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Is A Congressional Climate Compromise The Way To Go?

Emissions reductions depend on constant and determined action. To succeed, policymakers across all levels of society need to continue to push forward with climate action, even if that means compromise and intermittent disappointments.

Climate activists are frustrated. A US Congressional climate compromise looms and seems like a betrayal.

Has all the effort, time, and travel been for nothing? Climate activists are wondering.

Aren’t we in the midst of an existential crisis in which we need to take real action to suppress carbon emissions?

Isn’t it imperative to hold to the internationally agreed threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius maximum warming?

Wasn’t it just last year that the UN Secretary General cried out for a “code red for humanity?”

Have we forgotten that deafening alarm bells are clanging while we choke our planet and put billions of people at immediate risk for health and life?

Isn’t global heating affecting every region on Earth, everyday, with many of the changes becoming irreversible?

Democracy & Climate Compromise

These questions grasp and clutch onto the existential crisis of our lifetimes. Countries around the globe need to greatly accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy. That’s clear.

What’s also evident is that a full decarbonization process is going to take decades. In the US, Republicans in Congress have opposed nearly every major effort to combat the climate crisis in the 21st century.

The New York Times argues that if the US is going to act in a robust way on the climate in the foreseeable future, it will rely on a Democratic bill, achieved by rousing the party faithful. It will need partisan political wherewithal to usher in the best possible climate compromise legislation that can be signed by a Democratic president.

On the other hand, if Congress does not pass a bill to slow carbon emissions over the next few months, it may not do so for years. An argument can be made that climate action is a binary — all or none, on or off.  Yet, can we afford to wait through the political muck that is US democracy to enact the fullest and most efficacious climate legislation?

Swirling political forces are coalescing. Democrats are poised to pass at least some climate legislation — soon, very soon. Acknowledging during a press conference this week that “there’s a lot of frustration and fatigue in this country,” US President Joe Biden was fairly optimistic about a climate compromise. “I think we can break the package up, get as much as we can now, and come back and fight for the rest later.”

Salvaging the Climate Legislation While It’s Possible

In the US, the $2.2 trillion Build Back Better Act is imperiled, but the Democratic party seems poised to feign back and punt to regroup around a climate bill. “I think the climate piece offers a path forward,” Senator Ron Wyden, (D) Oregon, said Thursday.

At President Biden’s news conference on Wednesday, he said that he now wants to split the Build Back Better legislative agenda into at least two pieces. That’s because the climate provisions appear to have more solid Democratic backing than do other issues.

The New York Times asked each of the 50 Senate Republicans if they would support just the climate provisions in the Build Back Better Act if they were presented in a standalone bill. None said they would.

The essential climate provisions have enough gravitas to spur positive climate impacts. The price tag is about $555 billion over 10 years, or just 25% of the original plan. The main components are:

  • The largest portion of money would subsidize wind, solar, and nuclear power, making them less expensive for companies, communities, and households.
  • Many consumers would receive a rebate of $7,500 on an electric vehicle, and another $4,500 if union workers in the US assembled the car.
  • Consumers could also receive subsidies for solar panels and energy-efficient appliances.
  • The bill would finance research into technology that would capture carbon after it has been emitted, rather than allowing it to contribute to the greenhouse effect.

Data-Driven Climate Compromise

Academics and energy experts have been running various models to determine the likely impact of the ideal, fully realized Build Back Better legislation, as reported in Nature. Their results?

  • The spending bill and infrastructure bill combined could have reduced annual US emissions by anywhere from the equivalent of 739 million to 1.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide by 2030.
  • At the upper end, this would be enough to nearly meet Biden’s Glasgow pledge to curb US greenhouse gas emissions by 50%, as compared to 2005 emissions levels.
  • The biggest impacts would be in the electricity and transport sectors, each responsible for one-third of potential emissions reductions.
  • Electricity consumption would actually rise — partly owing to the electrification of transport and driven by tax credits for electric passenger vehicles and zero-emission commercial vehicles.
  • Emissions would also drop for electricity generation, accomplished largely through the introduction of more wind and solar technology — at 3 to 4 times the current pace — and a continued decline in coal-fired power generation.
  • A boost for projects capturing and sequestering carbon emissions from coal and natural-gas power plants, from $50 to $85 per ton of CO2 would take place while providing a $180 subsidy for facilities that extract CO2 directly from the atmosphere.

What’s clear to the researchers is that increasing renewable energy sources means constructing a whole lot more solar panels and wind turbines and expanding power transmission lines for the arrival of mass electric transportation. There are coal plants to be decommissioned and oil wells to be capped.

Of course, these possibilities would be impacted by human behavior, bureaucratic delays, supply chains, and technical obstacles. Immediate action can have a larger impact, scientists say, yet future action will not be irrelevant. All of this, the researchers concede, transcend the scientific realm. They require political will.

Final Thoughts about Climate Compromise

This year will certainly bring lots of changes and negotiations to keep climate talks around the world moving forward. Political action will likely stay center stage, but, so, too, will areas like climate-aligned finance and divestment make impacts. In the US, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions will increase in both 2022 and 2023 but remain below 2019 levels. Methane will continue to be an important battleground as the US transition from fossil fuels takes place. Big Oil greenwashing is becoming more and more transparent, with the US Congress probing into corporate fossil fuel disinformation campaigns.

2022 will be a year of continued climate compromise. 10 key global events will shape critical conversations and influence public policy decisions around the most defining issue of our time. Sparks of hope are evident as coalitions of companies, municipalities, indigenous peoples, and climate activists rise up about issues such as stopping deforestation, cutting methane, ending coal use, and boosting zero-emissions vehicles.

Mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage will be ongoing topics of conversation and climate compromise. With continued pressure by constituent groups and a whole lot of negotiations, small steps of climate action can build to a gestalt. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that we have the time to haggle.

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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.


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