The political side of climate change has been slightly quiet until recently. However while Trump was president, we did see movement — unfortunately in the backward direction. In one of my previous articles, I wrote about how Trump took the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement. This step was not exactly surprising, but it did remove the commitment of the U.S. to reduce its greenhouse gas production. Trump also reduced the Environmental Protection Agency’s funding by a third.
In his 2020 presidential campaign, President Biden promised to make a climate plan. With this plan, he promised to reduce net emissions to zero by 2050, take action to combat environmental racism and for the U.S. to return to the Paris Climate Agreement.
On his first day in office, Biden fulfilled one of these promises by signing the U.S. back into the Paris Agreement. However, passing any legislation for climate change has continued to be difficult.
Why is climate change legislation so difficult to pass?
In an interview with The News-Letter, Daniel Schlozman, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science, he explained how in the U.S. the political system is designed to slow down any potentially radical change. This is evidenced by looking at the lengthy process of how a bill becomes a law. It is clear to see that a bill requires widespread political approval in order to get passed.
From 2015 to 2021, Republicans held Senate majority, but this changed in 2021 with the Democrats now taking hold of the majority. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has maintained a Democratic majority since 2019. While not all Democrats and Republicans will align fully with their party’s values, one would expect that having the majority vote would help.
However, Hahrie Han, a Political Science professor and director of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute, described the challenges of passing climate change legislation.
“Climate change is a problem that political scientists like to call a ‘wicked’ problem, because any solutions will change the distribution of costs and benefits in such a way that generates political conflict and requires diverse coalitions to solve it, she said.
She elaborated that political systems which are designed for change in the longer term exacerbate the problem.
“Some say that even among the many ‘wicked’ problems our society faces, the climate is ‘super wicked’ because our time to manage the crisis is running out, the same people who caused the problem have to be part of the solution and the incentives for most decision-makers are to put off decisions into the future,“ she said. “All of these factors make it hard to create the effective, durable coalitions you need for policy making.”
The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) was passed on August 16. Originally introduced on Sept. 27, 2021, the progression of this bill exemplifies how long it takes for legislation to move from bill to law.
The IRA is a big step in regards to funding allocated towards addressing climate change. Senator Pramila Jayapal called the IRA “the largest ever federal investment in climate action.” It pledges $369 billion towards different climate change initiatives including investment in clean energy and electric vehicles, air monitoring for those who have faced disproportionate effects of environmental harm and tax credits for those who take steps including installing solar panels or improving their home’s energy efficiency.
According to Schlozman, the tax credits were the main focus of this bill and funding for important climate change policies was included alongside that.
To see the Inflation Reduction Act through a more quantitative lens, the Rhodium Group predicted that the U.S. would only be able to reduce emissions to only 24–35% below 2005 levels based on conditions before the IRA. However, in an updated analysis, the Rhodium Group took the IRA into account and concluded that this would put the U.S. a bit closer to its goal by reducing emissions to about 32–42% below 2005 levels.
Han expressed her sentiments on the bill’s passage.
“We should all be heartened by the passage of the IRA. It is a monumental step but there is still more to do,“ she said. “None of us should underestimate the role that we can play in making personal decisions and being part of the political coalitions needed to create a sustainable future.”
Tanvi Narvekar is a senior from the Bay Area, California majoring in Neuroscience and Psychology. Combating Climate Change is an ode to her passion for climate change action and helping with its mitigation. The goal of the column is to educate about current events and future action regarding climate change.