Columnist Marty Nathan: Pushing Biden’s good start on climate to next level

  • In this Feb. 1, 2021 file photo, emissions from a coal-fired power plant are silhouetted against the setting sun in Independence, Mo. AP

Published: 5/5/2021 1:50:50 PM

It was easier though more painful to write these columns in the last four years when the landscape was truly bleak. I took as my job to review the newest frontal attack on the climate and public health by the Trump administration.

The growing climate justice movement was fully engaged in defense against the fossil fuel and allied industries unleashed by Republicans to drill, pipe and burn their way to profit. It was gross but predictable.

A big change occurred on Jan. 20. Finally, we can advance in the urgent war against greenhouse gas emissions. In just three months under Biden the U.S. rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement and now vies for global climate leadership, promising a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

In January, Biden issued a slew of executive orders to reverse some of the damage Trump inflicted. Then the administration released the $2.3 trillion economic recovery blueprint, the American Jobs Plan, a good percentage of which is aimed at constructing necessary green infrastructure.

With this plan, houses will be built, insulated, sealed and retrofitted in low- and middle-income neighborhoods. Public transit will be electrified and expanded, and trains will be repaired and updated. The bill will create a climate bank to focus investment into “sacrifice zones” surrounding polluting industry, cutting emissions and cleaning the air and water. It makes plans to plug the abandoned oil and gas now leaking the potent greenhouse gas methane and will put money into climate research and development. More than $170 billion will be invested in electric auto and bus manufacture and requisite recharging stations.

Intrinsic to the plan is economic and racial justice, with the pledge that 40% of the benefits, including job training programs, will go to low income and Black and brown communities. Ten billion of those research and development dollars will go to programs at historically Black colleges, universities and institutions. Over $100 billion will be spent to replace all the nation’s lead pipes, addressing the kind of public health disaster that blew up in Flint, Michigan, but also affects water in cities across the country.

A good start. Not enough, but a beginning. And I guess that is the last point in my own internal three-point critique of climate justice initiatives:

1. Is it real? Will it really cut or sink emissions?

2. Is it just? Will it serve those who have suffered most and contributed least to the crisis?

3. Is it enough? Will it reduce and absorb emissions quickly enough to meet the scale of the emergency?

Most climate experts agree that Biden’s efforts will reduce emissions, at a magnitude previously unseen. There is not a lot of “greenwashing” or false climate solutions that ultimately serve polluters in the bill. It is not filled with “carbon offset” or “carbon capture” schemes that allow corporations to play shell games with their climate pollution.

As for point number two, the American Jobs Plan’s focus on poor, working class and Black, Indigeneous and people of color communities and workers, ensuring relief and living-wage, union jobs, is a huge step forward. It is a just recovery plan and can unite people around the country in support of the initiative.

With number three comes the rub. The plan is huge, but the climate threat is way bigger. We fall far short of the pledge of 50% reduction by 2030 if Congress passes the American Jobs Plan alone.

In recognition, congressional climate change champions have introduced a whole slew of other bills. Sen. Ed Markey sponsored two of the most important. The THRIVE Act expands and extends the efforts of the American Jobs Plan, providing $1 trillion per year for 10 years, equitably creating good jobs and cutting climate pollution.

Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez teamed up to introduce the Civilian Climate Corps for Jobs and Justice Act to create 1.5 million jobs for young people restoring wetlands and national parks, building solar and wind projects. They would be paid a living wage while receiving health insurance, professional training and educational opportunities.

A third, long-overdue End Polluter Welfare Act was written by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Ilhan Omar. It will close tax loopholes and eliminate federal subsidies for the oil, gas and coal industries. We should not be paying for our destruction.

These combined initiatives begin to outline the necessary World War II-type economic transition called for by climate scientists before the toxic Trump era. They begin to map a course to a future that averts climate catastrophe.

This is what we have been waiting for. Please make your own calls to your senators and representative requesting they sponsor and support it all: the American Jobs Plan and the THRIVE, Civilian Climate Corps and End Polluter Welfare Acts. Then email your cousin in Ohio and ask her to do the same. We can and we gotta do this.

Marty Nathan is a retired physician, mother and grandmother who writes a monthly column on climate change.

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