If I were writing the (new!) President’s climate emergency speech

Saul Griffith
6 min readJan 19, 2021


As I write this, we have 75,000 seconds until Trump is out of office. Not a moment too soon (and years too late) for the climate. We are now in four years’ worse shape than we were when he came into office, and we are in a state of emergency.

Here’s the speech I would write for President Biden:


Good afternoon, everybody.

My fellow Americans: I stand here today to declare a state of national emergency. We are facing an unprecedented climate crisis, and we must act now.

The climate emergency is affecting all Americans’ lives and livelihoods, and our collective future. The emergency is hitting us on many fronts, from the massive wildfires in California to the hurricanes and flooding on the East Coast. Global heating is destroying crops and forests, wildlife and oceans, our magnificent public lands and national parks. For too long, we have lived with the hope that if we ignore the emergency, and keep burning fossil fuels, it will go away — or that miracle technologies and future generations will solve the problem. But the time has come for us to face this emergency the way Americans have done in the past with other threats to our values and way of life. This time the threat is to our planet, and to future generations. Our responsibility is no less; in fact, it is more.

We have no time to lose. We must all come together today to fight to protect the earth, ourselves, and our children from a climate disaster. We have one last chance to fight the emergency that is the climate crisis. If we succeed, history may well judge this day as the turning point for our planet.

Recently, we came together to face the challenge of the COVID-19 virus. While we lost far too many of our citizens, we saw the bravery and heroism of so many others, working on the front lines of health care, behind the scenes to develop treatments, and at home, quietly supporting friends, vulnerable relatives, and neighbors. We learned the importance of listening to science to save lives. And most of all, we came to the crucial understanding that we are all interconnected on this planet, and we all face the same threats. That’s why we must all come together — in families, communities, states, as a nation, and as all the nations that comprise this beautiful world — to fight against a much bigger climate crisis.

We already have a head start. In 2016, we signed the Paris Agreement, a strong global pact to reduce carbon pollution and set the world on course to zero carbon emissions. The United States and China, along with many other nations, made a commitment to the future. At home, we led by example, with investments in renewable energy sources —wind and solar — that created new jobs. We set standards to limit the amount of carbon pollution that power plants can dump into the air our children breathe. We drove down our levels of carbon pollution and slowed the amount of carbon our cars and industries spew into the atmosphere.

But what we’ve done so far is not enough, not by a long shot. The Paris Agreement may help delay some of the worst consequences of the climate crisis. We have made our use of energy more efficient. But it’s time to recognize that efficiency is not enough. The Paris agreement is not enough. Paris was mired in the politically possible when what we need now is audacity. We need to stop our addiction to fossil fuels, now. We need zero carbon emissions, and being more efficient with fossil fuel will never get us to zero. We need to stop burning fossil fuels, period, and transform all our energy sources to zero-carbon renewables starting today. Commitments must be towards a one-and -a -half- degree Celsius goal and they must be binding. If we sit back and wait for the fuel to run out, we will far exceed the limits of carbon output that will make this planet comfortable and livable. We will face unending droughts, shortages, and disasters.

Instead, we are committing today to a clean energy future. This will open the way for scientists, engineers, and businesses to unleash high — tech, low — carbon investment and innovation at a scale that we’ve never seen before. This gives us our only chance to save the one planet we’ve got. There’s no planet B.

We know we can do this, because we have done it before. We worked our way out of the Great Depression by pulling together and creating innovative public works programs that brought Americans back to prosperity. When Winston Churchill asked for our help to save the Allies from the Nazis, we built our weak and disorganized military into a force that defeated Hitler and saved democracy. Faced with a space race with the former USSR, we were first to walk on the moon.

When Rachel Carson first sounded the alarm about the environmental crisis with her 1962 book Silent Spring, President Lyndon B. Johnson noted that while ours is a nation of affluence, “the technology that has permitted that affluence spews out vast quantities of wastes and spent products that pollute our air, poison our waters, and even impair our ability to feed ourselves.’’ That was in 1965, and while it could be a description of our current global climate crisis, what we are facing today threatens civilization as we know it. But together, with optimism and faith and hope, we can win this war against the climate emergency — just as we pulled ourselves out of the Great Depression, beat the Nazis, and landed on the moon. We can still fix this.

We are going to have to make immediate changes. We first will pour our investment into making it possible for all Americans to replace their fossil fuel -burning machines with electric ones, powered mainly by the sun and wind. Just by switching out the cars, furnaces, and kitchen appliances of our homes, we can get halfway to our goal of keeping carbon emissions down. Unlike other wars we’ve fought, this one won’t entail the sacrifice of human lives, or even comfort. When we switch to clean energy, we will have warmer, more comfortable homes, zippier cars, cleaner air, and quieter streets. We will create thousands of jobs that will keep our economy growing. And we will help build a world that is safer, cleaner, more prosperous, and more beautiful for future generations.

Fossil fuels have powered many of the great advances in our country, and helped make us great. We thank fossil fuel companies for their service. Now we will accept the challenge to transform our fossil fuels into something to make us greater. But we aren’t going to leave the people and industries that powered our past behind. We will buy out fossil fuel reserves so that those great companies and Americans will be able to invest in the fuels of the future.

We will transform our economy to run on clean energy without putting anyone out of a job. In fact, we will be building more jobs and improving the economy as we switch to more modern fuels. We will maintain our position as a worldwide leader, and not let any other countries get ahead of us with these new technologies. We will be the leaders of renewable energy, and we will be a beacon to the rest of the world.

We will have some science projects to solve as we move toward 100\% decarbonization. But we are up to the task. American science will rise, as it has in the past, to solve these challenges. We should all look forward to the wonders that our world class laboratories, universities, and start-ups will bring to us as we support them.

But the innovations won’t end in the labs. We need innovations in forestry, in water, all across our manufacturing industries, and in farming and agriculture, so that we can continue the prosperity they bring not only to us, but to the world. The secret to our success will be electrification, and that foundation will support every sector.

Our time is up. For too long, we have been waging a war on nature. Now it’s time for a war on the damage that we have wrought on the environment and the planet. I’m calling this state of climate emergency to make sure our children and grandchildren can enjoy as beautiful a planet as we have, to marvel at the wonders and mysteries of nature, knowing that we have reversed the course to destroy them. Our children understand that their future is threatened, and it is time for us to pay attention. It is time to face the emergency.

Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you all and bless the United States of America.



Saul Griffith

Founder / Principal Scientist at Otherlab, an energy R&D lab, and co-founder/Principal Scientist at Rewiring America, a coalition to electrify everything.