Yesterday Reminded Me What Hope Feels Like

It has been a long time since environmentalists in the US won so much in a single day.

Joe Biden Marks His Inauguration With Full Day Of Events
President Joe Biden signs a series of executive orders in the Oval Office just hours after his inauguration. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

I spent a lot of Inauguration Day feeling choked up with happiness. 

I got choked up thinking about Kamala Harris taking office as the first female vice president of the United States. Tears welled up reading that on day one, Biden not only signed executive orders to rejoin the Paris Agreement and revoke permits for Keystone XL, but that he also ordered federal agencies to reinstate more than 100 environmental protections and also suspended oil leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I even got a little teary-eyed thinking about how normal and good it felt to applaud and joke about Bernie Sanders’ upcycled mittens. How long has it been since we could feel so carefree? 

It has been a long, long time since environmentalists in the United States won so much in a single day. Even during the Obama Administration, when we made significant progress, congress held back many opportunities to solve climate change and at times even the executive branch was slow to act. The first time the Keystone XL pipeline was canceled, it was only the result of many grueling years of direct action campaigns. Incremental improvement to the Clean Power Plan came only after the tireless work of advocates, only to be caught up in legal battles and ultimately rendered null under the Trump Administration. 

The Trump administration’s policies dealt environmental progress blow after blow, as everything from clean car initiatives to mercury protections to wildlife refuges came under fire. States, nonprofits, and regular citizens fought these rollbacks with energy and not infrequent success, but we can’t deny what these four years of struggle have taken from us. The past four years represent precious time we could have spent reducing emissions and that we’ll never get back. The oil is burned, and with it more planetary heating is now baked-in. 

I have never believed that we could give up on the fight for a livable climate and a healthy environment. But yesterday hit me like a ton of bricks that this is what it feels like to win. Even to hear the president acknowledge that climate change is a major issue facing the country is a refreshing change. 

The executive orders are just a start to be sure – we need to go hard and fast on the policy front to prevent catastrophic climate change, but many signs in the new administration are pointing towards hope. Biden’s proposed COVID-relief programs would kick-start the economy by investing heavily in renewable energy, clean infrastructure, and emissions-reducing research and development. Now that Democrats also hold Congress, further climate bills are no longer outside the realm of possibility. Then there are the environmental track records of Biden’s agency nominations, from Deb Haaland to Jennifer Granholm. 

None of yesterday’s wins happened in a vacuum. They’re the result of years of fighting for the integrity of science, smart get-out-the-vote efforts, public pressure campaigns, and boots-on-the-ground protests. They prove that if people who care about protecting the planet speak out, we can win. 

So, keep your elected officials’ numbers saved in your phone and be ready to call them when the next big environmental issue comes up for a vote. There’s a lot more winning to be had.