The Cold War began in an orgy of partisan recrimination. Who lost China? Russian atomic spies. Loyalty tests. McCarthyism. Yet out of that tumult came an enduring policy of containment, alliance and investment that led, ultimately, to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Today’s political environment is hardly less tumultuous. And the challenges America faces are as daunting as those that confronted the “greatest generation” — climate change foremost among them. Like our forebears, we must lay the foundations for a policy that will endure and defeat this global threat. To do so requires that we shut out the political noise and focus on what’s right for the long-term.
The climate-technology bill introduced by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) should become a building block of the durable policy we need. It deserves the support of everyone who understands the necessity of making radical reductions in global carbon emissions by 2050.
The Murkowski-Manchin bill would accelerate progress on key climate technologies that are close to becoming cost-effective, such as energy storage and carbon capture for natural gas power plants. It would authorize federal action for the first time on climate-tech that the world will need but hasn’t seriously begun to develop, for instance, systems to eliminate industrial emissions and remove carbon from the air. And it would strengthen the digital and organizational infrastructure upon which successful global deployment of climate-tech ultimately depends.
To be sure, Murkowski-Manchin will not establish a climate policy. It doesn’t mandate that climate-tech be adopted. It doesn’t put a price on carbon that would incentivize adoption. Nor is it a complete climate-tech bill. It doesn’t cover every climate challenge the world will need new technology to tackle.
But its passage would affirm the principle that the United States will fight climate change as it did the Cold War, by mobilizing America’s unique strengths in science, technology, entrepreneurship and innovation for the global good. That principle is supported by large bipartisan majorities in Congress and the public. It is a foundation stone upon which future Congresses can build.
And, let’s face it, the alternative is doing nothing. If the environmental left lets the perfect be the enemy of the good and opposes Murkowski-Manchin for doing too little, it will simply hand those who deny the reality of climate change a victory, since doing nothing is their preferred policy. Holding out for a transformative policy under a newly elected Democratic president would be a triumph of hope over experience. During the first Congress of President Obama’s tenure, a Senate with 60 Democrats failed to pass a cap-and-trade bill. He never got a second chance. Any policy that can endure to 2050 must have bipartisan support.
There is more than a chance that some who would prefer to do nothing will support Murkowski-Manchin and claim that that it is all that needs to be done. That claim must be resisted fiercely. This bill is a step forward, nothing more.
But nothing less, either. In the noisy, nasty political environment of 2020, it’s hard to pass up a chance to score political points. But for their own good and for the good of the planet, Democrats and environmentalists should resist that temptation and support this bill.
David M. Hart is a senior fellow at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), where he directs clean energy innovation policy, and a professor of public policy at George Mason University, where he directs the Center for Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy at the Schar School of Policy and Government.
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