In recent years, a historic shift has taken place in American public opinion: for the first time ever, and in various polling stations, a majority of Americans say they want the government to take serious action against the change. climate. This change has been accompanied by an eruption of climate-related disasters. Forest fires are now crippling the west coast. The heat waves killed old people in their homes. And record flooding has destroyed farms, closed cities and drowned children in basements.

Since entering the race for his current post, President Joe Biden has highlighted the danger of climate change, calling it one of the “four historic crises” the country is currently facing. He pledged to eliminate carbon pollution from the power system by 2035, with 80% of America’s electricity coming from zero-carbon sources by 2030.

These goals are the backbone of Biden’s climate program. He cannot keep its climate commitment without a realistic and reliable plan to meet these electricity targets. There are two different ways of doing this: the Clean Electricity Program, which encourages utilities to increase the amount of zero-carbon electricity they produce each year, or a carbon tax, which levies a levy on each tonne of gas. greenhouse emissions. in the air.

If Congress can pass either of these policies, Biden’s climate agenda will succeed and the world will have a much better chance of avoiding the worst ravages of climate change by mid-century. If not, Biden’s climate program will fail.

The fate of these policies is now being decided. Last night, New York Times reported that Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, opposes the clean electricity program proposed in the reconciliation bill. But Manchin himself didn’t say it publicly, and the progressives in the House also have some leverage: if this bill does not address climate change to their satisfaction, then they can veto the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Today, remarkably, 60 percent of America’s electricity is produced by fossil fuels. In order to fight effectively against climate change, this number must decrease and quickly reach zero. Building a zero carbon electricity system is not an environmentalist fantasy; it is the first and most important step in effectively managing climate change over the next two decades.

This is due to fundamental restrictions in chemistry and technology. Today, much of the economy is fueled by the controlled combustion of fossil fuels, which produce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Humanity knows how to produce energy without causing carbon pollution – using wind turbines, solar panels, nuclear power plants, etc. – but only in the flexible but specific form of electricity. Almost all plans to limit climate change in the United States follow a two-step process: First, the country must increase the electricity grid, producing almost all of its electricity from zero-carbon sources. Second, it has to integrate almost all fossil-fueled industrial processes into the power grid.

Between the clean electricity program and a carbon tax, the clean electricity program is Biden’s best option. This would provide a direct incentive for utilities to clean their grid by offering federal subsidies to those who increase zero-carbon electricity production by 4% each year. Utilities that do not meet this standard may purchase credits or pay a small penalty. The policy is designed to keep electricity prices low for consumers, has the backing of large utilities, and is similar to clean electricity programs that have been successfully implemented in 29 states. With this program in place, the U.S. electricity grid would produce 73% of its energy from zero-carbon sources within a decade, thus avoiding at least 400 million tonnes of carbon pollution, according to Rhodium Group, a company of energy analysis. (Climate tax credits would increase the share of zero-carbon energy in the energy mix to Biden’s 80% target.) Resources for the Future, a non-partisan think tank, found similar results.

Biden’s other option is to support a carbon tax. Such a policy has always been the favorite of economists, and it would reduce carbon pollution. A carbon levy of $ 15 per tonne, increasing by 5% each year and exempting gasoline (as any Biden plan would), promises to eliminate 45% of carbon pollution in the United States by 2030 by compared to its all-time high, according to Resources for the Future. . That makes it roughly comparable to the clean electricity program, and it would make Biden’s goal of halving carbon pollution by 2030 achievable.

But there are good reasons to be skeptical of a carbon tax. A carbon tax is, by design, meant to raise the prices of fossil fuels, which strikes me as politically unwise amid a global surge in energy prices and an ongoing producer strike in the area. Texas oil company. Taxation carbon also turns fossil fuels into a sustainable source of government revenue, when the goal should instead be to phase them out.

Yet despite all these bickering, a carbon tax would undoubtedly work. And adopting a carbon tax or the clean electricity program would amount to a colossal political achievement, finally allowing the United States to sit among its peers who have adopted important climate policy.

Manchin is the biggest opponent of these two policies. He reportedly told Biden he couldn’t agree to the clean electricity program, even though he appeared to agree to it in a secret deal he signed with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer this summer. Senate Democrats respect Manchin and understand his unusual political acumen – he has, after all, found a way to win the election as a Democrat in a state Donald Trump won by 39 points last year. Although Manchin’s family owns a coal brokerage firm from which he could still earn an income, he may have broader goals as a politician. He appears determined to ensure that his state’s roughly 31,000 fossil fuel workers can imagine a future in a decarbonizing economy, just as climate activists desperately seek a secure and prosperous future in the warm years to come.

If the Times It is wrong that Manchin categorically rejected the clean electricity program, there is a lot about these policies that Manchin and Biden can and should negotiate. They could slow the pace of change in the clean electricity program (should utilities go zero carbon at 3% per year, rather than 4?)?). They could exempt some states from the program in its early years. The Clean Electricity Program would strengthen one of Manchin’s provisions in the bill – a tax credit that would help businesses develop clean energy technology in America – by creating 15-30% more jobs than politics alone.

These details are important – they will decide how quickly America’s significant share of global carbon pollution decreases – but ultimately the clean electricity program or a carbon tax would allow the United States to further reduce the cost of producing carbon-free energy. This benefit would reverberate around the world, creating a much larger share of global climate pollution.

Is there a third option here? According to Times, White House staff are now trying to “cobble together a mix of other policies that could also cut emissions,” and they could presumably find arrangements acceptable to Manchin that would also encourage utilities to replace some of their production with gasoline. fossil fuels by renewables. But barring a miracle, the administration would be forced to resort to Environmental Protection Agency rules to reduce carbon pollution, a potentially costly and arduous process that would be vulnerable to conservative Supreme Court challenges or setbacks. future presidents. And there is no guarantee that this would become an established law by the 2024 election.

These political concerns may seem everyday, and they are, but how and if all of these policies happening is a matter of global historical significance. Lawmakers, the press, and Americans of good character need to understand that the United States has more at stake than the particular makeup of its electrical system. In recent years, some of the country’s most famous institutions – major corporations, universities, states and cities – have pledged to take action on climate change. Leading diplomats have toured the world to proclaim the seriousness of America’s commitment.

But what do they have concretely accomplished? For all of its climate-destroying coal plants, China still installs more solar power than any other country, sell more electric vehicless than any other country, and operates a small but growing carbon market. Transatlantic strategists fear that the European Union, which also maintains a carbon price, will eventually merge its system with that of its largest trading partner, China. Failure by the United States to follow through after so much gossip would suggest, as Chinese leaders believe, that our democracy is too frozen to cope with the current crisis. It is a deadly conclusion for the country, and potentially dangerous for the world order. If the United States cannot adopt any of these policies, cannot bring itself to actually reduce carbon pollution, it will reinforce the perception that the American democracy is fundamentally sick, dying, unable to act on an issue. on which the credibility of its leaders and its international stature rises. We will be like a decadent nation, sick of the soul, too weak to rule our lowest instincts. Well, isn’t it?