Is President Biden as dedicated to climate as he claims?

Waves of mass protest and civil disobedience have once again swept through Washington D.C. this month.

Earlier this month our nation’s capital was again the site of mass protest and civil disobedience, however you wouldn’t have heard about it from any of the largest media outlets. 

To learn anything about the People vs Fossil Fuels protests, you have to depend on independent sources like Democracy Now’s article “People vs. Fossil Fuels” which reported that over 530 were arrested in Historic Indigenous-led Climate Protests in D.C. which describes the actions of hundreds of Native American activists who have traveled from all over the country to demand that President Biden make good on his promises to combat climate change.

Following a week of public protests outside the White House, Native activists referred to as Water Protectors occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs (B.I.A.) building in D.C., refusing to leave or allow official functions to continue. The activists demanded the official abolition of the B.I.A, the return of indigenous children buried at residential schools, the restoration of 110 million acres taken from Native nations, and an end of leases for oil, gas, and extractive industries on public land.

Activists remained peaceful but were eventually hauled from the building and put under arrest for civil disobedience and obstruction of government functions. Over 500 activists have been arrested since the protests began. These drastic actions are justified by activist leader Siqiniq Maupin who said, “Yes, we had gathered to let Biden know that we’re not going anywhere. Signing petitions…and following these laws have not gotten us where we need to be. There is a climate emergency. People are dying right now. And we need to make a statement, and I think we did that.”

These events come just weeks before President Biden and members of his cabinet are expected to participate in the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland. This is no coincidence. Since early in his presidential campaign, President Biden has claimed a dedication to combating climate change. Yet his actions since taking office have often been in conflict with those claims.

A report by the Center for Biological Diversity, “Lawsuit Filed After Biden Opens 80 Million Acres of Gulf of Mexico for Oil” reveals that even in the wake of the catastrophic damage of hurricane Ida, the Biden Administration has offered 80 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas leasing. 

And this is one example of the president “…speaking with a forked tongue,” as native activist Joye Braun put it. She and her fellow activists are not just protesting on behalf of the climate, but on behalf of their rights as members of sovereign native nations. 

“They’re still allowing pipelines to go through illegally. Dakota Access pipeline is still an illegal pipeline. And, of course, they did not do a full E.I.S. on Line 3, and they’re ignoring treaty rights on Line 5 and Mountain Valley pipeline,” continues Braun later in the interview as she defends the actions of her group as they stand against these projects. All of which her organization believes have ignored their sovereign rights, damaged ecosystems and endangered the public. Bruan later demands that President Biden live up to his promises towards indigenous peoples.

The events in D.C. this past month are tragically, nothing new to American-Indigenous relations. Back in 1970 native activists occupied the B.I.A. for very similar reasons. We have a long, tired tradition of disregarding our agreements with indigenous peoples. 

It is the original sin of American history, going way back before our independence from England and even before the first slave ship arrived on our shores. I am not the least bit surprised that these protests have received minimal media coverage, the only thing in America that gets swept under the rug faster than a climate issue is an indigenous rights issue.

Throughout every step of American “greatness,” we have assaulted indigenous cultures, ignoring their rights and disregarding their perspectives. Simultaneously we have treated the environment and climate scientists with equal disdain and disregard. We have ignored, mocked, and refused to believe any warnings of environmental catastrophe for many of the same reasons that we have ignored indigenous rights: because there is simply too much money being made by not listening to them.

Any problems this creates can simply be a rusty can, kicked down the road for the next generation to deal with.

To President Biden’s credit, he is the first President in U.S. history to campaign on climate and make climate a major focus of his presidency. This is a huge step towards changing public opinion on climate, especially considering the narrative pushed by his predecessor. Whether he is genuinely concerned over climate change, or merely placating the more progressive members of his party base is still up for debate. 

Like many Americans, I grew up with the narrative of American “greatness.” I believed it and proudly said the pledge of allegiance every morning in school. Yet as I grew into adulthood, and I learned what real greatness means, I became disenfranchised and disappointed. 

Greatness is not just defined by military might or economic success. Greatness is also defined by honesty, integrity, compassion, and moral strength of character. I believe these can exist in America as well, but they never will while we continue to grind fragile indigenous cultures into the ground. Great countries don’t ignore their own people, and great countries don’t ignore a serious threat just to benefit the very few. 

I believe that from a certain perspective, societies are not too different from individuals. Individuals must make mistakes and learn from them in order to experience positive growth. I believe a similar pattern exists for cultures and nations as well. I hope my own country learns to do so, because we won’t be everything we can be until we do.