Consider the history here. For almost the entire 30-year history of international climate negotiations, the US has been more of a problem for the rest of the world than the leader we should have been.
Then, starting in early 2021, it seemed like maybe we’d actually live up to the Paris Agreement after all… then, not. The last year and a half have been a painful roller-coaster ride for those of us who care about the future of human beings and other species on planet earth, and who accept the global scientific consensus about how climate change threatens us.
When the Democrats narrowly took both the Presidency and both houses of Congress in 2021, there was a period of hope that the “Build Back Better” bill might pass, representing a major triumph for the climate movement as well as addressing many other social justice goals. But after a long period of inscrutable dithering, Manchin pulled the rug out from under BBB, and seemingly any hope for meaningful climate legislation.
This is the real thing.
There has never — never — been climate legislation anywhere near this substantial passed in the United States. Not only do these emissions reductions truly matter on their own, but they show that it’s politically possible — that enough people care about the climate problem that it can be addressed by our political system. And they allow us to look other nations in the eye as we ask them to do their parts too.
With regards to politics, the IRA does its work to fight climate change mostly through investment, rather than regulation or taxes. It gives people and businesses money — some directly and some through tax breaks — to spend on electric cars, heat pumps, wind and solar electricity generation, and many other emissions-reducing measures.
It will stimulate growth and good jobs in the private sector. They will make further emissions reductions possible, as technologies improve more quickly than they otherwise would. Maybe the industries that grow out of this will even gain political power comparable to that of the fossil fuel industry, creating a countervailing force. (One can dream.)
There has been a huge focus on Manchin, for obvious reasons, but this should be said: every Republican who voted against the IRA — which is all of them — should be profoundly ashamed of themselves.
No, the real change is that the Democratic Party, which has for many years been either unwilling or unable to do much about climate change, has finally placed it at the top of its agenda and mustered the will to pass the historic legislation against difficult odds.
This cannot be taken for granted for one microsecond. In my view, the youth climate movement — along with its older allies — should get the lion’s share of the credit for turning up the pressure and bringing the issue to the forefront of people’s minds. (And, perhaps, let’s acknowledge the contributions from my colleagues, the hard-working scientists, who have spent decades doing research, writing papers, and compiling them into IPCC reports and National Climate Assessments to spell out the ever-grimmer facts.)
But in a time when the twin, slow-moving catastrophes that are US politics and the global climate crisis make it so painful for so many of us to read the news every day, it’s important to take a moment and celebrate when something good happens. This is such a something. It really is. Well done, President Biden and team — even Joe Manchin, who was for many months reluctant to support such a bill — and everyone else who pushed it to this point