“Action comes from keeping the heat on. No politician can sit on a hot issue if you make it hot enough.”
― Saul D. Alinsky, Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals
In the past few months, Congressional Democrats failed to pass the Build Back Better Act, Biden’s nearly $2 trillion social spending and climate bill, and the Freedom to Vote Act, which would’ve addressed GOP-led voter suppression. While the failure is due to just two of 272 Democrats in the House and Senate–Senators Manchin and Sinema–what matters is that the legislation has not been enacted into law.
Now, other priorities-Russia’s threat to invade Ukraine, inflation, an open Supreme Court seat, the midterm elections, raising the debt ceiling–threaten to distract from what I believe is the most urgent issue: passing legislation to tackle the climate crisis. Why so urgent? First, Democrats may lose control of the House and / or Senate in the November elections, losing their chance to do anything legislatively on climate until at least 2025. Second, any such delay would be disastrous, not only for America, but for the world: the atmosphere doesn’t recognize national boundaries. Third, the rest of the world is watching what we do; whether we act will determine the course other emitters take.
And finally, it would be a terrible self-own. Senator Manchin has indicated that he is still open to funding the climate spending, which, according to a recent analysis, would have benefits “three to four times larger than its costs, creating as much as projected $1.5 trillion in economic surplus while eliminating more than 5 billion tons of planet-warming carbon pollution through 2050.” Simply put, it’s good and effective spending without which we cannot begin to tackle the climate crisis, and it has the votes to pass.
So what’s the issue? Congress has lost its focus. Some members of the caucus still want to pass the entire bill, even though Manchin has declared it dead, and they have yet to formulate a plan for what to do next. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking: there remain maybe three months during which to draft the legislative text, get it scored by the Congressional Budget Office, go through the onerous budget reconciliation process, etc. If a clear plan does not emerge soon, nothing will happen on climate–again.
Because the problem now isn’t a single senator, but rather a lack of consensus on a strategy, this is a perfect opportunity for political pressure to move the needle. Remember, politics is about the exercise of power–at the end of the day, what matters is legislation, policy, and action, not shouting and tweeting. Therefore, you have an historic opportunity to help ensure that robust climate and climate justice legislation is passed into law. Here’s how:
- If you have a Democratic Senator or U.S. Representative, call him or her and ask that they call for a trimmed-down Build Back Better Act, focused on climate change. I cannot emphasize enough how much this matters. Every time I talk to Congressional staffers, they reference whether or not they are hearing from their constituents; a small number of people calling can make the elected official feel like there is a groundswell of support for something. Calling is easy. You can use this tool by Capital Good Fund or simply look up your Senators and Representative at this link. Then, ask at least three of your friends and family to do the same.
- Lots of people recognize the importance of this moment, and organizations are mobilizing. I recommend donating to the following groups: Evergreen Action, the Climate Emergency Fund, and the League of Conservation Voters. (Evergreen has put out a brilliant ad campaign, which I embed at the end of this post.)
- Educate yourself on what’s in the bill! Evergreen Action has a great primer on what the $550 billion will do. Remember that I worked with Evergreen and others to ensure that making the solar tax credit refundable–which will enable lower-income families to benefit from solar energy–is in the draft legislative text!
What are you doing to take action on climate? Share in the comments!