Opinion: Love, Justice And Climate Change – Good News On Climate

Atkins Reservoir in Shutesbury. Photo: Russ Vernon-Jones

Russ Vernon-Jones

Nothing has passed yet as of this writing, but President Biden has announced there is agreement on the outlines of a $1.75 trillion version of his Build Back Better bill.  If this bill passes, it will be the most significant climate bill ever approved in the United States. 

Prioritizing Climate Action
There are many disappointments in this bill–it was cut down from $3.5 trillion, the Clean Electricity Performance Program–which would have forced utilities to provide increasing amounts of clean electricity–was cut, and there are no mandates to reduce carbon emissions.  The good news is that the $600 billion of climate spending in the original bill hasbeen cut only slightly to $555 billion.  As Robinson Meyer wrote in The Atlantic, “To have the bill lose 50 percent of its overall spending but only 4 percent of its climate spending shows that the Democratic Party, despite significant internal constraints,  has prioritized aggressive action on climate change.”

The agreements reached before Biden left to meet with world leaders before and during the UN climate conference COP26 are enough to improve his credibility there and enhance the possibilities of meaningful global agreements, but passing this bill remains a must for climate action.

Public opinion In The U.S. Is Moving
Sufficient climate action in the United States almost certainly depends on building overwhelming public support for it and a powerful, diverse, peoples’ movement demanding action.  Many people and groups have been working hard at this for years.  A new national survey from the “Yale Program on Climate Change Communication” shows that public opinion, while not yet overwhelming, is moving somewhat dramatically in the right direction.

Support For Assisting Developing Nations
The COP26 climate conference will be meeting in Glasgow for the next two weeks.  A critical topic there will be what level of support the rich developed nations will provide to help poorer developing nations deal with climate change. Two of my previous posts provide some background on this issue: “We’re Aiming for the Wrong Targets” and “What’s a Fair Share?“ The Yale report found that a growing majority of U.S. voters support the U.S. providing financial support and technical assistance to developing nations to:

    – limit their greenhouse gas emissions (66% support – up 8 percentage points since the previous survey in March 2021) and

    – help them prepare to deal with the impacts of global warming (61% support- up 7 percentage points)

These are quite significant changes in a relatively short period of time.  Of course voter support does not yet exist for the U.S. paying its full fair share, but greater support for the idea of providing assistance is truly good news.

Support For Cutting U.S. Carbon Pollution 50% By 2030
The Yale survey also found that “Nearly three in four registered voters (73%) also support the U.S. government’s pledge to reduce the nation’s carbon pollution 50% by the year 2030.”  I think this is big news.  Biden made this pledge back in April, but achieving it will require transformative changes.  This is the level of reduction required to stay within the 1.5° global temperature increase target called for by the Paris Agreement. I hope that this level of public support can encourage us all to advocate more boldly for this goal and all the steps required to reach it.

Public Support For Other Climate Policies
The Yale report goes on to say, ” Overall, we find that public support for climate and clean energy policies has increased since our last study in March. Large majorities of registered voters, including many Republicans, support a variety of climate and energy policies, including many currently being considered by Congress:

  • 86% support providing tax incentives or rebates to homeowners, landlords, and businesses to make existing buildings more energy efficient.
  • 81% support providing tax rebates to people who purchase energy-efficient vehicles or solar panels.
  • 79% support providing tax incentives or rebates to homeowners, landlords, and businesses to purchase appliances that can be powered without burning fossil fuels.
  • 75% support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant.
  • 74% support requiring publicly traded corporations to disclose how much carbon pollution they produce.
  • 70% support transitioning the U.S. economy (including electric utilities, transportation, buildings, and industry) from fossil fuels to 100% clean energy by 2050.
  • 70% support increasing federal funding to low-income communities and communities of color who are disproportionally harmed by air and water pollution.
  • 69% support requiring fossil fuel companies to pay a tax on the carbon pollution they produce, and using that revenue to reduce other taxes (such as the federal income tax) by an equal amount [i.e., a revenue-neutral carbon tax].
  • 66% support requiring electric utilities to produce 100% of their electricity from renewable energy sources by the year 2035.”

Let’s Spread The Good News
I found much of this surprising and encouraging.  There’s also lots of bad news, of course, but good news can be very motivating.   The research shows that people are likely to support something more strongly if they know there is significant support for it from others.  Let’s spread this good news widely and grow and strengthen the movement.

Russ Vernon-Jones was principal of Fort River School 1990-2008 and is currently a member of the Amherst Community Safety Working Group and of the Steering Committee of Climate Action Now-Western Massachusetts. He blogs regularly on climate justice at www.russvernonjones.org.

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