An October Showdown

The Last Best Chance to Save the Earth Lies in Congress's Hands

Credit: Dave Whamond, Canada, PoliticalCartoons.com

As we watch the spectacle of Congressional Democrats fighting among themselves over President Biden’s Build Back Better (BBB) bill it has become critical to understand that: the bill contains all of the President’s climate change provisions; climate change is threatening Santa Barbara with drought and more wildfires; one Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin, is now demanding the clean-power provision be stripped from the bill, no surprise from a man who owns coal businesses and represents the coal-producing state West Virginia; and the bill with all of its climate change provisions needs to be passed prior to October 31.

Beginning October 31, world leaders will meet in Glasgow, Scotland, at the United Nation’s Climate Change Conference (COP26) to address commitments to cutting fossil-fuel emissions. Santa Barbarians should be focused on this summit. Drought and wildfires are climate change signatures. Santa Barbara is currently experiencing extreme drought. And, as the Alisal Fire, still burning, proves, we are susceptible to year-round wildfires. This is not going to change unless and until we deal with climate change.

Glasgow is the world’s last best chance to lessen the coming dangers of climate change. Like all things political, this meeting needs leadership, which can only come from the United States.

China ranks first in producing greenhouse gases (GHG), India third, and Russia fourth. None of those countries are going to assume leadership on this issue. Given President Trump’s climate denials and the U.S. being second in world emissions, our failure to enact President Biden’s climate agenda prior to the beginning of the Glasgow conference would strip all credibility from our assuming the climate leadership mantle.

President Biden committed the U.S. to cutting GHG emissions by 50-52 percent by 2030, relative to 2005 levels. However, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC), the world’s leading scientific body on global warmingat this point, it would only be a mitigation measure. Last August, in a report labeled a “Code Red for Humanity,” the IPPC concluded: “Nations have delayed curbing their fossil fuel emissions for so long they can no longer stop global warming from intensifying … global warming is likely to rise around 1.5°C within the next two decades… a hotter future is now essentially locked in.”

All of the Biden climate measures — incentives for electricity suppliers to increase clean electricity, funding for solar and wind technologies, clean energy tax incentives, electrifying the federal vehicle fleet, rehabbing federal buildings with GHG-saving measures, green materials procurement, climate change research — in the BBB are needed to mitigate this coming disaster.

Biden’s climate measures can never overcome a Republican filibuster and reach 60 votes on their own. They can, however, be passed in the Senate, as part of the BBB, thereby avoiding the filibuster through budget reconciliation. (Reconciliation only requires a majority vote.) This, in a 50-50 Senate, cannot happen without the support of Democrat senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema of Arizona.

Senator Manchin knows the Clean Power Provision would incentivize electricity suppliers to increase renewable energy in their portfolios, something he does not want to happen. He has gone on record bizarrely saying that eliminating fossil fuels will only make climate change worse. Senator Sinema’s resistance is an enigma. She says she supports fighting climate change but will not say what her objections to BBB are.

Polling shows that 66 percent of Americans support Build Back Better, including more than half the voters in West Virginia and Arizona. BBBcontains a lot of different needed things: childcare, Medicare expansion, reduction of prescription drug prices, job creation, and corporate tax increases, to name a few. Its climate change measures, however, are the most pressing. Failure in Glasgow to secure meaningful world-wide commitments to reducing global warming will inevitably lead to more and worsening wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, flooding, sea level rise, famines, habitat destruction, and deaths than the world is now experiencing.

Neither West Virginia nor Arizona are immune from global warming. Higher temperatures are increasing deadly heat waves, droughts, and wildfires in Arizona. Rising temperatures in West Virginia are producing severe droughts causing water levels in the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers to fall, threatening commercial shipping. Yet, these two senators are ignoring both the threats to their states and the world of not passing Build Back Better prior to the Glasgow summit.

The Democratic Party infighting on this issue, given the stakes for the world, and the Party, are more than disturbing. We can’t wait for the Democrats to work out their differences. Even people who are not constituents can contact these senators — dial (202) 224-3121 — and explain to them that their personal interests are not more important than the world’s climate.

Climate change is an existential threat to the entire world. We have until October 31 to give the U.S. the necessary credibility it needs to lead this fight. Failure is not an option.

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