by Maryellen Kurkulos
This point cannot be overemphasized: The earth’s climate is changing irreversibly, while the window of opportunity to keep global heating to less than 1.5ºC is closing fast. Droughts, floods, wildfires, and storms are ever more frequent and more intense. Atmospheric CO2 levels just reached a record-breaking 420 ppm, higher than they’ve been in 3.6 million years when the sea level was 78 feet higher than it is today. The oceans have swollen to such an extent from melting glaciers that the earth has literally been rocked off its axis. The edict from the IPCC’s 2018 special report on global warming of 1.5°C makes it clear: In order to avoid the worst impacts of global heating, humanity must enact wide-ranging, transformative programs at a speed, and on a scale, that has “no documented historic precedent”.
President Biden’s pledge at the global climate summit and his $1.9T American Jobs and Families Plan purport to offer the kind of transformational programs we need. U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will be cut by 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030 — within less than 10 years. His $1.9T American Jobs and Families Plan aims to overhaul the long-neglected civilian infrastructure, achieve 100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035, and establish a Civilian Climate Corps offering “good paying union jobs.”
But critics have rightly pointed out that while historic and unprecedented, these plans are “nowhere near enough.” The science indicates that cutting U.S. emissions by 52% will not prevent the earth from overheating as that target still falls short by 5-10%. Furthermore, methane is scarcely mentioned in the plan despite it being a more potent GHG than carbon dioxide. A recent UN report from a panel of international scientists warned that unless methane emissions cease — conditional on a complete ban on hydraulic fracturing — our efforts to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis will inevitably fail.
In fact, even supporters of President Biden have pointed out that his proposals fall far short both in scope and amount of funding relative to what is needed for overhauling U.S. infrastructure. Others criticize the heavy reliance on private sector participation as well as focusing on ‘net-zero’ goals that tout often impractical or untested technological solutions like carbon capture that can foster complacency.
Fortunately, where the Biden plans fall short, progressives in Congress are stepping up with initiatives like the ambitious $10 trillion Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy (THRIVE) agenda sponsored by Sen. Markey and Rep. Dingell, the Sanders/Ocasio-Cortez Green New Deal for Public Housing, and even a Civilian Climate Corps for Jobs and Justice Act from Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Markey that centers around Black, Brown, Asian, and Indigenous communities that have disproportionately suffered from environmental injustice and Covid-19.
As we consider these and other innovative ideas for addressing the climate emergency, we should not overlook the simple fact that the most obvious way to swiftly cut GHG emissions is by interrupting them at the point of production: The world should simply leave the fossil fuels in the ground starting immediately. For decades, these wildly profitable fossil fuel companies hid the nefarious truth about their extractive industries while receiving hundreds of billions in subsidies annually (worldwide fossil fuel subsidies are estimated to total over $5 trillion).
In calling for a ‘new realism’ at the April climate summit, President Biden’s climate envoy and Former Secretary of State John Kerry recommended that these fossil fuel subsidies end. He also noted that the UN estimates the amount of funding needed for decarbonizing the global economy (aka the annual global climate finance gap) is $1 trillion, while even during the pandemic, global military expenditures hit nearly $2 trillion a year. According to Brandon Wu, director of policy and campaigns at Action Aid USA, America’s contribution to the shared global climate effort for the entire 2021-2030 decade would be $800 B, approximately the amount of the FY 2021 U.S. military budget.
Food for thought.