What the Biden Administration is Actually Doing for Sustainable Fashion

 Climate Justice Reboot

We've collectively awaited this moment, all 51% of us anyway. After four years of environmental setbacks we finally have a president again who's ready to invest in sustainability. In addition to being a man with an ambitious climate action plan, Joe Biden in his inaugural address also became the first president to renounce white supremacy in an inauguration speech. Damn, Joe. Incredibly, for such a "moderate" candidate this administration seems to understand the connection between climate justice and social equity and is making quick work of implementing an intersectional plan. In his first round of executive orders Biden has rejoined the WHO, the Paris Agreement, reinstated regulations on methane emissions for oil manufactories and revoked Trump’s so called “muslim ban” along with the permit on the Keystone XL Pipeline.  All of these moves clearly signal that the path forward definitely won’t be oil dependency or perpetual racism. So what’s next? With a diverse cabinet taking swift action how can we expect the Biden administration to affect sustainable fashion? 

[Source Image: Credit...Terray Sylvester/Reuters]


But First, The Vaccine

After announcing an aggressive plan to distribute vaccines faster than you can say “Operation Warp Speed”, extreme weather has delayed the delivery of the vaccine. Several high population states are still waiting to receive huge shipments, including Texas which was supposed to receive 400,000 first doses and 330,000 second doses last week. However, despite climate change ruining everything (again), one New York Times article reported that “The country is now vaccinating an average of 1.7 million people a day. Mr. Biden said the country was ‘on track to surpass’ the 100 million goal, even as the delayed doses threaten to lower the daily average.” It seems that even if the ghost of 2020 is still conspiring against us, it appears “Sleepy Joe” is capable of delivering at warp speed. 

[Source Image: Vaccines being transferred to cold storage. Credit.Doug Mills/The New York Times]


The Infrastructure Plan & Intersectionality

Biden’s Coronavirus relief stimulus bill and his future infrastructure plan will be intersectional, meaning they will address racial and climate justice in one fell swoop. Once again, damn Joe! An article in Time Magazine mentioned that the Coronavirus relief stimulus package “addresses several items raised by the Black Lives Matter movement." This includes assistance for communities of color hit disproportionately hard, more funds to expand community health centers and relief for minority-­owned small businesses. And this is just the first step. Following the COVID relief package which addresses issues of racial equity, the infrastructure package will be about rebuilding the economy in a way that will benefit both the environment and communities of color. This is a valiant effort. Every time our country has gone through a war, a pandemic or fallen into a recession we’ve had to rebuild the country and the economy often times in a transformative way. Just look at FDR’s New Deal. Prior to the New Deal, we didn’t have social security and banks were uninsured. Past recessions have taught us painful lessons in how to care for our citizens. Hopefully this iteration will do it better than all the rest. 

[Joe Biden's so called "climate supergroup" “a tested cohort of bold thinkers” to tackle the climate crisis (Getty/AP)]


Diverse Experts

Biden’s climate leadership team includes a diverse panel of BIPOC men and women. Cecilia Martinez, incoming White House Council on Environmental Quality senior director for environmental justice; Neera Tanden, Office of Management and Budget director nominee; Deb Haaland Secretary of the Interior and Gina McCarthy, White House domestic climate adviser are just a few members of the fierce team poised to rework the country’s plan for climate justice. As laid out in an article by Scientific American, this group of leaders was given the hard task of coming up with what has been called “Justice40” a goal that requires that within 120 days they must formulate recommendations to meet a "goal that 40% of overall benefits flow to disadvantaged communities" from "certain federal investments" in areas such as clean energy and energy efficiency, public transit, and affordable and sustainable housing.” In addition the group must figure out a way to implement Biden's aggressive climate plan to have a carbon free grid by 2035 and net-zero emissions by 2050. 

[Source Image: Deb Haaland, First Native American Secretary of the Interior Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images]


Apparently making sure those benefits are rightly allocated tricky. Fortunately, prior to her current gig, Cecilia Martinez was an environmental justice researcher and founder of the activist group Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy. Her group started the Equitable & Just National Climate Platform with the Center for American Progress to give communities disproportionately burdened by pollution and climate change a political voice amid the Trump presidency which famously sought neither social nor climate equity. Bringing in an activist insider like Cecilia  is evidently an effort to bridge the divide between grassroots organizers and government. It was a strategic choice that will help activists proactively co-create progressive policies instead of having to react from the sidelines.

America's First "Climate Czar" & The Call for a Fashion Czar

[Source Image: Gina McCarthy, America's First "Climate Czar" Sarah Blesener for The New York Times]

America finally has a "Climate Czar". It's a title we've never heard before as aforementioned cabinet member Gina McCarthy will be the first. It makes sense to appoint someone to oversee several departments like transportation, energy, agriculture and commerce to coordinate efforts to ensure climate goals are met. This idea of Czars isn't totally new, as past U.S. presidents have appointed industry czars to coordinate on their behalf. Jumping in on this trend, over 80 designers have signed a letter written by journalist Elizabeth Segran addressed to the president calling for America's first "Fashion Czar". Brand & NGO signees including Allbirds, Mara Hoffman, ThredUp, Reformation, Rebecca Minkoff, Cuyana, Aday, Fibershed, Fashion Revolution and the Sustainable Fashion Forum have signed the letter hoping to push for more political accountability in the industry. In the letter Segran makes the point that in the Biden administration there appear to be no immediate or specific plans to address fashion even though the industry generates 10% of greenhouse gases. 

[Source Image: Brun Poirson France's "Fashion Czar" New York Times Dmitry Kostyukov]


While we now have our first Climate Czar in McCarthy, no country has ever had a "Fashion Czar" save for France's Brune Poirson, former Secretary of State to the Minister of Ecological Transitions who was not solely in charge of garment regulations but who did play a critical role successfully passing laws against the incineration of textile waste, banning microplastics in cosmetics and proposing zero was legislation. While Poirson wasn’t a climate czar, she’s the best example of what one could do. With Biden breaking new ground in appointing a Climate Czar, it may signal the beginning of more firsts in sustainability. Whether new legislation proposed in other sectors hits fashion is yet to be seen. All we know as that with women, activists and BIPOC in office given real authority over managing climate justic, some things are about to change around here.  


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