One Giant Leap Toward A Newer World

The premise of my book from way back when (2012) was that, stipulating that we were then (and are now) in a climate crisis, there were nevertheless heroic efforts underway to bring us back to some degree of climate health.  I wrote then:  “Some of my students and others have asked me over the last several years if we are addressing the climate crisis in time and with sufficient force and focus to avoid a planetary catastrophe. I tell them I don’t know. What I do know, however, is that we are forging new tools for much more sustainable, much cleaner and smarter ways to live. We have been realizing progress in areas like renewable energy that even ten years ago people in the field would have told you was not possible by now. We have a long way to go, but what we are seeing happen is incontrovertible evidence that there is a path to sustainability, that we can, in the words of the environmental prophet Barry Commoner, make peace with the planet.”

I’ve been documenting much of that progress at this blog, in some of my other writings, and in my classes, particularly the ones on Clean Tech.  I have remained quite in awe of the extraordinary progress that has been made and continues to be made.  The new law that has emerged from the US Congress – somewhat miraculously, given the politics – does represent a “giant leap for mankind.”

You have no doubt read a fair bit of the ton of ink that has been spilled on the subject of the somewhat clunkily titled “Inflation Reduction Act.” (IRA.)  I don’t pretend to have any deep insight into the sausage making that went behind the emergence of this legislation.  Suffice it to say that Joe Manchin – never my favorite political figure going back to his days as West Virginia’s chief proponent of the despicable practice of mountaintop removal mining – came, finally, to the table and allowed this critical legislation to be born.  But Manchin certainly had his pound of flesh in all this.  The unsinkable Betsy Kolbert writes in this week’s New Yorker that Manchin was responsible for the mandate of the federal government auctioning millions of acres for oil and gas drilling.  But notwithstanding Manchin’s foot dragging over nearly a year, history will take full note that the legislation passed with exactly zero Republican votes.  In both houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives.  Shameful is too mild a word.

But the good news is abundant.  Greenhouse gas reductions are, obviously, what so many of us are celebrating.  The chart above shows how improved the outlook is as of yesterday with the bill being signed into law.  Here’s another look at how things are looking on that score:

Some headline numbers include:

  • $14,000 in direct consumer rebates for families to buy heat pumps or other energy efficient home appliances, saving families at least $350 per year.
  • 7.5 million more families will be able install solar on their roofs with a 30% tax credit, saving families $9,000 over the life of the system or at least $300 per year.
  • Up to $7,500 in tax credits for new electric vehicles and $4,000 for used electric vehicles, helping families save $950 per year.
  • Power homes, businesses, and communities with much more clean energy by 2030, including:
    • 950 million solar panels
    • 120,000 wind turbines
    • 2,300 grid-scale battery plants
  • Advance cost-saving clean energy projects at rural electric cooperatives serving 42 million people.

For a graphic breakdown of the $360B+ in  climate  investment, tax credits and loans, see this.

Jobs?  You bet!  Here’s a look from a comprehensive report from the Zero Lab at Princeton and its partners.  (See page 19 from the report.):

President Biden said at the signing that the new law will ” take the most aggressive action ever — ever, ever, ever — in confronting the climate crisis and strengthening our economic — our energy security.”  That can’t be said enough:  Energy security is economic security.

Health benefits?  It must not be forgotten that there is a direct correlation between fossil-fuel generated GHG emissions and conventional air pollution.  The Zero Lab report also identifies these large health benefits from reduced air pollution. (See page 18 of the report.)

I lauded the Biden Administration in June when it took key steps to not only boost solar power production and deployment but also to use the Defense Production Act to accelerate other key clean tech initiatives.  They’ve been hard at work going after the abundant array of opportunities.

Aside, of course, from the largely positive climate and clean energy aspects of the IRA, there are extraordinary breakthroughs on providing huge health and wellness benefits, to a not-inconsiderable degree for seniors, restoring some tax fairness at the federal level, and, according to all analyses, actually reducing the federal deficit.  Not bad.  For more on the overall impact, see this from Vox.

I continue to think the progress we’re seeing with the breakthrough of the IRA, as well as with many other initiatives around the world, are all signs that the genie is well out of the bottle.  We can have “a newer world.”

Let me cycle back to my book and its closing paragraph:  “Indications are that we have been getting the message on climate change and sustainability, and that forces, perhaps inexorable, are moving to restore the balance and health to our planet and its ecosystems that are a reflection of its natural state and that are our birthright. It is certainly not a done deal and will require, if we are going to be successful, a continued and intensifying focus on making positive change happen, in our neighborhoods and personal lives, in our cities and our nations, and in the global village in which we are all now citizens.”

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