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Spend money now, save money (and ourselves) later

It will save both money and lives to act swiftly and boldly against climate change. And yet, even elected officials who acknowledge the overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change is real and caused by human activity are refusing to support necessary policies. 

Even setting aside the intrinsic value of a healthy planet, quality of life and human lives, it will be terrifyingly expensive to recover from increasingly frequent and extreme weather events. Researchers at the Rocky Mountain Institute have estimated that failing to act on climate change will cost up to $17 trillion by 2050. Spending $3.5 trillion to prevent that is cheap.

In 2005, following a trio of devastating hurricanes, one of which was Katrina, the United States federal government appropriated more than $100 billion. In 2015, after Hurricane Sandy, it appropriated $48 billion. But looking solely at thhttps://energypost.eu/e government’s direct spending ignores the larger economic impact of these extreme weather events. Katrina cost the U.S. economy $320 billion; Maria cost $215 billion; Sandy and Harvey each cost $210 billion. Just in 2018, wildfires in California cost the U.S. economy $148.5 billion. In Texas, a heat wave caused a 36,000% increase in the cost of electricity, and less than two years later, a deep freeze produced $155 billion of damages. These extreme weather events are incredibly expensive, and scientists have been clear: climate change will make them more frequent and more severe.

Unfortunately, the devastation will not be limited to distinct events. Hotter weather in general will be extremely expensive for the U.S. economy and for individuals. Extreme heat puts pressure on the electricity grid, hurts crop yields, damages infrastructure and slows business and productivity. As climate change gets worse, we will need to build protective infrastructure, repair existing roads and bridges, relocate communities and more. We will probably also see more frequent pandemics. Each of these will cost immense amounts of money; it will be more expensive to wait for climate change to get worse than it will be to address it now.

In contrast to those enormous sums, the proposed cost of the Build Back Better Act is only $350 billion per year for the next decade—and that figure also covers education investments, housing programs, pandemic preparedness, workforce development and more. These are all important now and will be increasingly necessary as climate change worsens, but nonetheless, they are not climate-specific spending. 

The Build Back Better Act’s climate-specific spending includes, but is not limited to, establishing a Civilian Climate Corps to create jobs fighting climate change; investing in clean energy and electricity; funding climate research; reducing carbon emissions; preventing wildfires; improving coastal resiliency and ensuring clean water access. Each of these is crucial to reducing and mitigating the effects of climate change; they all have to be in the final bill.

Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have been the most public Democratic opponents of this bill and its cost. Debating the number 3.5 trillion may seem less cruel than stating exactly which lifesaving programs should be cut, but the fundamental points are not different. The elected officials who are refusing to support the Build Back Better Act should have to make it clear to the country which specific programs they believe are unnecessary, and why. When scientists are so unanimously agreed on the causes, effects and costs of climate change, our representatives should not be able to easily avoid their responsibility to act.

Senator Manchin has a difficult path to victory in 2024. His 2018 election win was already quite close, and now he will be running for re-election for the first time since Republicans in West Virginia gained a voter registration advantage. But it is unlikely that voting against this bill will solve his problems in the state. Furthermore, the proposed Build Back Better Act includes widely popular provisions that could help Manchin if he chooses to embrace them. It will require powerful and careful messaging, but it is not impossible.

The politics surrounding Senator Sinema’s refusal to support this bill are less clear. Arizona is not a Republican state and its demographics are quickly becoming more favorable for Democrats. In fact, her continued opposition is likely jeopardizing her ability to survive a primary challenge. Her “strongly approve” rating among Arizona Democrats is about one-fifth that of Senator Kelly (D-AZ) and President Biden. What is stopping her from acting in the best interest of our lives, economy and planet?

Climate activists, like those in the Sunrise Movement, first demanded $10 trillion in investments toward a green economy. The $3.5 trillion price tag already represents a significant compromise. Now, however, conservative Democrats like Manchin, Sinema and a few in the House of Representatives are pushing for only $1.5 trillion. These smaller and smaller commitments to adapting to and reversing climate change are unacceptable.

So, is $3.5 trillion a lot of money? Yes. Is it potentially difficult to justify to conservative constituents? Yes. But will it save money and lives? Absolutely. 

It is the job of elected officials to make tough decisions for the wellbeing and long-term survival of our country and planet. It is a dereliction of their duty to willfully ignore scientists’ warnings and put us in danger.

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