Climate advocates — this is your moment.
The Clean Energy Plan is on life support. Let’s work together now to protect it.
The UN Climate Change Conference (COP) is coming up and many of us are thinking hard about where things stand on the climate front. I remain mostly optimistic. We've got the climate-addressing technologies and strategies we need for the period between now and 2030. We can also see that the innovations we need to take us through the 2030-50 period are in the works. And every day more organizations and individuals are stepping up to support this movement.
Still. . . it's hard not to be disappointed by progress overall. Emissions keep going up. Natural disasters are in the news every day. Climate politics remains very messy. And now the news this weekend that Biden’s proposed clean energy plan — by far the most important part of his climate agenda — is now on life support.
But it’s not too late. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Here’s where we start (and it’s something I have been thinking about for a long time):
We don’t always have to be so hard on one another. We can join forces in the name of progress.
The environmental community has built a strong, broad, and diverse coalition, which is great. The climate focused include:
left-leaning activists who know how to raise a fuss
student groups passionate about accelerating progress
environmental justice advocates who insist on more equitable outcomes
champions of regenerative agriculture who see opportunities to boost rural communities
labor unions who want the huge gains in jobs available in the greener economy
net zero-pledging CEOs trying to get their businesses on the right side of this existential challenge
ESG-embracing pension funds and institutional investors who know a stable climate is a prerequisite for good economic outcomes
and even hard-working and well-intentioned newsletter-writing individuals like me.
We are a strong-willed and outspoken group. We always challenge and hold one another accountable. We set the bar high and ask tough questions. It’s part of what makes our coalition very strong.
But we could (and should, in my view) occasionally find common ground and work together. Now is one of those times. We need a victory, a shot in the arm, some positive momentum to build on.
That’s why I’ve been puzzled as to why we’re not all working harder and together on Biden’s Reconciliation bill.
Before you object, I know the bill is not perfect. No bill ever is. But it's certainly a very good climate bill. Maybe it's even a great one.
I won’t rehash all of the details here (this New York Times piece summarizes the climate provisions well). But passing a climate bill in the US is our highest priority. Doing so will not only be a game-changer at home, it will also position the country to lead internationally—including at the COP. The opposite is true too. If the bill fails, it will be a significant setback.
Maybe people are supportive and they’re just not being vocal about it. But that is a big mistake, especially given the staunch opposition by Senator Joe Manchin, who evidently is threatening to bring the whole thing down.
What power do we have? The power in large numbers. Which is even greater when that large group is composed of diverse constituents taking the same position and speaking up loudly.
It takes leadership to bring people together. And it takes courage to lead. But it does have a chance at having an impact. This is something I really learned from my colleagues back when I worked at the Nature Conservancy. Maybe TNC could take the helm once again.
There are many ways to quickly put a campaign into action. At TNC, we used to organize a “Capitol Hill Day” once per year. We would bring Democratic and Republican TNC volunteers from every one of the 50 states to DC. We would have these folks call on every one of their representatives in Congress. Beforehand we’d help the volunteers with talking points and arguments so that everyone was aligned and persuasive around the biggest opportunities. It always turned out great. Legislators really listened.
Today’s broad environmental coalition would be even better. The group could include many who have historically been left out of the climate movement. It could also include the economically vulnerable, who have had to bear the costs disproportionately. And young people, some of whom are so discouraged they no longer want to have kids because of the damaged planet they would inherit.
Imagine the impact when our unlikely allies lock arms and speak loudly in support of the bill. I see some very newsworthy photo ops! Picture a young environmental activist, a corporate CEO, and a labor union representative in heated discussion with Senator Manchin.
Bringing together a coalition to fight for the Reconciliation Bill could be just the beginning. As they work together, the coalition would get to know one another and possibly move forward toward realizing other opportunities where there should be some common ground like 30x30, net-zero, carbon removal opportunities, and more.
The opportunity right now is great. The risks are even greater.
Let's put differences aside for a moment — while there’s still time — and work together. Let’s loudly pound all tables to show our strong and broad support for this bill in the most powerful way possible. It might just be enough to get Joe Manchin and other holdouts to lower their resistance. It might persuade the leadership to fight harder. It's not too late to make a big difference. It might just be the push we need to get this legislation passed.
US climate envoy John Kerry explains why the US needs to pass the Reconciliation Bill to be credible at Glasgow. According to Kerry, if the bill doesn’t pass, “it would be like President Trump pulling out of the Paris agreement again.” In my view, the same is true if the CEPP is dropped from the bill.
Ceres, a great environmental NGO, recently organized this letter to Congress signed by about 100 leading US corporations stating their unequivocal and very strong support for an ambitious clean energy standard. Well done. Now, CEOs, please let your legislators know you expect them to get this done.
The Davos crowd is heading to Glasgow too. Fine. But the big names from the US should remember “actions speak louder than words.” So please focus first on getting legislation done here (see blog above) in Washington, DC.
When our big coalition gets to work on Capitol Hill, let's also push back hard on all other underwhelming and weak critiques of the Biden bill. For example, take the companies lobbying against the proposed methane fee saying it won’t reduce pollution, but it will lead to inflation. “A low methane fee of $500/ton could cut methane leak rates in half” concludes RFF in this thorough analysis.
One Last Thing
What do you do when you find yourself stressed out by things like climate change? One thing I do is take refuge in inspiring books about nature. My most recent escape was with How to Catch A Mole: Wisdom from a Life Lived in Nature by Marc Hamer. The title really says it all. Please read this great book.