Is climate action finally in the wind?
America’s political moments haven’t exactly been kind to those of us who want to cut greenhouse gas emissions and protect people and the planet from the ravages of climate change.
When Barack Obama brought Democrats back to the White House in 2009, our country and the world were careening into a deep recession that cast millions out of work. Healthcare and economic growth were the priorities. The environment took a back seat.
History could repeat itself this year. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won an historic election promising major action on climate change – from decarbonizing the grid by 2035 to reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Yet healthcare and the economy are once again jobs one and two.
Sure, the new Administration will take early action to return the United States to the Paris climate accords and to cancel recent Executive Orders. But how much political capital will the yet-to-be-named Biden-Harris environment team put behind new legislation in a sharply divided Congress?
With the impact of climate change all around us – from a record-breaking hurricane season in the Gulf to forest fires raging in the West – this is no time for policy as usual. Fortunately, there is a path to progress. But how we prepare for battle, frame the problem and sequence solutions could make all the difference.
One of the first things the Biden-Harris team is likely to look at is political support for climate action. Do Americans and America’s leading environmental groups have the movement, momentum and money to sustain effective advocacy?
Millions were dumped into failed Senate bids in deep red states like Kentucky and South Carolina this year. Much more will go to January runoffs in Georgia. Those Georgia Senate races are critical. But voters who care about climate should make sure all the bases are covered.
In a series of emails over the last two weeks, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune urged members to prepare for action. “We are working with allies to push a bold new agenda to make this a clean, safe, andgreen country for all,” he wrote in one message. “[W]e need to make sure the Biden team and Congress will move the country in a just, equitable and sustainable direction.”
It was a fundraising letter. But Brune was right to remind supporters that we can’t take real action for granted – and that money in the bank will be a signal of how much we care and how much we can.
The way the “bold new agenda” is framed and prioritized will also determine how much progress we make. It won’t be easy to reconcile anxieties over job losses with pressure for urgent action to stop and reverse damaging environmental trends.
The Green New Deal is great. It sets powerful policy objectives. It finally transformed a stale debate over whether climate change is real into a discussion about the best ways to reverse its terrible effects. But it has also forced us to confront tough tradeoffs.
The Biden-Harris “Build Back Better” initiative tries to square the circle by casting investment in green energy as a way to create jobs and promote equitable economic growth. Biden’s home state of Delaware is a good example of that approach.
The University of Delaware’s two-megawatt turbine pictured above near the coastal town of Lewes was largely manufactured and assembled in America and can power about 500 average homes. Across the state, farmers are getting on the clean energy bandwagon – plowing some fields for utility-scale solar arrays.
Prioritizing infrastructure is good policy. Investing in creation of a nationwide network of EV stations, for example, can help encourage the wider adoption of clean energy technologies and promote competition. It is even better politics – uniting the interests of environmentalists with workers, farmers and private industry.
A bold new agenda should help communities mitigate the impact of climate change while we work to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our country and around the world. We also need to care for those who risk losing work as companies and utilities increasingly shift to renewables. A “President for all Americans” doesn’t count anyone out.
The Biden-Harris Administration can partner with state and local governments and with non-profits to transition communities to new opportunities. In Texas, which leads the nation in wind power generation, clean energy companies are hiring laid off oil workers. That’s a story we need to see – and tell – more.
Whether your organization is planning to enter the Washington climate debate for the first time or is looking for new representation, give Ceartas Advisors a call. Our advisors have a proven trackrecord of delivering results on legislative and regulatory priorities. Get justice at ceartas.org.