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With disasters increasing by the day, the US may finally enact a real climate policy

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It is the summer of cascading disasters in the United States: rains have caused rivers on major transit lines in metropolises to collapse, a coastal condominium collapsed, flames have engulfed vast tracts of land, and the Triple-digit heat has typically scorched temperate regions. Disasters have brought an increasing number of deaths and incalculable trauma.

But, for the first time in more than a decade, the US government can do something about emissions that destabilize the climate.

This week, the Biden administration and its allies in Congress announced plans to fill the federal budget with resources and rules that could shake a country long crippled by corporate obstruction and scientific denial into finally facing an unprecedented crisis.

Democrats plan to use their slim majority in Congress to pass a $ 3.5 trillion spending package that includes mandates to cut 80% of the world’s warming electricity sector pollution by 2030, fund a new body of green jobs, and make it easier for drivers to Trade gas guzzlers for electric vehicles.

It is not yet clear whether there will be enough funds in the final budget for the programs to be meaningful. By incorporating the proposals into the budget process, which requires just 51 votes to become law, Democrats can circumvent the 60-vote threshold to pass traditional legislation that gives Republicans the power to block.

But doing so gives Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.), considered the most conservative Democrat in the caucus, king-maker status, and he has already signaled his opposition to anything that puts fossil fuels at a disadvantage.

There is also influence on the other end of the ideological spectrum from Democrats, as 16 senators, including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.), have vowed to vote against any budget that excludes climate provisions. But how Mother jones reported, those in the “No weather, no deal“The contingents have yet to settle for uniform demands on what kind of politics they want to see in the budget.

“We cannot tackle a small part of our carbon pollution and call it a victory. We have to tackle this problem on a large scale, “said Leah Stokes, associate professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara and author of”Short circuit policy, “He wrote in The Atlantic this week. “The last chance we had for a federal climate bill was 12 years ago. I fear that Congress will not pass climate legislation that reverses to the necessary level. I worry that we continue to burn the time that we no longer have. “


Brochure via Getty Images

In this brochure provided by the USDA Forest Service, the pirate fire burns on July 12 in Bly, Oregon. The Bootleg Fire has spanned 212,377 acres, making it the largest among dozens of fires caused by record temperatures and drought in the western United States.

While negotiators scrutinize the budget, other lawmakers propose stand-alone legislation that could ultimately appear in the final funding bill.

  • The Senate Energy Committee on Wednesday approved Manchin’s bill that earmarks $ 95 billion for carbon capture and storage technology in fossil fuel plants.

  • On Thursday, Senator Martin Heinrich (DN.H.) unveiled a bill to provide Americans with rebates to buy new efficient appliances with the goal of reducing 37% of US emissions from energy use. in the homes.

  • And on Friday, Senators Cory Booker (DN.J.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (DR.I.) joined two Republicans in introducing legislation giving subsidies to financially compromised nuclear power plants in hopes of maintaining supply. of the largest source of energy in the country. carbon-free electricity.

Meanwhile, progressives in the House of Representatives are putting forward their own vision on how to legislate on climate.

  • In March, lawmakers Announced the THRIVE Act, a $ 10 trillion spending plan, his flagship policy.

  • In April, Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) present a plan to give $ 1 billion in federal aid to cities, towns and tribes seeking to reduce emissions in an attempt to circumvent state-level anti-climate mandates.

  • On Thursday, Representative Jamaal Bowman (DN.Y.) proposed what he called the “Green New Deal for Public Schools,” a $ 1.4 billion package to fund major school modifications, hire more teachers, and help children living in poverty.

The higher prices that candidates on the left are seeking may seem high. But the numbers are actually more in line with what economists on the left and right, from the progressive Roosevelt Institute to George W. Bush-era Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, say it takes to quickly cut output. American of gases that warm the planet.

However, President Joe Biden and his Treasury Chief Janet Yellen worry that borrowing more money to justify climate spending poses financial risks to the country, despite warnings from economists and forecasters that it will not invest enough. now in decarbonization carries even greater risks as warming worsens. Under those self-imposed restrictions, the White House sought to offset all its infrastructure and climate spending with new taxes.

Facing a fierce setback from industries and their allies in Congress, federal lawmakers were only able to raise $ 2.4 billion in direct revenue to offset the program and managed to raise another $ 1.1 billion through budget-based accounting techniques.

And while the Biden administration has faced mounting protests from climate activists demanding more action to curb emissions, pleas for something as volatile as “more deficit spending” have yet to materialize or gain popularity.

The 12-story collapsed Champlain Towers South condominium building memorial site on July 13, 2021, in Surfside, Florida.


Anna Moneymaker via Getty Images

The 12-story collapsed Champlain Towers South condominium building memorial site on July 13, 2021, in Surfside, Florida.

Despite much tighter budget restrictions due to its multinational euro currency, the European Union took some even more aggressive climate action this week, proposing a dozen bills that would, among other things, ban diesel and gasoline cars for 2035 and new taxes will apply. about gas heating.

Scaling up those efforts could prove crucial ahead of the United Nations climate conference in November in Scotland. The world is already 1.1 degrees Celsius warmer than it was in pre-industrial times, and even if all countries adhere to the promised emission cuts, the planet would still be on track to warm by at least another 2 degrees this century. Changing that trajectory depends not only on rich nations cutting emissions, but poorer countries doing the same and, in many cases, forgoing the development of highly polluting industries that helped North America and Europe become so rich. .

If the United States and the European Union, home to the people most responsible for the carbon accumulated in the atmosphere today, cannot quickly reduce emissions, convincing the majority of humanity in Africa, Asia and Latin America to do the same will be hard to sell. .

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