Why the Coming Months Will Be Critical for Biden’s Climate Plan

There’s potential political trouble on the horizon for the president.,

There’s potential political trouble on the horizon for the president.

We’re also covering wildfires, a big solar energy project in coal country, and religious faith and climate science.

ImagePresident Biden at the United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow in November.
President Biden at the United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow in November.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

President Biden couldn’t persuade Congress to pass major climate legislation in 2021, and it looks like his plans to slash America’s planet-warming pollution could face an even harder path this year.

That’s because the Build Back Better Act, the president’s top legislative priority, faces an uncertain future in Congress. Experts say the $555 billion in clean energy tax incentives the bill currently includes will be necessary to meet Biden’s target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions this decade by at least 50 percent from 2005 levels.

Democrats have vowed to push forward with the climate package. But midterm elections loom, making negotiations a challenge. If Republicans, who are unanimously opposed to the package, win a majority in one or both houses of Congress in November, prospects for passing big climate legislation will all but vanish. The Supreme Court this year also could move to restrict the government’s authority to cut emissions from power plants, potentially wiping out a powerful regulatory tool.

Those challenges will make the next few months critical to secure the safety of the planet as well as Mr. Biden’s climate legacy, analysts said.

Quotable: “If they can’t pull this off, then we failed; the country has failed the climate test,” said John Podesta, a former senior counselor to President Barack Obama.

Climate change is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet, the Times editorial board writes.


Credit…Chona Kasinger for The New York Times

Writing about Western wildfires and climate change in recent years, I’ve spent some time in burned-out forests. They always look the same: dead, blackened trees everywhere, soil covered in a deep layer of ash, hardly a living thing in sight.

But when I recently visited a Nature Conservancy preserve in Oregon that had been burned in the huge Bootleg fire in July, things were different. There were stands that had been virtually incinerated, sure, but in other areas green, living trees far outnumbered the burned ones.

Conservancy officials are starting research to study in detail why some areas fared better than others. But they’re pretty sure they already know a large part of the answer. They have been thinning and conducting controlled burns in parts of the preserve for nearly two decades, part of a program to better understand how those forest treatments can reduce the intensity of wildfires. And in what became a real-life experiment, the treated areas, particularly one that was both thinned and burned, largely survived.

My article gives more details. Be sure to take a look at the drone videos, by Chona Kasinger, that show treated and untreated forests side by side. The change from black to green is astonishing.

Why it matters: Global warming worsens drought and extreme heat, which make forests burn more easily.


Plans for a solar power project in Martin County, Ky.Credit…Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times

Given its historical dependence on coal mining, Appalachia might not seem like the most hospitable spot for a big green energy farm. But in Martin County, in Eastern Kentucky, a big solar project has been approved for the top of an abandoned strip mine.

Developers of the project, which may well be the biggest coal-to-solar project in the country, have also pledged to hire former coal miners to do the installation. While the overwhelming majority of the jobs will be temporary, the developers say there’ll be other opportunities as other new solar sites come to the region.

Several former coal miners I met in the county, which suffers from high unemployment and poverty, wholeheartedly supported the new solar farm. They said investment of any sort was good, and one former miner said he liked that it would help fight climate change. You can read the article here.

Quotable: “I would’ve been run out of the coal fields had I tried to do this six to 10 years ago,” said Adam Edelen, the local developer for the solar project.


Credit…Photo illustation by Br?ulio Amado

By The New York Times

Science has become so politicized that the descriptors typically used to describe Katharine Hayhoe, evangelical Christian and climate scientist, can register as paradoxical.

Despite that, Hayhoe, the chief scientist for the Nature Conservancy and a professor of political science at Texas Tech University, has become a leading voice for climate activism and an advocate for communicating across ideological, political and theological differences.

“For many people now, hope is a bad word,” Hayhoe told our colleague David Marchese at The New York Times Magazine. “They think that hope is false hope; it is wishful thinking. But there are things to do — and we should be doing them.”

Hayhoe spoke to Marchese about science and faith, the politicization of religion in America, and much more. You can read their conversation here.

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