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Menopausal Mother Nature

News about Climate Change and our Planet


What the surprise deal means for climate

It could be a game changer.

Months of negotiations among Democrats in the Senate produced an agreement on Wednesday to make big investments to get fossil fuels out of the nation’s energy system and nearly meet the pledges that the United States has made under the Paris climate accord.

If passed, it would be the largest investment in renewable energy in the history of the United States.

Feeling a bit of whiplash? That’s why we bring you this special edition of the newsletter.

The agreement comes two weeks after Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, rejected a similar package, saying he feared it would aggravate inflation. Those worries apparently vanished. The latest package is called the Inflation Reduction Act.

Manchin’s support is key because Republicans in the evenly divided Senate are opposed. Every single one.

What does it contain?

The climate centerpiece is $369 billion in investments for climate and energy programs. That’s four times bigger than the last climate investment made by the U.S. government in 2009. That package had the effect of lowering the cost of wind and solar energy, and climate advocates said they expected this proposed infusion to significantly lower the costs of producing wind turbines, solar panels and batteries for electric vehicles.

The bill is aimed at nudging the switch away from the use of oil, gas and coal, which drive global warming when they are burned.

As my colleagues Lisa Friedman and Brad Plumer wrote, the bill would use tax incentives to promote low-emissions energy industries over the next decade. Companies would receive financial incentives to keep open nuclear plants that might have closed, for instance. Car buyers would receive tax credits to buy electric vehicles. Rebates would be available for those who make their homes more energy efficient or install electric heat pumps or electric water heaters.

The bill would also penalize oil and gas companies that fail to reduce their methane emissions and reward those who do. Methane is a fast-acting greenhouse gas, and methane reductions are seen as the fastest way to slow down the rise of emissions.

What about fossil fuels development?

The bill does not ditch new fossil fuel developments. Otherwise it very likely wouldn’t have won the backing of Mr. Manchin, who has received more money from fossil fuel sector than any other senator.

Mr. Manchin said he had won a commitment from his fellow Democrats that they would approve a separate measure to address the process of issuing permits for energy infrastructure, potentially including gas pipelines, in the weeks ahead.

The bill would also require new lease sales for oil drilling on federal lands and waters, including in the Gulf of Mexico, which environmental groups oppose.

Both would prolong the country’s reliance on fossil fuels.

What doesn’t it contain?

The $369 billion energy spending in this bill is smaller than the $555 billion that was in the Build Back Better package, which the House of Representatives passed in November. The new deal also does not back social programs Democrats had championed, like a civilian climate corps, Lisa explained.

Nor does it contain a proposal that Democrats had championed in the past to reward electric utilities that ramp up low-carbon energy and penalize those that don’t.

How does it matter?

The United States is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in history. It was the only country to pull out of the 2015 Paris climate accord, albeit briefly. Under the Trump administration, it rolled back a slew of environmental regulations that would have reined in emissions.

The Biden Administration rejoined the global accord and promised to reduce U.S. emissions by at least 50 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. This package, according to independent research, wouldn’t go all the way there — but close. It would reduce emissions by 40 percent by 2030, compared to 2005 levels.

“That keeps us in the climate fight,” Jesse Jenkins, a professor at the Princeton University School of Engineering, said on Twitter.

Britain and the European Union, two large emitters in historical terms, have passed their own climate laws, requiring larger cuts by 2030. Australia’s newly elected government proposed a climate law this week. China, which currently produces the world’s largest share of emissions, has said only that it will peak its emissions by 2030 and then reduce.

Whether these pledges are kept will have a huge bearing on the countries whose emissions continue to grow and will grow much faster in the coming years: big emerging economies like India, Brazil and South Africa.

Preservation using chain saws: With Yosemite’s trees perennially threatened by wildfires, many experts say it’s time to cut and burn protectively. A lawsuit is standing in the way.

West Virginia punishes banks: Officials are barring some financial institutions from doing business with the state. They say it’s because the banks don’t support coal.

A website all about heat: Concerned about the growing severity of heat waves, the U.S. government created a new site to help Americans stay safe in sweltering conditions.

Record profit at Shell: The energy giant is thriving because of soaring oil and gas prices and a tight market for refined products.

Improving economic data: We know climate change is a drag on the economy, but tracking the impacts in real time is tricky. Economists are working on ways to do it better.

A warning in Britain: In an unusually early energy forecast, regulators told customers to expect tight power supplies this winter.

An ecologist who captured imaginations: James Lovelock, who shaped our understanding of man-made pollutants and their effect on the climate, has died. He was 103.

Caribbean countries are trapped between crushing debt and a climate crisis caused by rich nations. Prime Minister Mia Mottley, the first woman to lead Barbados, is battling for a fairer system.

Thanks for reading. Because of this special edition, Climate Forward won’t appear on Friday. We’ll be back on Tuesday.

Manuela Andreoni, Claire O’Neill and Douglas Alteen contributed to Climate Forward.

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