state's Poor People's Campaign.

H. Drew Galloway, executive director of MOVE Texas, pointed to the footage as evidence of why H.B. 6 and S.B. 7 are racist. The video, he said, "shows how partisan poll watchers are *already* targeting polls in Black and Brown neighborhoods in Houston—and these racist bills will allow them to film and intimidate voters."

Economists agree: Benefits of 'drastic' climate action outweigh costs of status quo

While scientists and campaigners continue calling on world leaders to pursue more ambitious policies to cut planet-heating emissions based on moral arguments and physical dangers, a U.S. think tank released survey results on Tuesday that make a clear economic case for sweeping climate action.

The Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law invited 2,169 Ph.D. economists to take a 15-question online survey "focused on climate change risks, economic damage estimates, and emissions abatement," according to a report (pdf) on the results. Nearly three-quarters of the 738 economists who participated in the survey say they agree that "immediate and drastic action is necessary."

"In sharp contrast, less than 1% believe that climate change is 'not a serious problem,'" the report says, noting a jump in support for bold climate action now compared with a 2015 survey. "Nearly 80% of respondents also self-report an increase in their level of concern about climate change over the past five years, underscoring the high level of overall concern among this group."


Of those surveyed, 76% believe the climate crisis will likely or very likely have a negative effect on global economic growth rates. Additionally, 70% think climate change will make income inequality worse within most countries and 89% think it will exacerbate inequality between high-income and low-income countries.

"People who spend their careers studying our economy are in widespread agreement that climate change will be expensive, potentially devastatingly so," said Peter Howard, economics director at the institute and co-author of the research, in a statement. "These findings show a clear economic case for urgent climate action."

As the report details:

Respondents were asked to estimate the economic impacts of several different climate scenarios. They project that economic damages from climate change will reach $1.7 trillion per year by 2025, and roughly $30 trillion per year (5% of projected GDP) by 2075 if the current warming trend continues. Their damage estimates rise precipitously as warming intensifies, topping $140 trillion annually at a 5°C increase and $730 trillion at a 7°C increase. As expected, experts believe that the risk of extremely high/catastrophic damages significantly increases at these high temperatures.

Sixty-six percent of respondents "agree that the benefits of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 would likely outweigh the costs," compared with just 12% who disagree. As the report says: "Costs are often cited as a reason to delay or avoid strong action on climate change, but this survey of hundreds of expert economists suggests that the weight of evidence is on the side of rapid action."

The economists also foresee a "rapid expansion of clean energy technologies" in the coming decades, and 65% of respondents expect the costs of emerging zero-emission and negative-emission tech will drop rapidly, similar to the recent developments with solar and wind energy. While a majority also expects negative-emission technologies will become viable in the second half of the century, the report notes that "a very high percentage of 'No Opinion' responses underscores the uncertainty of this projection."



"Economists overwhelmingly support rapid emissions reductions, and they are optimistic about key technology costs continuing to drop," said co-author Derek Sylvan, strategy director at the institute. "There is a clear consensus among these experts that the status quo seems far more costly than a major energy transition."

The survey comes as governments party to the Paris agreement are revising and releasing emissions pledges for the next decade ahead of a global summit in November. A United Nations report recently warned that the pledges put forth so far are dramatically inadequate. As Power Shift Africa director Mohamed Adow said: "It's staggering how far off track countries are to dealing with the climate crisis."

'Jim Crow in the 21st century': Biden slams Georgia's new voter suppression laws

President Joe Biden on Friday blasted a sweeping voter suppression law that Georgia Republicans forced through the previous day, declaring that "we have a moral and constitutional obligation to act" in response to the new legislation and calling on Congress to pass a pair of proposals that aim to protect and expand voting rights.

"This is Jim Crow in the 21st century. It must end," Biden said in a lengthy statement about the Georgia law. "I once again urge Congress to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to make it easier for all eligible Americans access the ballot box and prevent attacks on the sacred right to vote."

The president noted the crucial impact that Georgia voters had on national politics in the 2020 election cycle. Not only did Biden narrowly beat former President Donald Trump in Georgia—by a margin of just 11,779 votes—but Peach State voters also handed control of the U.S. Senate to Democrats with a pair of runoff elections.

"More Americans voted in the 2020 elections than any election in our nation's history. In Georgia we saw this most historic demonstration of the power of the vote twice," Biden said Friday. "Recount after recount and court case after court case upheld the integrity and outcome of a clearly free, fair, and secure democratic process."

"Yet instead of celebrating the rights of all Georgians to vote or winning campaigns on the merits of their ideas, Republicans in the state instead rushed through an un-American law to deny people the right to vote," the president continued. "This law, like so many others being pursued by Republicans in statehouses across the country, is a blatant attack on the Constitution and good conscience."

As Common Dreams reported earlier this month, Republican lawmakers in 43 states have introduced more than 250 voter suppression bills this year.

Biden detailed some ways the Georgia law will overhaul future elections statewide:

Among the outrageous parts of this new state law, it ends voting hours early so working people can't cast their vote after their shift is over. It adds rigid restrictions on casting absentee ballots that will effectively deny the right to vote to countless voters. And it makes it a crime to provide water to voters while they wait in line—lines Republican officials themselves have created by reducing the number of polling sites across the state, disproportionately in Black neighborhoods.

Speaking with reporters before boarding Marine One on Friday, the president also noted the new water rule.

"It's an atrocity," he said. "If you want any indication that it has nothing to do with fairness, nothing to do with decency—they passed a law saying you can't provide water for people standing in line while they're waiting to vote. You don't need anything else to know that this is nothing but punitive design to keep people from voting. You can't provide water for people about to vote? Give me a break."

Biden, in his statement, also vowed, "I will take my case to the American people—including Republicans who joined the broadest coalition of voters ever in this past election to put country before party."

According to CNN:

Asked if there was anything the White House could do to protect voting rights in Georgia, Biden told reporters on a tarmac in Delaware, "We're working on that right now. We don't know quite exactly what we can do at this point. The Justice Department's taking a look as well."
A spokesperson for the Justice Department told CNN earlier Friday that the agency is "aware of the law," but had no further comment.

On Thursday, GOP Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed the unpopular bill into law—while seated beneath a painting of a former slave plantation—less than two hours after the state's Republican lawmakers gave it final approval. During a news conference, he pushed back against the "Jim Crow" comments that have stacked up in recent weeks.

As Eric Lutz wrote for Vanity Fair on Friday:

The victory Thursday for anti-democracy Republicans underscores the importance of Democrats' fight, and adds even more urgency to their push to enact the For the People Act, the passage of which will almost certainly require them to at the very least change the Senate filibuster. Biden has signaled support for amending it, particularly amid the GOP's "un-American" disenfranchisement crusade. "It's sick," Biden said in a press conference Thursday, vowing to do "everything" he can to stop Republicans' "pernicious" efforts to roll back Americans' rights.

Republican politicians across the country "are making clear that there's nothing they won't do in their effort to limit voter participation," Lutz concluded. "For the sake of democracy, Democrats must show the same level of resolve in fighting back."

Virginia becomes first southern state to abolish 'ultimate denial of human rights that is the death penalty'

Human rights advocates applauded after Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday signed legislation that makes Virginia the 23rd state—and the first in the South—to abolish the death penalty.

Northam signed the legislation—which was approved by lawmakers last month—at a ceremony outside the Greensville Correctional Center, home to the state's execution chamber. Virginia has a long history of capital punishment with at least 1,391 documented executions.

"Over our 400-year history, Virginia has executed more people than any other state," Northam noted. "The death penalty system is fundamentally flawed—it is inequitable, ineffective, and it has no place in this commonwealth or this country."

"Virginia has come within days of executing innocent people, and Black defendants have been disproportionately sentenced to death," the governor said. "Abolishing this inhumane practice is the moral thing to do. This is a truly historic day for Virginia, and I am deeply grateful to those who have fought tirelessly and for generations to put an end to capital punishment in our commonwealth."


Kristina Roth, senior advocate for Criminal Justice Programs at Amnesty International USA, welcomed Northam's anticipated move and echoed his critiques of the practice.

"The death penalty is irreversible, it is ineffective, and it does not deter crime," Roth said. "The way the death penalty is carried out is painful, violent, and inhumane, and it is targeted in this country disproportionately against communities of color. The use of the death penalty as a punishment is outdated, fundamentally broken, and must end once and for all."

"Virginia, once a stronghold of the Confederacy, now becomes the first southern state to end the ultimate denial of human rights that is the death penalty," she added.

Highlighting the commonwealth's "sordid past with the use of the death penalty against Black people, applied arbitrarily," Roth pointed out that "a Black defendant in Virginia is three times more likely to be sentenced to death if the victim is white rather than Black."

Other supporters of the legislation also emphasized how the death penalty has affected people of color in Virigina for centuries.

"Virginia's legacy on the death penalty was so closely connected to its history of slavery and lynching," said Rev. Dr. LaKeisha Cook of Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. "Now that it is coming to an end, we can start a new chapter that embraces an evidence-based approach to public safety: one that values the dignity of all human beings and is focused on transforming the justice system into one rooted in fairness, accountability, and redemption."

Sarah Craft, Death Penalty Program director at Equal Justice USA said that "Virginia will become the first former Confederate state to abolish capital punishment following a year that saw the dismantling of 168 Confederate symbols across the nation—and nearly half of them in the commonwealth alone."

"This is the final action of a crushing blow against the death penalty, one of our nation's most visible and egregious responses to violence," she added. "It is part of our country's reckoning with a deep and wide legacy of racial injustice."

In a tweet Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) celebrated his state's action and promised he would "continue to push legislation in the Senate to end the death penalty at the federal level."


While Virginia joins 22 other states and Washington, D.C. that have outlawed capital punishment, members of Congress and President Joe Biden face growing pressure to end the practice at the federal level. After a 17-year hiatus, former President Donald Trump resumed executions in 2019, despite concerns about the drug protocol and global calls for an end to the death penalty.

Trump oversaw what critical lawmakers called a "frenzied and unprecedented" spree of federal executions. As a candidate, Biden vowed to work on passing a bill that would eliminate the death penalty "at the federal level, and incentivize states to follow the federal government's example." Earlier this month, United Nations human rights experts urged him to do everything he can to end all U.S. executions.

Amnesty's Roth said Wednesday that the 13 federal executions carried out under Trump "raised the specter of the same irreparable problems we know the death penalty has at all levels, including racial bias, the executions of people with intellectual disabilities, and arbitrariness of defendants sentenced to death."

"This step from Virginia is a welcome unintended consequence of the Trump execution spree," she said. "We hope to see more states work to retire this most extreme punishment to where it belongs—as a relic of the past, not a part of our future."

Virginia abolishes the 'ultimate denial of human rights that is the death penalty'

Human rights advocates applauded after Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday signed legislation that makes Virginia the 23rd state—and the first in the South—to abolish the death penalty.

Northam signed the legislation—which was approved by lawmakers last month—at a ceremony outside the Greensville Correctional Center, home to the state's execution chamber. Virginia has a long history of capital punishment with at least 1,391 documented executions.

"Over our 400-year history, Virginia has executed more people than any other state," Northam noted. "The death penalty system is fundamentally flawed—it is inequitable, ineffective, and it has no place in this commonwealth or this country."

"Virginia has come within days of executing innocent people, and Black defendants have been disproportionately sentenced to death," the governor said. "Abolishing this inhumane practice is the moral thing to do. This is a truly historic day for Virginia, and I am deeply grateful to those who have fought tirelessly and for generations to put an end to capital punishment in our commonwealth."

Kristina Roth, senior advocate for Criminal Justice Programs at Amnesty International USA, welcomed Northam's anticipated move and echoed his critiques of the practice.

"The death penalty is irreversible, it is ineffective, and it does not deter crime," Roth said. "The way the death penalty is carried out is painful, violent, and inhumane, and it is targeted in this country disproportionately against communities of color. The use of the death penalty as a punishment is outdated, fundamentally broken, and must end once and for all."

"Virginia, once a stronghold of the Confederacy, now becomes the first southern state to end the ultimate denial of human rights that is the death penalty," she added.

Highlighting the commonwealth's "sordid past with the use of the death penalty against Black people, applied arbitrarily," Roth pointed out that "a Black defendant in Virginia is three times more likely to be sentenced to death if the victim is white rather than Black."

Other supporters of the legislation also emphasized how the death penalty has affected people of color in Virigina for centuries.

"Virginia's legacy on the death penalty was so closely connected to its history of slavery and lynching," said Rev. Dr. LaKeisha Cook of Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. "Now that it is coming to an end, we can start a new chapter that embraces an evidence-based approach to public safety: one that values the dignity of all human beings and is focused on transforming the justice system into one rooted in fairness, accountability, and redemption."

Sarah Craft, Death Penalty Program director at Equal Justice USA said that "Virginia will become the first former Confederate state to abolish capital punishment following a year that saw the dismantling of 168 Confederate symbols across the nation—and nearly half of them in the commonwealth alone."

"This is the final action of a crushing blow against the death penalty, one of our nation's most visible and egregious responses to violence," she added. "It is part of our country's reckoning with a deep and wide legacy of racial injustice."

In a tweet Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) celebrated his state's action and promised he would "continue to push legislation in the Senate to end the death penalty at the federal level."

While Virginia joins 22 other states and Washington, D.C. that have outlawed capital punishment, members of Congress and President Joe Biden face growing pressure to end the practice at the federal level. After a 17-year hiatus, former President Donald Trump resumed executions in 2019, despite concerns about the drug protocol and global calls for an end to the death penalty.

Trump oversaw what critical lawmakers called a "frenzied and unprecedented" spree of federal executions. As a candidate, Biden vowed to work on passing a bill that would eliminate the death penalty "at the federal level, and incentivize states to follow the federal government's example." Earlier this month, United Nations human rights experts urged him to do everything he can to end all U.S. executions.

Amnesty's Roth said Wednesday that the 13 federal executions carried out under Trump "raised the specter of the same irreparable problems we know the death penalty has at all levels, including racial bias, the executions of people with intellectual disabilities, and arbitrariness of defendants sentenced to death."

"This step from Virginia is a welcome unintended consequence of the Trump execution spree," she said. "We hope to see more states work to retire this most extreme punishment to where it belongs—as a relic of the past, not a part of our future."

'Even Manchin called for $4 trillion': Progressives say Biden's infrastructure plan falls short

Having cleared its first major legislative hurdle with the coronavirus pandemic relief package that President Joe Biden signed into law earlier this month, his administration is now hard at work on a long-awaited infrastructure plan—but progressive advocacy groups responded critically on Monday to reporting about the legislation's possible $3 trillion price tag, warning it is not enough.

The Biden team's infrastructure proposal signals what the climate justice movement has been saying for decades: to stop climate change, we need to scale up public investments to create millions of good jobs, build up our renewable infrastructure, and take care of our communities," said Ellen Sciales, press secretary of the Sunrise Movement.

"But while this recommendation would be a huge step forward, the crises we face demand at least $1 trillion per year over the next decade," Sciales continued, adding that "$3 trillion is simply not enough to create jobs in the national interest, combat the climate crisis, and support working people."

People's Action Climate Justice Campaign director Kaniela Ing agreed, saying that "I'm encouraged to see President Biden driving forward his campaign promise to create millions of good jobs to tackle the climate crisis. But $3 trillion is not enough to address the scale of the overlapping crises we face."

The critique was echoed by Claire Guzdar, campaign manager and spokesperson for ProsperUS, a coalition of more than 75 progressive organizations.

"The current draft proposal of $3 trillion does not go far enough in rebuilding our broken economy and meeting the critical needs of the climate, caregiving, racial injustice, and other crises," she said. "The administration needs to be more aggressive in their economic policy proposals to make up for decades of underinvestment and debunked economic thinking that created our fragile and unequal economy."


According to the New York Times, one of the outlets that reported on the two-part plan based on unnamed sources, "The first legislative piece under discussion, which some Biden officials consider more appealing to Republicans, business leaders, and many moderate Senate Democrats, would combine investments in manufacturing and advanced industries with what would be the most aggressive spending yet by the United States to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change."

As the Times detailed:

It would spend heavily on infrastructure improvements, clean energy deployment, and the development of other "high-growth industries of the future" like 5G telecommunications. It includes money for rural broadband, advanced training for millions of workers, and one million affordable and energy-efficient housing units. Documents suggest it will include nearly $1 trillion in spending alone on the construction of roads, bridges, rail lines, ports, electric vehicle charging stations, and improvements to the electric grid and other parts of the power sector.
[...]
The second plan under discussion is focused on what many progressives call the nation's human infrastructure—students, workers, and people left on the sidelines of the job market—according to documents and people familiar with the discussions. It would spend heavily on education and on programs meant to increase the participation of women in the labor force, by helping them balance work and caregiving. It includes free community college, universal pre-K education, a national paid leave program, and efforts to reduce child care costs.

The package is expected to include $200 billion for housing infrastructure, $60 billion for green transit, and $46 billion for climate-related research and development, according to the Washington Post.

The Post added that "Biden is also expected to be presented with a menu of tax options by Treasury officials to fund the plan. Biden campaigned on raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, as well as increasing taxes on wealthy investors. It was not immediately clear which of his tax plans would be included in the final legislation."

In a statement Monday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki didn't address details, instead stressing that the plan isn't finalized.

"President Biden and his team are considering a range of potential options for how to invest in working families and reform our tax code so it rewards work, not wealth," she said. "Those conversations are ongoing, so any speculation about future economic proposals is premature and not a reflection of the White House's thinking."


The Sunrise Movement and People's Action both highlighted that even Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia who is considered a key obstacle to advancing progressive legislation in the upper chamber narrowly controlled by his party, has called for up to $4 trillion in infrastructure spending.

"At this point, Biden should realize that if his proposal is milder than what Joe Manchin is calling for, it does not go far enough. Even Manchin called for $4 trillion in infrastructure spending," said Sciales of Sunrise. "If $3 trillion is what Biden's team lands on, they'll be neglecting what's politically and publicly popular, and what's quite frankly vital for the future of our society and our planet."

As Ing put it: "Even Sen. Manchin has expressed support for a $4 trillion recovery plan, because it is obvious that all of our communities need massive investment and structural change."

Both activists also warned against letting Republican obstruction kill or weaken the proposal.

"Biden must not cower to fears of losing bipartisanship—Republicans have already made clear they're not interested in working with Democrats—and must deliver an infrastructure package that meets the scale of this moment," said Sciales. "If Republicans or archaic Senate rules get in the way, Democrats must abolish the filibuster and deliver for the American people."

Ing declared that "this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, so we have no choice but to plan ahead."

"Knowing the GOP will obstruct any proposal and call for even more austerity, we need to be unflinching in our values," he said. "We cannot negotiate before even entering the room. $3 trillion is a good start, but President Biden's plan must include at least $10 trillion through the next decade, as outlined in the THRIVE Agenda."

Unveiled in September by a broad grassroots coalition of labor unions, advocacy groups, and Democratic lawmakers, the THRIVE Agenda—a plan for an equitable and green economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic—is backed by over 100 members of Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and members of "the Squad."

"At this scale, we would build back better," Ing concluded, invoking one of Biden's campaign promises, "with over 15 million new union jobs, while enshrining climate, racial, and worker justice into federal law."

'Historic and hopeful moment': Senate confirms Haaland as interior secretary

A diverse coalition of progressive and Indigenous figures and organizations on Monday celebrated the Senate's confirmation of Deb Haaland to head the Department of the Interior—making the New Mexico Democrat and Green New Deal supporter the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history.

She was confirmed by a 51-40 vote in which only a handful of Republicans joined with all members of the Democratic caucus who were present; nine lawmakers, including three Democrats, did not vote. "I look forward to collaborating with all of you," Haaland said in a tweet directed at senators. "I am ready to serve."


While climate justice and Indigenous rights advocates have praised President Joe Biden's selection of the congresswoman to lead a department that oversees hundreds of million of as "a perfect choice," both conservative Democrats and Republicans have raised concerns about her positions on fossil fuels.

"It's clear that Big Oil was afraid of her confirmation—and for good reason," said David Turnbull, strategic communications director at Oil Change International. "The nine senators that voted against her confirmation on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee have on average accepted nearly $900,000 from Big Oil, Coal, and Gas over the course of their careers."

"The confirmation of Deb Haaland as secretary of the interior is a tremendous win for Indigenous communities, the waters, parks, and lands across our country, and the climate," he added. "Haaland is a proven climate champion, and will usher in a new era of climate leadership in the Department of the Interior, reversing the tide of the last four years of dirty energy policies enacted by the Trump administration."

Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter similarly welcomed Haaland's appointment as an opportunity to depart from the planet-wrecking agenda of former President Donald Trump—whose attacks on climate and environmental policies led some campaigners and experts to back Biden's presidential bid.

"Deb Haaland's historic, pathbreaking confirmation is a victory for Indigenous communities, for the climate movement, and for everyone who wants to undo the Trump-era assault on our air and water," said Hauter. "The massive outpouring of public support for Haaland is a testament to her uncompromising record and her clear commitment to ending the exploitation of public lands by fossil fuel corporations."

"Biden's unambiguous call to end fracking on public lands must now become a priority for the White House," she said. "There is no one better to lead on this issue than Deb Haaland, who understands that our transition away from fossil fuels is an environmental justice priority and a climate necessity."


"In Congress, Rep. Haaland has demonstrated a deep concern for environmental justice, conservation, and climate change," said Kathleen Rest, executive director of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "We look forward to working with the new secretary of the interior to protect our nation's ecosystems, cultural heritage, and the climate—for the benefit of communities across the country, including tribes."

Varshini Prakash, executive director of the youth-led Sunrise Movement, lauded Biden for listening to "the Indigenous movement groups and allies that pushed for her confirmation, despite the Senate Republicans' unfair, aggressive campaign against her."

"Haaland is not only one of the first co-sponsors of the Green New Deal," Prakash pointed out, "but she believes that achieving Indigenous sovereignty over stolen land is instrumental to transforming our economy and stopping the climate crisis."

"Now, she must wield her power to crack down on fossil fuel corporations and evict companies that drill for oil on public lands and in public waters," the activist added. "We are excited to see the progress she makes and will be standing with her as she pushes us closer to the vision of a Green New Deal."

Sarah McMillan, WildEarth Guardians' conservation director, and Adam Kolton, executive director of Alaska Wilderness League, highlighted the significance of not only Haaland's well established positions on dirty energy and land management, but also the perspective she brings as an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo.

"We congratulate Secretary Deb Haaland and celebrate this historic and momentous day when the Department of Interior, which manages more than 450 million acres and houses the Bureau of Indian Affairs, finally has an Indigenous woman to lead the way," said McMillan. "As our country is finally awakening to the injustices that Indigenous people have endured, and in the throes of a climate and nature crisis, we must chart a new path after four years of out-of-control exploitation and devastation."


As Kolton put it: "We cannot right the wrongs of colonization or undo the history of violence toward and the displacement of Indigenous peoples in our country. But the confirmation of the first Native American to lead any U.S. Cabinet agency, particularly one that is responsible for the stewardship of millions of acres of once stolen and now public land, is a historic and hopeful moment."

"Haaland brings to the job an understanding of the Native American experience and a deep personal connection and commitment to preserving the lands and waters that sustain people and communities across the country," he added. "She was the first U.S. representative to champion the need to pursue an ambitious national goal of conserving 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030, and as interior secretary she will play a critical role in implementing President Biden's ambitious conservation agenda, confronting the climate crisis, and advancing the cause of environmental justice."

A host of conservation groups in the state she represented in Congress—including New Mexico Wildlife Federation, New Mexico Wild, and Conservation Voters New Mexico—also applauded Haaland's confirmation.

"The global climate crisis is attributed to settler colonialism and the exploitation of natural resources cultivated from stolen Indigenous landscapes and the mismanagement of those resources," said Pueblo Action Alliance director Julia Bernal. "There needs to be a paradigm shift and having a Pueblo Indigenous feminist perspective in this Cabinet position could instill a lot of hope for meaningful tribal consultation and more importantly tribal consent."

Bernal explained that "Haaland will bring that worldview into land and water management practices that will work towards a just transition to a cleaner energy economy and more equitable approaches to better frontline and Indigenous communities who have suffered from the presence of the oil and gas industry."

Noting the department's widely criticized history on interacting with tribes, she added that "places like Chaco Canyon and Bears Ears and the waterways that supply Indigenous people in the Southwest could have longer standing chances if they are managed through a Pueblo Indigenous feminist perspective that implement[s] core values like respect and reciprocity and give[s] personhood to our waterways."

'We're destroying our life-support systems': Study suggests the Amazon now ​contributes to warming

While recent research has raised alarm that tropical forests including the Amazon could soon stop serving as carbon sinks, a first-of-its-kind study from 30 experts that takes into account other greenhouse gases suggests the world's largest rainforest may already be contributing to the warming of the planet.

The new analysis, published Thursday in the journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, considers not only carbon dioxide (CO2) and its impact on the global climate but also that of methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N20), black carbon, biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs), aerosols, evapotranspiration, and albedo.

"What the authors do that's important is to expand the conversation beyond carbon dioxide, which is what 90% of public conversation is centered around," Patrick Megonigal, associate director of research at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, told National Geographic.

"CO2 is not a lone actor," added Megonigal, who was cited in but not involved with the research, which was funded by the National Geographic Society. "When you consider the whole cast of other characters, the outlook in the Amazon is that the impacts of human activities will be worse than we realize."

As 15-year-old climate activist Alexandria Villaseñor put it in a tweet about the study: "We're destroying our life-support systems. We're running out of time."


The study notes that "after a transient period of reduced deforestation and increased optimism, rising agricultural conversion and illegal logging activities are again accelerating Amazonian forest loss. This resurgence has renewed concerns that the region is rapidly approaching a catastrophic 'tipping point.'"

Data from the Rainforest Foundation Norway revealed Monday that human activities have destroyed 34% of old-growth tropical rainforests and degraded 30% worldwide. Over half of that destruction since 2002 has been in the Amazon and neighboring South American rainforests. Under Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro—whose country is home to the majority of the Amazon—deforestation hit a 12-year high in 2020.

"Cutting the forest is interfering with its carbon uptake; that's a problem," Kristofer Covey, lead author of the new study and a professor of environmental studies at Skidmore College, told National Geographic. "But when you start to look at these other factors alongside CO2, it gets really hard to see how the net effect isn't that the Amazon as a whole is really warming global climate."

The study says that despite some uncertainty, "we conclude that current warming from non-CO2 agents (especially CH4 and N2O) in the Amazon Basin largely offsets—and most likely exceeds—the climate service provided by atmospheric CO2 uptake. We also find that the majority of anthropogenic impacts act to increase the radiative forcing potential of the basin."

"Given the large contribution of less-recognized agents," the paper continues—noting that Amazonian trees alone emit about 3.5% of all global CH4—focusing strictly on carbon uptake and storage "is incompatible with genuine efforts to understand and manage the biogeochemistry of climate in a rapidly changing Amazon Basin."


Covey and his colleagues told National Geographic that reversing the damage that's already been done will require halting emissions from fossil fuels around the world and reining in Amazon deforestation, "along with reducing dam building and increasing efforts to replant trees."

The Amazon is among the most biodiverse places on the planet. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of conserving and restoring rainforests not only because of the climate emergency but also to prevent future zoonotic disease outbreaks.

As the pandemic—officially declared a year ago Thursday—has killed more than 2.6 million people and sickened over 119 million worldwide, experts from across the globe have repeatedly called on humanity to heal its "broken relationship with nature."

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