The world is racing toward the edge of a cliff, and it is looking to the U.S. for how to act.

The question is, is the clear necessity for climate action enough to convince our leaders to build a stronger, healthier future, or will we let the ground disappear beneath us?

Or to make the question less abstract, will enough members of Congress take this last, best chance at enacting meaningful climate policies and take the world off its path to a bleak future?

‘KNIFE’S EDGE’

It could not be more urgent. The burning of fossil fuels is raising global temperatures exactly as scientists said it would, causing heatwaves, wildfires, floods, droughts and more frequent severe storms.

But the intensity of nature’s response to higher temperatures has been beyond what the models have predicted. Case in point: The “heat dome” that pushed temperatures so high earlier this year in the Pacific Northwest, causing death and devastation.

It’s a frightening development, and every bit of carbon released by fossil fuels makes it worse. If the effects of climate change can already be so terrible — so costly in dollars, lives and livelihood — then what is in store for our future?

We don’t have to find out. For the sake of literally billions of people, we simply can’t.

“We are on a knife’s edge,” renowned climatologist Michael Mann told the Editorial Board last week.

Mann was not only referring to our choices as the world races toward the cliff’s edge, but the political situation in Congress as well.

WHAT’S IN IT

Democrats are now shepherding two pieces of legislation through Congress, the infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better Act, also known as the budget reconciliation bill.

The infrastructure bill, which passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote, contains a number of climate initiatives itself.

But the consequential policies are set aside for the budget reconciliation package. It’s likely Democrats will have to pass it, and it will take nearly every one of them.

That has set up a struggle between progressives who want to capitalize on this opportunity not only to address the climate crisis but to finally give significant support to families, and centrist members who want to take the win on the infrastructure bill, and who balk at the reconciliation bill’s price tag.

The Democrats can’t let this chance get away. The two bills together address a lot of problems facing families across the country in ways that would make us stronger.

But if they pass absent meaningful climate legislation, the results could be catastrophic.

CLEAN ENERGY

Along with mechanisms for strengthening the social safety net and improving access to child and elder care, the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, in its most robust version, would speed up the conversion to an emissions-free economy.

The most important policy put forth by House Democrats is the Clean Electricity Performance Program, or CEPP, which would issue grants to utilities if they increase their year-to-year share of clean energy, and fines if they don’t.

With stringent standards on what qualifies as clean energy, the CEPP could make a real difference in shifting the grid off of fossil fuels. It would also add millions of jobs and hundreds of billions of dollars to the economy.

Other items included in the bill, such as money for home energy conservation and electrification, and for electric passenger and heavy-duty vehicles, and financing for green energy projects, would all do good, if not quite enough.

There are other good ideas under consideration. A price on carbon, for example, likely is part of any successful plan to curb fossil fuels.

But the politics of carbon pricing mean it may be a better fit for a later, bipartisan bill.

Whatever the case, congressional Democrats can’t be too rigid. No one is going to get everything they want. But they absolutely must pass something meaningful.

‘RIGHT NOW’

As Mann told us, “We’ve got to get what we can get right now.”

Failure this year should be unthinkable. This climate legislation could be the last we see for a while. Republicans likely will take over one, if not both houses of Congress in the midterms. A few centrist Republicans may be reachable when Democrats are in charge, but with the GOP running the legislative branch, climate action would be off the table.

It could be years, then, until what needs to be done is done — years in which we’ll be hit harder with severe weather, and move further down a path it’s hard to come back from.

Globally, too, climate action would regress, as other countries wonder why they should act when the world’s biggest economy isn’t doing the same.

Doing nothing now is no different than voting for more deadly heatwaves, wildfires and flash floods.

It is voting for catastrophe.


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