Muriel MacDonald at a climate change rally outside Sen. Dianne Feinstein's San Francisco office in Oct. 2021. (Photo/Lara Aburamadan)
Muriel MacDonald at a climate change rally outside Sen. Dianne Feinstein's San Francisco office in Oct. 2021. (Photo/Lara Aburamadan)

Without pressure, climate pledges made in Glasgow will never be met

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

This week all eyes have turned to Glasgow, Scotland, as world leaders gathered for COP26, the annual UN climate conference. While COP26 feels like a distant set of high-stakes negotiations, the success of these meetings hinges on whether the United States delivers serious climate action on the homefront, which in turn hinges on how we show up as a community.

The pledges made in Glasgow are only as strong as countries’ ability to deliver on them. For the U.S., the linchpin of Biden’s promises at the conference is the pending Build Back Better agenda. With $550 billion in climate investments, this legislation will not only deliver greenhouse gas emissions reductions and climate solutions needed to avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis, but also demonstrate to the global community that the U.S. is “back in the game” on climate (or, as the U.S. talking points would have us all believe, that we are ready to “lead” again, despite falling well short of our commitments and responsibilities as the historically largest emitters of C02).

As promises emerge from Glasgow and the Build Back Better legislation moves towards passage, I find myself filled with a strange mixture of hope and despair. We have never been closer to taking serious action on climate. And we are still so far from where we need to be to avert disaster.

As a hub leader of Sunrise Movement Bay Area and now a national organizer with Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action, I’m proud to have been part of effective organizing that altered the political trajectory on climate.

When Joe Biden ran for presidential office, his climate plan was among the weakest of the Democratic candidates. Around the same time, the Democratic Party announced that climate would not be among their top priorities going into the 2020 elections. But consistent organizing and activism — including a large disruption I helped to organize during the DNC summer meetings in San Francisco – led to a shift. Biden’s proposed climate policies became stronger, and ultimately a core plank of his and the Democratic party’s platform.

This didn’t happen because Biden or Democratic party leaders personally felt called to address the climate crisis – they hadn’t before, why would they now? This happened because we, young people, and our broader communities, demanded it.

This fall, Jewish Americans mobilized to demand a $3.5 trillion plan for climate, jobs, and justice. In 16 public-facing Hear the Call actions across the country, we blew the shofar outside our Senators’ offices, asking them to hear the call of their Jewish constituents, and take action on climate. From Arizona to Virginia, we made the Jewish community’s position on climate well known. In California, specifically, we held three actions to call on Sen. Dianne Feinstein to deliver climate action. And with negotiations on the reconciliation package accelerating, our work just might bear fruit.

Will our Senators, swayed by an overwhelming flood of phone calls, letters, office visits, and 6 a.m. wake up calls outside their houseboats, pass the Build Back Better Act? Will President Biden, greeted by a restless and well organized American public, follow through on his promises to cut methane emissions and deliver the broader regulatory action we need?

What I’ve learned is that the difference will be (and has always been) how we show up to demand our leaders deliver. The difference will be (and has always been) how effectively our communities organize to demand life-saving policies that will keep the global average temperature within a livable range. I know this, because I’ve seen effective community organizing and political agitating get us this far.

We’re seeing what we can get with the amount of power we have right now, including the first meaningful federal legislation our country has ever passed to address climate change. But we need so much more to face this existential crisis. And to win it, we need a groundswell of support from our parents, our teachers, our apolitical friends.

The Jewish community is perfectly poised to be part of this next great groundswell. In July, a survey of Jewish voters by the Jewish Electorate Institute found climate change to be the top priority issue across all age groups. With a little organizing, I expect Jewish Americans will play a key role in the growing, unstoppable clamor for climate action.

As COP26 enters into its second week, we remind ourselves that promises are not enough. We will continue to hold elected officials to their word. We will rise as a community to secure a livable future for our families, communities, and the planet. There is so much work yet to be done.

Muriel MacDonald
Muriel MacDonald

Muriel MacDonald is the national organizer and digital manager for Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action. She lives in San Francisco