• Eugene Puryear

Calling this bill the ‘largest-ever’ climate investment is a sick joke


The following is a lightly edited transcription from The Punch Out with Eugene Puryear, a daily news podcast that comes out Monday through Friday, 5pm ET. Subscribe here.


Congressional Democrats are running a new game to cover for their gutted budget reconciliation bill. That is to proclaim that even with the cuts to the bill that the climate portion of it is still substantive and working to save the planet. It is simply false. The bill looks in the direction of climate catastrophe, but then amounts to a shrug, doing nothing about it.

On Tuesday, a little chorus started to emerge from Democrats that the slimmed down budget bill would contain “the largest ever investment in climate policy.” Now, that sounds great, right? But it is a bait-and-switch that would be comical were the stakes not so high.

This new slogan provides no reference to what actually needs to take place to mitigate climate change and keep the planet broadly habitable. To do that, we need to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Right now, we are on track for 3 degrees. Even if all the countries meet their current pledges — a big “if — global temperatures would still rise 2 to 2.5 degrees. So, as you can see, the emergency of this moment cannot be overstated.

If I told you that you needed $500 to stay alive but so far I had given you $0, if I hand you $100 I have made the “largest-ever investment” in keeping you alive, but you would die nonetheless. That is essentially what is happening here.

The bill does not even move the country towards the two-degree goal. Let’s start with the original Build Back Better plan from Biden, which, along with executive action, would reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Even that would have been far short of the all-important 1.5 degrees threshold, the number we need to avoid major catastrophes. To do that, the U.S. would have to reduce emissions by 195 percent by 2030. Biden’s original proposal was 145 percent below what it needs to be to save the planet.

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According to an analysis by Senator Chuck Schumer’s office, the legislative element in the original bill would reduce emissions by 45%, and would go a long way to the overall administration goal. The core of the Build Back Better proposals was the clean energy standard, which was designed to move the country to 80 percent clean electricity by 2030. According to Schumer's analysis, that standard, alongside clean energy tax credits, accounted for nearly half of the emissions reductions in the bill.

Now that clean energy standard has been removed. So even in the best case scenario, this “largest ever” investment in climate would still leave the U.S. well short of the stated 2-degree goal and perhaps about 160% below the reduction in emissions actually needed to save the planet.

In the context of how climate change works, “largest ever” means virtually nothing. Once certain tipping points are reached, the problem accelerates irreversibly. In just the initial phase past this tipping point, over a billion people will be displaced and made into refugees. This is not a policy area where gradualism can be acceptable; where you get a little reform now and hope to build on it later. Given the political reality that the Democrats are unlikely to hold Congress in next year’s midterms, we are likely to be many years from another major climate bill. And without the United States taking action, as one of the world’s greatest carbon emitters, the global problem cannot be seriously mitigated.

So, don’t be fooled. While Republican intransigence and climate denialism is absolutely disgraceful, it is not the whole story. The Democrats already were not proposing enough emissions reductions to save the planet, they are now proposing even less, and all this “largest ever” talk is just a cover for their own lack of will to tackle what is the most urgent global problem of our time, and of the future.