The American West has gone bone dry, the Great Salt Lake is vanishing and water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the two great life-giving reservoirs on the Colorado River basin, are declining with alarming speed. Wildfires are incinerating crops in France, Spain, Portugal and Italy, while parts of Britain suffocated last week in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Yet the news from Washington was all about the ability of a single United States senator, Joe Manchin, to destroy the centerpiece of President Biden’s plans to confront these very problems — roughly $300 billion in tax credits and subsidies aimed at greatly expanding wind, solar, electric car batteries and other clean energy technologies over the next decade. Had it survived, this would have been the single biggest investment Washington had ever made to combat the ravages of a warming climate.
This was more than another setback for Mr. Biden, who had already seen his climate ambitions threatened by the Supreme Court and rising oil and gas prices. It undercut American competitiveness in the global race for cleaner fuels and cars, and made a mockery of Mr. Biden’s efforts to reclaim the leadership role on climate change that Donald Trump squandered.
Mr. Biden made bold promises to America and the world in his early months in office, designed to honor, at long last, America’s commitment at the Paris climate summit in 2015 to keep global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. That is the threshold, scientists believe, beyond which wildfires, floods, biodiversity loss, rising seas and human dislocation become significantly more devastating — and just a few tenths of a degree hotter than the world is today.
Reaching that 1.5 number or even staying below two degrees would require a radical transformation of the world’s energy systems, replacing fossil fuels with low carbon and ultimately carbon-free energy sources, and doing so not on a leisurely glide path but quickly, cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and effectively zeroing them out by midcentury.
Mr. Biden matched his ambitions to these goals: a 50 to 52 percent cut in American emissions from 2005 levels by 2030, and net zero emissions by 2050. Along the way, he said, he would eliminate fossil fuel emissions from power plants by 2035. This was anathema to Mr. Manchin, who has strong ties to West Virginia’s coal industry and has received generous campaign contributions over the years from oil and gas interests. [Continue reading…]