Recently, the US Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), one of the most sweeping pieces of legislation in recent history. The bill covers a wide scope of topics, the most noteworthy being the claim that the bill is the largest climate action from the US government in history. In this issue, we’ll break down the climate-related parts of the bill, and what they mean for the future.
What Climate-Related Provisions Does the Bill Contain? 🧐
🇺🇸 After many failed attempts at climate legislation in recent years, such as the tanked Green New Deal and climate provisions in the Build Back Better plan, a bill containing what is supposedly the largest climate action in the history of America has passed the Senate.
Is it actually possible that the US is turning a corner? Is one of the most influential countries in the world really going to commit to legitimate climate action?
In terms of value in dollars, the bill does contain the largest climate investment in the history of the US, with $369 billion allocated. That money, much of it in the form of tax credits, is going to be spread out among a wide range of climate-related efforts, from mass-scale clean energy development to vouchers for the purchase of electric vehicles.
🌅 Leading environmental groups such as Sunrise Movement are cautiously celebrating the passing of the bill. While much of the bill falls well short of meeting necessary environmental needs outlined by the scientific community, their celebratory reaction is consistent with that of many climate activists, a group that has been long starved of any signs of hope from the federal government.
Okay, So What’s The Issue? 🤔
The devil, as they say, is in the details.
💊 Buried inconspicuously in the 50,264th and 50,265th sections of the 725-page bill, are the so called “poison pill” provisions that deliver near-fatal blows to the efficacy of the legislation:
1️⃣ A provision that states that the development of wind or solar farms on public lands is not allowed to take place unless an additional 2 million acres (about the size of Yellowstone National Park) of federal land and 60 million acres of offshore waters are leased for oil drilling.
2️⃣ Three additional massive oil leases (including the reinstatement of one that was previously ruled illegal on the grounds that the environmental harm of the deal was not adequately researched) that brings the total acreage of oil exploration leases past 600,000,000.
💨 600 million acres in oil leases in a climate bill is bad enough, but when considering the lost opportunity cost of this acreage, the outlook worsens. Adding 600 million acres of oil leases means removing 600 million acres of potential wind farms, for which much of the suitable acreage is already rendered useless due to active or abandoned oil pipelines and wells.
“We are conflating production with energy security, when that’s not the case…The bill creates a lot of incentives that are counter to most people’s desires and wants for the trajectory of our country” - Megan Biven, former official, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
To make matters worse, the American public will likely never see the energy benefits of these oil leases due to refinery overcrowding, and because of exploration timelines, oil companies can comfortably expect demand for fossil fuels well past 2030, a date which many decarbonization initiatives cite as a hard divestment deadline.
Can We Fix It? 🛠
🤔 Theoretically, since the American government represents its citizens, it wants what is best for them, and would want to do everything in its power to ensure that the catastrophic harm of an unsolved climate crisis never happens.
Clearly, that isn’t exactly how it works in practice, which elicits an important question-are the problems with our government that lead to broken climate policy even fixable?
Massive pieces of legislation like the IRA are always subject to rampant lobbying and internal conflicts of interest—a fact of American governance that is only exacerbated when climate action gets thrown in the mix.
🏛 The government itself is at the heart of the problem. Occasional corruption is expected, but the fact that a literal coal baron is the ranking member of the energy committee is evidence of a deeper, more permanent level of systemic rot than just having a few rogue legislators.
📊 The private sector and the lobbies that represent it and its executives are also core contributors to the problem. Many of our country’s top companies were staunchly opposed to the climate provisions of the IRA, continuing a pattern of systemic climate opposition in spite of the many pro-climate buzzwords that corporate America churns out.
💼 If that wasn’t enough, there are also well funded special interest groups that throw millions of dollars on deceptive ad campaigns to attempt to undermine climate action from its own base that our planet has to worry about.
So, What Can We Do About It? 🤷♂️
The saddest part about the IRA’s reputation as the best climate action the US government has ever done is that it’s 100% true.
🏔 In fact, considering the mountainous systemic opposition that climate action faces, it’s wildly impressive this bill, as flawed as it is, got passed at all.
Fortunately, the options that our species has to choose from are not limited to “fix unfixable problems” or “starve on a burning planet”. In a world where the system doesn’t allow for the needed climate action, the answer to implementing it is very simple.
This philosophy—that real climate action can never come from within systems designed to kneecap it at every turn-is an integral part of the carbon offset thesis.
🤩 Of all of the beautiful qualities of offsets—such as the fact they actually remove or avoid emissions or the positive feedback loop of reinvestment into further projects, none are as important as this one—their efficacy and implementation is 0% contingent on government action.
Using offsets, we can create tangible, scalable climate action while circumventing the need for governments to do anything at all.
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