Our planet and democracy are under attack — if we don't save both, we won't have either

The year 2021 was supposed to be transformative. We were promised bold action on climate justice and major reforms to voting rights. Yet, this week marks the one-year anniversary of the insurrection at the capitol, and our democracy is in peril, voting rights are under attack, and we have made no meaningful progress to protect our planet.

Just as we are seeing an increasingly unstable climate, our democracy is growing more and more unstable with each day. In the last year, 49 states introduced more than 440 bills with provisions that restrict voting access according to the Brennan Center for Justice. At least 34 laws restricting access to voting have passed in 19 states.

These efforts to restrict access to the ballot and reshape voting districts are being done with the intent to rig future election results. Perhaps more worrying, a recent poll shows that more than one-third of Americans don’t even believe that President BidenJoe BidenDeputy AG: DOJ investigating fake Trump electors On The Money — Vaccine-or-test mandate for businesses nixed Warner tests positive for breakthrough COVID-19 case MORE legitimately won enough votes to become the president, despite the fact that he clearly did.

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I organize young people and people of color to vote on issues like climate justice and voting rights as the co-founder of Plus1Vote. While I have worked to turn out voters for years, it doesn’t take an expert to see the threats to our democratic institutions. And as our nation grows more divided, our climate systems are breaking down in real-time.

Our inability to make progress on securing our right to vote is directly tied to our inability to act on climate. We won't have a functioning democracy without climate action; we won't have climate action without a functioning democracy. We have to tackle both — or else we have neither.

Recently, relative’s flight back home to Colorado was canceled because of wildfires. The same day, a colleague in Florida had to evacuate their home because of flooding. Meanwhile, I went for a comfortable walk in New York on an eerily warm mid-50 degree December day. It seems like we are accepting this crisis as our new normal.

Exactly as the science predicted, climate catastrophes are becoming commonplace. The adage of having 10 years to act on the climate crisis is now sorely out of date. A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes it clear that we have to halve our carbon emissions by 2030 (I was an expert reviewer for the report). With eight years to go, we have only made the climate crisis worse and are running out of time.

Our climate is destabilizing in much the same way our democracy is: becoming more erratic, more costly and more difficult to recover from the longer we continue inaction. 

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What is so ironic about our current situation is that voter suppression efforts disproportionately target young people and BIPOC communities (Black, Indigenous and people of color); the climate crisis also disproportionately impacts young people and BIPOC communities. As these communities become increasingly unable to cast a ballot, we become less able to address the root issues in our democracy and our climate, while these communities continue to bear the brunt of both these crises.  

Solutions are known and are on the table. The Biden administration’s Build Back Better bill would allocate over half a trillion dollars to renewable energy and transportation incentives, among other things. We further need to pass the Freedom to Vote and John LewisJohn LewisTrump and Biden should stop denigrating US elections Democrats say change to filibuster just a matter of time Despite Senate setbacks, the fight for voting rights is far from over MORE Voting Rights Acts, which would make Election Day a national holiday, increase access to mail-in and early voting and protect voters from discrimination. 

We have a short window that will close this year. Without divisive action, our democratic systems and ecosystems will continue to destabilize as we head toward the midterms. The insurrection was not an aberration, but rather a manifestation of the unraveling of our society. If we do not enact major policy reform at this critical time, our planet and democracy will continue to change for the worse for generations to come.

Saad Amer is the co-founder of Plus1Vote, a nonprofit organization dedicated to getting youth and people of color out to vote on climate change, social justice and voting rights. Amer was an expert reviewer on the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Follow Amer on Twitter: @itsSaadAmer