The world is running to the edge of a cliff and looking to the United States for how to act.
The question is whether the obvious need for climate action is enough to convince our leaders to build a stronger, healthier future, or will we let the soil disappear under our feet?
Or to make the question less abstract, will enough members of Congress seize this latest and greatest chance to adopt meaningful climate policies and get the world out of its way into a bleak future?
It couldn’t be more urgent. Burning fossil fuels is raising global temperatures exactly as scientists had predicted, causing more frequent heat waves, forest fires, floods, droughts and severe storms.
But the intensity of nature’s response to higher temperatures has been beyond what the models predicted. Case in point: the “heat dome” that pushed temperatures so high earlier this year in the Pacific Northwest, causing death and devastation.
It’s a frightening development, and every bit of carbon released by fossil fuels makes the situation worse. If the effects of climate change can already be so dire – so costly in dollars, lives and livelihoods – then what lies ahead for our future?
We don’t have to find out. For the sake of billions of people, we just can’t.
“We’re on the edge of the knife,” renowned climatologist Michael Mann told the editorial board last week.
Mann was not only referring to our choices as the world races to the edge of the cliff, but also to the political situation in Congress.
WHAT’S THE MATTER
Democrats are now leading two bills in Congress, the Infrastructure Bill and the Build Back Better Act, also known as the Budget Reconciliation Bill.
The infrastructure bill, which was passed by the Senate in a bipartisan vote, itself contains a number of climate initiatives.
But the consecutive policies are reserved for the budget reconciliation file. It is likely that Democrats will have to pass it, and it will take almost every one of them.
This has set up a struggle between the progressives who want to take this opportunity not only to face the climate crisis but to finally provide meaningful support to families, and the centrist members who want to achieve victory over the Bill on infrastructure, and who balk at the price of the reconciliation invoice.
Democrats cannot pass up this chance. Together, the two bills tackle many issues facing families across the country in a way that would make us stronger.
But if they pass in the absence of meaningful climate legislation, the results could be catastrophic.
Along with mechanisms to strengthen the social safety net and improve access to care for children and the elderly, the $ 3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, in its most robust version, would accelerate the conversion. towards an economy without emissions.
The most important policy put forward by House Democrats is the Clean Electricity Performance Program, or CEPP, which would provide subsidies to utilities if they increased their share of clean energy from year to year, and fines. if they didn’t.
With strict standards on what qualifies as clean energy, CEPP could make a real difference in phasing out the fossil fuel grid. It would also add millions of jobs and hundreds of billions of dollars to the economy.
Other items included in the bill, such as money for home energy conservation and electrification, and for electric passenger vehicles and heavy vehicles, and funding for green energy projects , would all do good, if not enough.
There are other good ideas being explored. A carbon price, for example, is probably part of any successful plan to cut fossil fuels.
But the carbon pricing policy means it might be better suited for a subsequent bipartisan bill.
Either way, Democrats in Congress can’t be too rigid. No one will get everything they want. But they absolutely have to pass something meaningful.
‘AT THE CURRENT TIME’
As Mann told us, “We have to get what we can get now.”
Failure this year should be unthinkable. This climate legislation might be the last we’ll see for some time. Republicans will likely take over one, if not both houses of Congress midway through. A few centrist Republicans may be reachable when Democrats are in charge, but with the GOP leading the legislature, climate action would be irrelevant.
So it could take years until what needs to be done is done – years in which we will be hit harder by extreme weather conditions and follow a path that is difficult to return to.
Globally, too, climate action would regress, as other countries question why they should act when the world’s largest economy does not.
Doing nothing now is no different than voting for more deadly heatwaves, wildfires and flash floods.
It is to vote disaster.