“Asking nicely hasn’t worked out,” said Elise Joshi as she stood up during the White House press secretary’s remarks.
Shortly after U.S. President Joe Biden angered climate campaigners by failing to mention fossil fuels in his remarks about new protections for millions of people facing extreme heat, the executive director of a youth-led advocacy group decided to address the administration directly about officials’ refusal to end support for the planet-heating oil and gas industry.
Elise Joshi, 21, stood up as White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was addressing a crowd at an event hosted by the voter engagement group Voters of Tomorrow. The campaigner spoke about Gen Z for Change’s long-stated demand that Biden declare a climate emergency—a move that would unlock numerous resources to fight the climate crisis and expedite the shift away from oil and fossil gas.
“Excuse me for interrupting, but asking nicely hasn’t worked out,” said Joshi. “A million young people wrote to the administration pleading not to approve a disastrous oil drilling project in Alaska, and we were ignored. So I’m here channeling the strength of my ancestors and generation.”
An event staffer approached Joshi, but Jean-Pierre urged them to “let her talk,” allowing the campaigner to demand that Biden “stop approving new oil and gas projects and align with youth, science, and frontline communities.”
When Joshi was finished speaking Jean-Pierre acknowledged that she had brought up the Willow project, an oil drilling operation that was approved on public land in Alaska this year. The project is expected to produce more than 600 million barrels of crude oil over the next three decades—releasing about 280 million metric tons of heat-trapping carbon emissions.
Joshi also noted that the Biden administration has approved drilling projects at a faster rate than the Trump administration.
As other Gen Z for Change campaigners called on the White House to “declare a climate emergency,” Jean-Pierre defended Biden’s record by saying he has “taken more action on climate change than any other president,” and said she would speak to Joshi privately after the event.
“We can talk through all that he has done and all that he wants to do, and we can also listen to you,” said the press secretary.
U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.), who has also called for far-reaching climate action and at 26 is the youngest member of Congress, applauded Joshi for speaking out.
“I join the movement in asking the president to declare a climate emergency,” said Frost.