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Understanding the New Climate Bill—Is It Good Enough?

Understanding the New Climate Bill—Is It Good Enough?
By Dr. Karyne Messina  • Issue #17 • View online
The Inflation Reduction Act passed the Senate. Now what? Is it good enough? Why don’t we feel any better about our prospects?

After months of negotiation and vaulting the major hurdle of securing a “yes” vote from Senator Joe Manchin, climate legislation passed the Senate. True, Manchin has significant ties to the oil and gas industries, and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) now includes significant concessions to those sectors, but first, let’s focus on the good stuff, and there’s a lot of it. The bill allocates an eye-popping $369 billion in direct funding for initiatives that reduce carbon emissions and for investments in energy security, with $60 billion specifically earmarked for environmental justice and pollution mitigation in low-income communities.
According to the summary released by Senate Democrats, this act will “make a historic down payment on deficit reduction, fight inflation, invest in domestic energy production and manufacturing, and reduce carbon emissions by roughly 40 percent by 2030.” Such a reduction isn’t enough to stop global warming—recall that the planet is already 1.1 degrees Celsius warmer than it was a century ago—but the action has the potential to thwart the catastrophic outcomes predicted if nothing is done. Additionally, addressing the climate crisis cannot happen on the backs of a few countries; everyone needs to participate, and a recent U.N report found that “[i]nnovation has lagged in developing countries due to weaker enabling conditions” (p.15). Let’s not kid ourselves; the road ahead is long and perilous, but this bill gives us a fighting chance.
Passed through budget reconciliation, meaning all 50 Democrats plus Vice President Harris voted for it, the IRA is widely expected to sail through the House and make its way to President Biden’s desk for signature over the next week.
Some critics say the concessions regarding oil and gas drilling negate the legislation’s benefits, requiring that the federal government offer millions of on- and offshore land for oil and gas drilling before permitting offshore wind energy programs. But the 700-plus page bill is the largest single expenditure to address the climate crisis in American history and encompasses incentives for industries to shift quickly to green jobs and technologies. And just because the federal government must now offer these lands for lease doesn’t mean companies will buy and drill; the land must only be offered for sale. According to reporting by High Country News, “the government has put an average of 4.4 million acres per year on the block,” since 2009, but “only 1.3 million of those acres, on average, received bids.” Most bidders wanted the land to beef up their portfolios to attract investors. So, no, it’s not perfect, but it’s not quite the “climate suicide pact” some progressives claim it to be.
Republicans, meanwhile, are bemoaning the tiny tax increase, but more than 25% of the new cash will derive from funding the Internal Revenue Service to actually enforce existing tax code. Former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Blinder wrote in The Wall Street Journal that injecting the IRS with a much-needed cash infusion will allow it to collect “more of what Congress has already legislated” and that “[y]ou’ll probably need a magnifying glass to see any damage to investment or jobs, and any damages will surely be dwarfed by the bill’s job-creating provisions on climate change and prescription jobs.” 
Even commentary in the Murdoch-owned beacon of capitalism won’t keep some Republican lawmakers from suggesting that climate change is a leftist hoax designed to encourage a socialist takeover of the United States—and this despite billions of dollars in the IRA allocated for business development. Still others argue that accepting climate change would allow an elite international cabal to impose crippling sanctions and infringe on the sovereignty of the nation. This is a common refrain among populists here and abroad who successfully created the climate-crisis bogeyman to sow unnecessary fear and paranoia among the populace, but it is nothing more than a ruse—a powerful one, at that—to convince people that the climate crisis is a joke and they should only trust elected officials willing to fight the vast conspiracy. In truth, these are ploys designed to manipulate frightened people and to wrangle power for themselves.
Yet facts are facts, and the climate crisis is wreaking so much havoc on red and blue states (look to recent flooding in Kentucky, triple-digit temperatures from coast to coast, and rivers so dry people can walk across them) that the word “catastrophic” feels almost overused when describing these circumstances.
Further, fully two-thirds of Americans—a statistic that includes many Republicans—think government isn’t doing enough to address climate change. Fully 92% of Democrats and 88% of Republicans favor planting “about a trillion trees around the world to absorb carbon emissions in the atmosphere.” Even climate-crisis denier-in-chief Donald Trump advocated for tree planting efforts in his 2020 State of the Union address.
Climate change is real. It’s here, it’s killing us and other life on our planet. Climate change doesn’t care whether you’re Republican or Democrat. But, it’s understandable if many Americans feel overwhelmed with the enormity of the task we face. It is easy to take a nihilist approach—that nothing we do matters, so we might as well go down singing. (One could argue that some members of the Republican party are taking such a position.) But, for others, such an attitude only makes those horrible feelings of guilt and helplessness unbearable. We are all negatively affected by this crisis, and this is another facet of eco-grief.
Mourn what we’ve lost—and there’s plenty that’s gone forever—but I urge Americans to proceed with hope, especially now that this bill looks like it will become law, and find some ways, no matter how small, to get involved in healing ourselves and our planet. Eschewing plastic, eating vegetarian, or shopping local can feel almost feeble in the face of the challenges ahead, but every effort we make is significant and creates forward motion.
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Dr. Karyne Messina

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