In 2008, in the face of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, the Bush administration locked arms with a Democratic Congress to take a courageous step in the interest of the American people: abandoning stubborn dogma to pass a series of politically challenging tax and spending measures. The economy was saved, devastating unemployment made way to record job gains over the next decade, and our country moved forward on more solid economic footing.
Today, we face a crisis that similarly requires bold and courageous leadership to advance the interests of the American people. The growing threat of climate disruption is endangering our nation’s safety, economy and future.
This is no longer theoretical: In 2019, California’s largest utility went bankrupt due to liability from increasingly catastrophic fire seasons that are destroying entire communities and forcing lengthy blackouts for millions. Globally, we’re all witness to the devastation spreading across Australia as historic wildfires have killed dozens of people, forced widespread evacuations from the millions of burned acres of land, and spread smoke-filled fire clouds across the planet.
If we wait longer to act on climate, it will be too late. We need policies today that give us a lifeline to escape the climate crisis. Yet, just as the climate crisis worsens at home and abroad, the United States is poised to phase down one of the most proven and successful policies we have to reduce carbon pollution.
Clean energy tax incentives are phasing down over the next two years. Congress missed a key opportunity in December to stop or at least delay this phasedown.
Now is not the time to put clean energy technologies further out of reach for Americans by unraveling one of the few existing policies proven to drive clean energy investment and reduce carbon emissions. More than ever before, we need stronger tax incentives for clean and renewable energy like solar, wind, geothermal, fuel cells, electric vehicles and energy efficiency.
President Ronald Reagan once said, “If you want more of something, subsidize it; if you want less of something, tax it.” Clean energy tax incentives are a proven policy that have helped fuel incredible innovation and made technologies like solar more accessible and affordable.
Lower solar and wind energy costs have made them competitive with fossil fuels in much of the country. The renewable energy industry has created hundreds of thousands of good-quality, American jobs.
But we still have a long way to go. Solar supplies less than 3 percent and wind less than 7 percent of our nation’s electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
If we spend the next decade quibbling over policy preferences without action, we will lose the battle against climate change. Dwelling on ideological consistency of different solutions may make for good policy debates, but those differences become meaningless as carbon levels continue increasing, temperatures continue rising and the government and communities are forced to spend untold billions and trillions of dollars on disaster recovery and adaptation measures.
The future of our planet is on the clock. The scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that global net human-caused carbon emissions must reach “net zero” by 2050 in order to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The impacts of climate change compound the longer we wait, and if we don’t act well before 2030, it may be too late.
It is not clear when the stars will align for Congress to pass major climate legislation or even when our federal government will reassert its international leadership to address the threat of climate change that impacts all of us.
But if history tells us anything, it’s that in the face of a crisis, it’s necessary to take actions that work. That’s what Congress did for us to survive the Great Recession. And it’s what Congress must do today to solve the climate crisis.
Let’s preserve the only existing federal policy proven to reduce significant carbon emissions from power plants. Let’s do what we know works and take action today to drive even more investment into clean energy climate solutions.
Alex McDonough is vice president of public policy at Sunrun and former senior policy adviser for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
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