It has been strange in recent weeks to see the attention paid to the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland. The summit was hailed as the âlast, best hopeâ in the world and the place where âthe fate of the planetâ would be negotiated. Well, that was very important.
But Glasgow was not, last week or now, the more important city in the fight against climate change. This title belongs to Washington, DC
Over the next few weeks, Democrats in Congress will be making a far more influential and far-reaching decision than anything that has happened at the UN. They will decide whether or not to pass President Joe Biden’s spending bill, the Build Back Better Act. Due to the president’s slim majority in Congress, the fate of the bill will be decided by just seven Democrats: five moderates in the House of Representatives and two moderate senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
With just $ 555 billion in climate spending, the law is not a green dream: Progressives have already considered a $ 10,000 billion climate law. In size and approach, Bill Biden is much closer to the moderate patriot ideal for climate policy, bolstering strategic industries through grants, federal support, and government credits. ‘tax. The bill does not mandate greenhouse gas reductions or force utilities to stop producing fossil fuels.
Yet it now seems likely that this is a turning point in the country’s history. Its adoption would put an end, yes, to 30 years of failure of the United States to plan the energy transition, and would justify the approach of the Paris Agreement, which imposes no constraint on American sovereignty. But with their vote for Build Back Better, lawmakers will do more than shape environmental policy. They will decide the future of US-China relations and they will shape the strength of the US economy itself.
If Build Back Better passes, the United States will have a cohesive climate strategy for the first time in decades. In particular, this strategy will only be shaped to a certain extent by environmentalists, activists and neoclassical economists. The Biden administration’s concerns over labor, national security and protectionism will have played a greater role. Through subsidies, investments and certain regulations, the country’s politics will seek to reshape the US economy so that it is ready to produce new zero-carbon technology for itself and for the world.
More importantly, the bill would position the United States as a counterweight to China, a rival clean energy superpower. China is currently the world’s largest producer of wind and solar energy. It’s the world’s largest market for electric vehicles, and it looks certain it will surpass its target of making electric vehicles a quarter of all new car sales by 2025. China’s leadership embraces energy clean so aggressively not only because it wants to reduce air pollution and stop the climate-fueled expansion of the Gobi Desert, but because as long as China depends on foreign oil, it has a geopolitical weak point.
But this geopolitical need has created dilemmas for both American businesses and American diplomats. If China subsidizes locally produced clean energy technologies, it will be more successful in making those technologies cheaper than the United States. Its companies will be able to sell these same technologies abroad, dominating markets, such as the steel industry and the automobile, long at the heart of American domination. The Biden administration’s strategy for dealing with China and other authoritarian states requires the creation of a global network of democracies to counter their influence. But residents of those democracies – the UK, Japan, South Korea and member states of the European Union – care deeply about climate change and China’s geopolitical needs. developing clean energy could make it an attractive ally, if it can credibly position itself as doing more on climate change than struggling America.
But if Build Back Better fails, then the United States will clearly be unable to respond to climate change in an organized or systematic way. The US Congress – in fact, the Senate – will have killed President Bill Clinton’s BTU tax to reduce carbon emissions in 1994, condemned the Kyoto Protocol in 1998, refused to adopt Waxman-Markey in 2010, and abandoned the candidacy of Biden for the climate in 2021. This final failure will be overwhelmingly delegitimistic for the United States and for the small democracy in the world. And because Democrats will likely lose control of the House and Senate next year, it would resonate for years to come.
Failure to adopt Build Better will worsen climate change, of course, but we won’t feel the effects for decades. Waiting for, Politics the camaraderie will deteriorate. Already, the feeling that the government cannot safeguard the interests of ordinary people is fueling the country’s disunity. The failure of Congress to do anything on climate change – even passing a bill that 58% of Americans support – will only send Americans in less optimistic directions.
Young people, living in a country that cannot ensure their future security, could easily become radicalized. The tens of millions of young people who once championed the Green New Deal have recently started to wonder aloud about a form of property destruction they call “direct action”; Andreas Malm’s book, How to detonate a pipeline, got an unflattering rating in The New York Times. The country’s technological and financial elite will be tempted to admire authoritarian states for their efficiency and initiative. And big companies will still need to hire American professionals with a university education and disproportionately liberal views who will demand that executives continue to reduce carbon pollution from those companies, further disrupting American energy markets and causing a break with the markets. rural fossil fuel communities.
The US economy will likely move away from fossil fuels anyway. But instead of controlled change, it will be closer to economic disaster. Coal towns and oil fields will be stunned by a ruthless market, shaped by technocrats and the whims of Beijing subsidies, before its final economic value is undermined by financiers. And although the United States use green technology, its technological advantage will slowly slide in favor of China and Europe, and just as the United States no longer produces solar panels – a technology it invented – it will lose its initial advantage in the clean steel, carbon capture, electricity -vehicle and hydrogen industries.
Manchin should know, personally, that Build Back Better is the best deal he and West Virginia are likely to get. The pressure to act on climate change has increased in recent years due to worsening fires, floods and heat waves. The Californian utility PG&E may have been, as The the Wall Street newspaper say, the first bankruptcy of climate change, but it won’t be the last. Liberal bankers will become more agitated about climate change with each new fire season and business collapse. This bill does not include a carbon tax and contains economic development initiatives for the Appalachians. But in a darker future, a carbon tax, now unpopular with Democrats, may return, and a senator from West Virginia may not be able to stop it next time.
It is not difficult to plausibly prove that the Paris Agreement is job. At the first meeting in Paris in 2015, countries collectively pledged to cut emissions that would limit global warming to 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Their actual policies – the current laws – would have set the world on track for 3.6 degrees Celsius by 2100. Five years later, the world has closed that gap. National policies now put us on track for 2.7 degrees Celsius warming by 2100. And the commitments and targets made under the deal, depending on how you count them, would bring the world closer together. of a warming of 2.4 degrees Celsius at the end of the century. .
All of these numbers, however, depend on a thin agreement between nations to act like they matter. Glasgow’s purported theme was “to keep 1.5 degrees Celsius alive”. But until the Paris Agreement was drafted in 2015, the world had agreed to limit warming to just 2 degrees Celsius. That year, the small island nations won a hugely contingent, last-minute concession that put the 1.5-degree target in the deal. This number represents the best intentions in the world, and having it on paper matters, one way or another. But the Paris Agreement itself starts from a failure: the fight against climate change requires changes in domestic policy. The UN does not have the capacity to impose changes in domestic politics, so how do you do it? At the end of the day, countries that say they are going to reduce their emissions must reduce their emissions. And in the United States, that means passing Biden’s plan.