climate hope Tag

Better late than never! My thoughts on the Inflation Reduction Act

Ever since August 16th, when President Biden signed the biggest climate bill in U.S. history into law, I’ve been considering what to say. So let me start with this: I’m amazed, grateful, and relieved. Why did it take me so long to post this? I was so stunned by this bill’s unlikely passage, and by how much major climate policy is contained in it, that it took me some time to digest this turn of events. I’ve spent ten years working for the passage of a national climate law of this scope and scale. I needed a moment to absorb this success, however imperfect. Then there’s the challenge of trying to summarize this bill–all 273 pages of it. How do I write something that does this moment justice?

You may know that I had given up. I wrote on this blog in January that “the odds of major climate policy being enacted by Congress in 2022 appear minuscule.” It feels like a miracle that the climate policies in this law somehow came back from the dead, like Wesley in the Princess Bride. (The climate provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), crafted through years of collaboration, planning, persuasion, and compromise, were declared dead earlier this summer when Senator Manchin said he would not support them.)

Much has been written about how this bill was resurrected, and the concessions that were made. The fact remains that the IRA contains the largest and most consequential measures–by far–to reduce U.S. climate pollution in our country’s history. I am grateful to every person who worked for climate action, went to meetings, lobbied, protested, contacted their elected officials; each of us contributed to the passage of this law. I believe it marks the beginning of serious climate action by the U.S. government.

I’m guessing you may not realize the size of this win for the climate. I think we in the climate movement are so inexperienced with success that we don’t know how to respond when we make real progress. I know some climate activists are disappointed or angry at the concessions that were made, and I understand. But if you’re alarmed about the climate crisis, I suggest you take a moment to savor the potentially transformative impacts of this law.

Robinson Meyer writing for The Atlantic put it this way:
“On Tuesday, President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law. It is no exaggeration to say that his signature immediately severed the history of climate change in America into two eras. Before the IRA, climate campaigners spent decades trying and failing to get a climate bill through the Senate. After it, the federal government will spend $374 billion on clean energy and climate resilience over the next 10 years. The bill is estimated to reduce the country’s greenhouse-gas emissions by about 40 percent below their all-time high, getting the country two-thirds of the way to meeting its 2030 goal under the Paris Agreement.”

I won’t try to provide all the details of the law–there are just too many. A few of the highest impact climate incentives in the law include:
Extension of production and investment tax credits for clean electricity projects for 10 years
Tax credits and incentives for EV purchases, including used EVs
Tax credits for installing heat pumps, rebates for home retrofits, and financing for electrification of buildings

Other provisions include a fee for methane leakage, tax credits for carbon sequestration, and funding for environmental justice for disadvantaged communities, a green bank, climate-friendly agriculture, forestry, and conservation programs.

If you want to dig deeper into all that the IRA does, I have several suggested sources. Energy expert Dana Nuccitelli summarizes how the law’s provisions are expected to produce emissions reductions in Yale Climate Connections. The New York Times provides a good overview of the law’s provisions and impacts as well. If you prefer videos, Hank Green does a great job summarizing what the law does in this 22 minute YouTube “The Biggest Climate Bill of Your Life – But What Does it DO!?

Climate experts agree this law will matter, but the size of it’s impact will depend on how it’s enacted, and how people and businesses respond. I’m excited to say that I’ve created a page on our website and have begun gathering resources and information there on how the IRA can be leveraged to decarbonize your home, car, community, and state. The page will continue to expand for you to use and share.

Meanwhile, I hope you are taking a moment to celebrate, as I am. Next I’ll begin exploring what provisions in the law can help you contribute to a healthier, safer, more just and livable future.

Changing the odds: Rebecca Solnit on hope and action in dark times

I’ve long admired Rebecca Solnit’s writing, and today I want to share some excerpts from her essay in The Guardian, “Climate change, Covid–our hearts ache. But a new era is possible. We can do it,” to inspire you. If you want more, you can read the full article here.

As a human and a climate advocate, I feel like I’m holding my breath. Climate chaos is here. Our chance of preserving a climate compatible with thriving human societies depends on electing climate champions in November and compelling them to enact transformative climate policies immediately. We may already be too late. The question Solnit addresses is, with compounding crises causing so much suffering, how do we keep hope alive and act on it?

She acknowledges that in this moment, it is tempting to give up: “The last four years have been a long, rough road for people who care about the fate of the earth and the rights of ordinary people, and I understand the temptation to feel that what is wrong now will be wrong forever, to feel that it is too much to face and more than we can change.”

But, Solnit says, “anguish and hope–hope as ferocious will to continue, and not trust the odds but to change them–can coexist.”

At this crucial moment for humanity, Solnit makes the case for hope along with anguish, and for acting on that hope; “In the US we are facing a crucial election. As humanity, we are facing even a larger one: to respond to the climate crisis by choosing the best-case scenario rather than letting the worst unfold.”

As I’ve written about here and here, we are rapidly developing viable and affordable policy and technology pathways to move us toward the best-case scenario. These pathways are becoming more attainable all the time. For example, Solnit notes that the left is converging around a set of climate policies originally associated with the Green New Deal, and these policies are gaining wide acceptance:

“In the USA, the Green New Deal is among the ideas that were only recently regarded as almost outrageously radical – ie a disruption of the status quo – that are now widely accepted by politicians and the public as necessary. ‘The climate plan is a jobs plan,’ Biden’s spokesperson told the Guardian. Julian Noisecat wrote that Biden has accepted the Green New Deal in all but name.”

Other viable and effective climate policies are gaining momentum as well. We now know that taking climate action will have a host of other benefits. Solnit quotes Senator and climate champion Brian Schatz (HI) about the benefits of bold climate action:

“Responding could bring about a more just society, Hawaii senator Brian Schatz recently tweeted: ‘Too much of the climate movement of the past was about what climate change is doing to us, and not about what climate action will do for us. Taking action does not require austerity and scarcity. Done well, it will result in more wealth, more fairness, and better jobs. We already have many of the technologies needed to avert catastrophe. We just need the American optimism and the political will to deploy them on an unprecedented scale. What we are describing is a future with an improved quality of life, more fairness, and better products. If we do this right, the people and communities that have been treated unfairly, exposed to chronic pollution, and left out of progress in the past stand to gain the most.’”

The heart of Solnit’s message is this: at this most critical moment, whatever pain you are in, choose hope too. Do all you can to elect climate champions, then do all you can to get them to act on climate. Hope is not optimism. Hope is a commitment to the future, and must be manifest in action. Hope matters most when it’s hardest and when the stakes are the highest. This is our moment.