THE DEMOCRATS AND CLIMATE CHANGE

(A Good Program for 1980)

Camp5-1977

 13 August 2022

 

PART ONE

IN PRESIDENT BIDEN’S JULY 20 DECLARATION ON CLIMATE CHANGE, HE SAID:

“As president, I have a responsibility to act with urgency and resolve when our nation faces clear and present danger. And that’s what climate change is about. It is literally, not figuratively, a clear and present danger. The health of our citizens and our communities is literally at stake.”

   “When it comes to fighting climate change, I will not take no for an answer. I will do everything in my power to clean our air and water, protect our people’s health, to win the clean energy future.

WHAT HE DID:

   “Biden’s actions include $2.3bn in funding to help communities prepare for heatwaves, droughts and floods, new guidance that allows the federal government to help provide cooling centers and air conditioning, and new planned offshore wind energy leases for the Gulf of Mexico coast.

   He said: “Right now, there are millions of people suffering from extreme heat at home so my team is also working with the states to deploy $385m right now. For the first time, states will be able to use federal funds to pay for air conditioners in homes, set up community cooling centers in schools where people can get through these extreme heat crises.”

WHAT HE DIDN’T DO:

   The plan still calls for aggressive leasing of government lands for new oil and gas development, easily offsetting any gain from “encouraging” wind energy.

IN OTHER WORDS:

   He wants to make us as comfortable as possible while the world burns, and us with it. Good plan: somewhat reminiscent of that old line about rearranging the deck chairs on the “Titanic.”

 

 PART TWO

THE INFLATION REDUCTION ACT OF AUGUST 2022 – ITS INTENT:

   The total package of $739 billion addresses a number of public needs. The climate part, $369 billion, is dedicated to confronting the “climate crisis” over the next ten years. The expectation is that implementation will allow the United States to cut its emissions by 40% by 2030, based on 2005 levels.

 

WHAT THE ACT IS MEANT TO ACCOMPLISH:

   Much of the funding is for large tax credits to encourage solar and wind power projects to go ahead on a much larger scale and faster timetable than would usually be possible with non-government work. Also, $30 billion are earmarked for states and utilities, to help them transition to renewable, zero carbon electricity.

   Also,  $27 billion will be used to create a “clean energy technology accelerator to help advance renewable technologies.” (I’m not clear what this is – information transfer?) The Postal Service will get $3 billion to electrify its fleet of trucks. A program will be created to address the problem of methane leaks from oil and gas drilling (amount not specified?). Promoting climate-friendly agriculture will get $20 billion, and $5 billion will go to “better prepare forests for wildfire.”

   There are perks for the individual American, too. There is a tax credit of up to $7,500 if you purchase an electric car. Low income households may be able to tap into $9 billion to electrify home appliances and improve home energy efficiency. There are additional potential tax credits, spread out over the next ten years, to buy heat pumps, rooftop solar, and water heaters. Finally, $60 billion has been set aside for communities polluted by fossil fuel operations, so they can seek “environmental justice.”

 

WHAT DOESN’T IT DO?

   Just as recent firearms legislation omitted the one item that could actually reduce firearms mayhem (reducing the availability of assault rifles), so the climate legislation leaves out any reduction in fossil fuel production (the primary cause of climate change). In fact, it guarantees their use for decades to come. Senator Manchin’s price for letting the act pass was to loosen environmental regulations to fossil fuel extraction, and to allow new leasing in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.

 

IN OTHER WORDS:

   This package has some nice features – if it was 1980, when scientists were already talking about the dangers of climate change, but politicians and the public weren’t ready to listen. It includes some good incentives that would have helped slow the damage – and would have given us some more time to seriously address the problem. We probably wouldn’t have, but now that chance is gone.

   I don’t see how the package can cut emissions by 40% by 2030. In fact, I can’t see how it can cut any emissions, because of two seemingly fatal flaws:

   1. Almost all of the presumed emission-cutting items are voluntary incentives. Just because a monetary or tax incentive is available to install solar panels on a roof, or buy an electric car, doesn’t mean that everyone is going to take advantage of the offer. States and cities may or may not apply for offered assistance, depending on having the staff to handle all the enabling procedures, how badly they want a program, and how much they want to become embroiled in the obligatory avalanche of government paperwork. Many (most?) government incentive offers are underused, and the funds sit in Washington, unallocated. The projected emission reductions seems to assume a mad scramble to take advantage of the perks, which is unrealistic.

   2. While the success of the incentive programs is unknown, - but probably overstated - the continued expansion of fossil fuel is a given. There is nothing in the act to reduce emissions from these sources, and plenty to increase them. In fact, Senator Manchin’s much-touted “rescue” of the bill was based on boosting fossil fuel availability. This protects and enhances his own business dealings, while giving the Republicans what they want. He was quoted in “The Guardian” as saying: “They (the Republicans) wanted more energy, I want more energy, we’re going to be producing more energy. There’s an agreement that we’re going to be drilling and doing more than we can to bring more energy to the market that reduces prices. They like that.”

   In their desire to get something significant passed into law – and unable to do that without Manchin’s vote – they gave up on climate change, and opted for the other benefits.

 

CONCLUSIONS

 1. Every Republican in Congress voted against this bill. It’s hard to guess at real motives. Some said they would have voted for the climate part, if it hadn’t been for all the social packages attached. I doubt it. They’ve given no indication that they would do anything about climate change, under any circumstances. They’ve played a very dangerous game with all of our lives, and probably have made it impossible to do anything meaningful to slow or reverse the damage being caused by climate change.

 

2. Every Democrat in Congress voted for the bill, but their motives were not all the same. Senator Manchin only voted for it after he was assured that his personal investment in fossil fuels was safe – even though it made the rest of the climate initiative meaningless. Many expressed disappointment that it wasn’t a better climate bill, but thought it was the best they could do. Some thought that even a weak climate program was worth enacting because it was bringing a lot of good social benefits along with it.  Others thought a big win with the public (which the social part of the bill, will be) was as important as climate change legislation, if they are going to keep the Republicans from dismantling the rest of our democracy in the next two elections.

   There is still a real question in my mind as to how serious the Democrats think climate change really is. Most of the time, they seem to be treating it as just one other “problem” they need to work on. That attitude is just as fatal as the Republican refusing to act on any aspect of it.

 ***

   I mentioned the “Titanic” above (e.g., rearranging the deck chair on). The story of the “Titanic” makes a good surrogate for our treatment of climate change.

   - The “Titanic” was really thought to be invincible – “unsinkable -  when it headed out to sea on its first voyage. Scientists in the 19th century knew they were creating a problem with fossil fuel burning, but they felt they could stop the problem any time they wanted. Humans were invincible problem-solvers.

   - Other ships sent multiple messages to the “Titanic,” warning of many icebergs ahead. The word was not relayed to the captain, and the “Titanic” continued full-steam ahead. By 1980 or so, climate scientists were sending more and more messages about how serious climate change was becoming. Messages became even more strident as conditions changed more quickly than previous projections. Lawmakers failed to take the messages seriously, as we continued full-speed into our own worldwide “ice field.”

   - The crew of the “Titanic” spotted the huge iceberg before they hit it, but couldn’t avoid it in time. In less than three hours after impact, the “unsinkable” ship was gone beneath the waters. Because they were unprepared for any disaster, they fell far short of the number of lifeboats and life jackets needed for the passengers. More than 1,500 drowned or died of hypothermia as the ship went down.

   

   Many (probably most) climate scientists believe that we have already hit our “iceberg,” and there is no hope for us. Certainly, we’ve already lost far more than 1,500 people to unusual rains, winds, tornadoes, heat… Many more will succumb as conditions continue to worsen.

   A few scientists feel we are on a collision course with our end, but there might still be a chance to avoid the worst. Even if true, the only way to “avoid the worst” is to immediately make drastic reductions in our use of fossil fuels. We won’t do that. Many times over the past 250 years, it’s been clear that our socio-economic model was not working, but we’re locked in by our own fears and by the short-term greed of those supporting oil, gas, and coal development. Although everything tells us that we can’t escape our bad decisions any longer, we can’t believe it. After all, we are “unsinkable.”

 

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© Sanford Wilbur 2022