tl;dr: We have a lot of work to do and not much time to do it if we're going to meet our declared emissions goals.
One of the biggest wins of the year for climate change and sustainability was the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA). The IRA represents the largest climate investment from a single act ever in US history. It earmarks $369 billion in funding to tackle climate change and is a key tool in this administration’s quest to have national climate pollution levels drop to 3.3 billion tons of CO2e by 2030. Where did the 3.3 billion tons of CO2E come from? Well, it is 50% of the emissions from 2005, traditionally seen as the high water mark for emissions. The Biden administration has committed itself to reaching this goal and is also striving toward true net zero emissions by 2050.
In 2021, it is estimated that the US emitted 5.6 billion tons. So, we have 8 years left to get our emissions reduced by 2.3 billion tons. In the 16-year span from 2005 to 2021, we were only able to reduce our emissions by about a billion tons. The numbers tell us that we have to more than double our efforts and have half the time to do so. This is a very large ask for us to accomplish.
As I was talking to my wife about this post, we came up with the idea of comparing our work towards achieving the ambitious goal of emission reduction with the dynamics of a group project in school. 2022 was a mixed bag because, despite the IRA achievement, almost all of the other pieces of good news were international and not domestic. Our partners in the group project got a lot of their work done and we shared with the group….an aspirational outline.
What did the other group members accomplish so far? Well, as it turns out, quite a bit! Climate attribution is a huge thing, and it was accomplished at COP27, which almost no American knows anything about. The UN also took the first steps towards creating a global plastic treaty, which of course the US is not embracing. The US Plastics Council provided their “suggestions” on how to tackle this issue, which is to mimic the country-focused approach utilized in the Paris Climate Treaty. What is the benefit of this approach? Why, no enforcement mechanisms or consequences for missing deadlines! What I am saying is that the US seems to be really good at talking the talk, but not so good at backing it up. In the group project analogy, we want to audit the class while the rest of the world needs to be graded on it. What the US is missing is that we also need to be graded, but we just don’t like the rubric. Entitled much?
The passing of the IRA is the US telling the world that we’re really serious about tackling this issue. Not only are we ready to do something, but we are putting our money where our mouth is. I believe that no one can doubt that this is true, but what I do question is if we are truly able to spend that money wisely and in a manner that can actually achieve some incredibly challenging goals.
In the first week of the semester long project, the other countries started to work on their assignments. What did we do? Well, we essentially goofed off and got distracted by tiktok videos of animals dressed like people. Now, when the semester is just past the midterm, we’re suddenly motivated to catch up and still reach our deadline? The only way that we can do this is to pull a bunch of the proverbial “all-nighters” and we just don’t have the collective national will to do so.
So, for 2023, we need to get ready to start putting in a lot more work than we have ever done. I mean ever. I'm talking about work on a scale that most generations of Americans have never known. The closest comparison to the level commitment and sacrifice required that I can think of is WWII, when rations existed, Rosie the Riveter helped build the required weaponry, and men were drafted to serve and put their lives on the line. With this level of commitment, it doesn’t look like 2023 is going to be a very fun year for us. That might be true, but how bad would it be to be one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t meet it’s 2030 goal? Look, we can’t have our cake and eat it, too. We lollygagged for more than a decade, and now we have to pay the piper for our inaction.
For many people, the new year is a time to make resolutions about changing their behaviors and making fresh starts. This is the perfect time to start living a consciously sustainable life, because that is the only way that we can reach our goals. Let’s not be like Van Wilder or Tommy Boy who stay in school forever because they can’t seem to get their work done on time. Instead, let’s really learn something and go to the graduation party with our friends, head held high that we did our part, too.