Saturday, November 27

The battle to get here was ugly, but the impact of Joe Biden’s climate plan will be enormous | Jonathan Freedland

SUBWAYOther than that, Donald Trump: There is a new American that the world’s progressives must hate. What’s more, he’s not even a Republican, but a member of Joe Biden’s Democratic Party. This is Joe Manchin, who represents West Virginia in the United States Senate, the body that is divided equally and that the Democrats only control if all the senators remain in their place. It is thanks to him, aided and instigated by Arizona Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema, that Biden cannot take his place at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow by proudly pointing out a series of measures, signed and sealed, by which the government of the United States will address the climate. crisis.

Biden had a whole plan in place, and most Democrats backed him. But Manchin refused to say yes. He insisted that Biden perhaps let go of the most powerful element of its climate program: rewards for energy companies that switch to renewable sources and fines for those that stick to fossil fuels. Manchin ended that, perhaps because he represents a state that still has some coal mining, perhaps because he has large personal investments in coal, perhaps because he has received large donations from the fossil fuel industry. Or maybe just because West Virginia voted almost 40 point margin for Trump last year, and therefore to keep winning, Manchin has to look more like a Republican than a Democrat.

Either way, the effect is the same. Manchin has delayed the passage of what Biden had envisioned as a transformative spending bill, a mega package not limited to the climate emergency. To win over Manchin, the president has abandoned all kinds of measures that he had promised to fulfill during his 2020 campaign and that the United States desperately needs, many of them, from cheaper drugs for the elderly to paid family leave, very popular with voters. Americans. Biden did all of that in order to lower the total price from $ 3.5 trillion (£ 2.5 trillion) to $ 1.75 trillion, making it more palatable to Manchin, who believes in controlling, rather than unleashing, the power of government.

What’s left is $ 555 billion for tax breaks and incentives aimed at reducing US carbon emissions, spread over 10 years, far less than the US. spend every year in defence.

Even that amount is not fully agreed upon. Although the White House praised a breakthrough yesterday, Manchin and Sinema have not signed on the dotted line or even pledged to do so. That’s why Biden went to Glasgow empty-handed.

This is important not only because the United States is, after China, the largest emitter in the world of CO2, but because of the leadership role that the United States must play. It is difficult for Biden to hit the table and demand greater and faster action from countries like China and India when the US itself is still hesitating, even during this all too rare interlude, which will likely end in next year’s midterm elections, when Biden’s party controls the White House and both houses of Congress. Authoritarian states that like to argue that democracy is not fit for purpose in the 21st century will be hailed. Young voters who joined Biden for the sake of the weather will wonder if it was worth it.

And yet there is another way of looking at all this. It begins with the recognition that the alternative to Manchin as senator from West Virginia is not an impeccable liberal: If he or someone very like him were not there, the seat would be filled by a Republican and there would be no plan from Biden. , big or small. (The same is not true of Sinema: Arizona, who voted for Biden in 2020, would not punish her for behaving like a Democrat.) Not that this package is that small. If it passes, it will represent the higher US spending to deal with global warming in history.

During the negotiations that led to this admittedly tentative deal, Biden gave way to that series of popular and necessary national commitments, including free community college and expanded health care provision, but stood firm in the mood. Now it stands as the largest single component of the entire bill, and that represents a great victory for the environmental movement. He has persuaded one of the two major American parties to recognize that climate is the dominant issue of the day.

Furthermore, the $ 555 billion should not be overlooked. I speak Thursday with Ben Rhodes, a former adviser to Barack Obama. In 2009, Obama set aside just $ 90 billion for climate-related actions. But even that sum worked wonders. Despite Trump’s “vociferous and delusional”, and despite his withdrawal from the Paris accords, Rhodes notes that the United States actually met its Paris goals in the Trump term.

That’s because Obama’s move had signaled where the economy was headed, setting in motion a shift that Trump couldn’t reverse: “Businesses were adjusting, markets were adjusting, money was moving.” Now, a decade later, “people are not building new coal plants in the United States; they are building wind farms and solar panels. “

Biden is sending a much bigger signal now. Combined with various executive actions that you can take as president, moves that you can make without the blessing of the Senate or Manchin or anyone else, the legislation should help keep America’s greenhouse gas emissions. half their levels from 2005 to 2030.

That can serve as a useful corrective to the view that America, and democracy itself, has become dysfunctional and ineffective in the face of an existential threat. Yes, a dictatorship like China can move faster: there is no senator from West Shanxi that Xi Jinping cares about. But it’s Europe, and if the Biden deal sticks, the United States is setting the pace. That, Rhodes adds, is due in part to the pressure to act on the climate that comes with an open civil society and a free press.

As for the motivation of a new generation, one that in 2020 supported Biden with the weather as its most animated theme, what happens next is partly in the hands of all those who campaigned so hard to get to this moment. They can regret everything that was left out of the bill, criticizing Manchin and Sinema, or they can celebrate what was left.

It is a partial victory, of course. Insufficient, inevitably. But the most powerful country in the world is about to take a big step forward. His ruling party decided that this was the only issue he could not compromise on. At a time when a lot of things are going in the wrong direction, we can allow ourselves a little cry of joy when something goes the other way around.

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