How About Spending $1 Trillion for Climate Defense?

October 13th, 2021 - by Meteor Blades / Daily Kos Staff Emeritus

We Budget $1 Trillion a Year on National Defense.
Why Not Invest a Trillion on Climate Defense

Meteor Blades / Daily Kos Staff Emeritus 

(October 11, 2021) — As you may have heard, we have a very short time left to stop everything we’re doing that has us on a trajectory toward intolerable temperatures and a plethora of other impacts that the timid term “climate crisis” inadequately describes. To defend ourselves and other species from the growing perils that our greed and environmental recklessness have generated, we need immediate action yesterday. Not exactly news, I know.

In fact, more than 30 years of yesterdays ago, the warning went out from a few scientists that waiting years to take steps to deal with climate changes caused by human behavior would mean that future actions would have to be more hurried, more draconian. And here we are, just as they said.

As blogger Pakalolo wrote recently, these are our final precious moments to take actions that have at least a chance of softening the worst impacts of the disruption we humans have wrought and continue to feed with the greenhouse gas emissions of our energy, industrial, agricultural, and transportation systems.

Which brings us to the US Congress and the social infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden and other Democratic leaders hope can be passed despite having no Republican votes.

Just 11% of the Pentagon budget could provide
renewable energy for every US home.

The top-line of the bill started out at $3.5 trillion. Faced with the tightest of Senate margins and a few stubbornly backward Democrats determined to use the leverage that margin gives them to whack big chunks off the bill, the Biden administration has accepted slashing its original figure to around $2 trillion. Which means Sen. Joe Manchin only has to agree to add another half-trillion to his alternative proposal of $1.5 trillion.

Meanwhile, Biden and the scores of supportive congressional Democrats will have to swallow $1.5 trillion in cuts from theiroriginal proposal.

The details are yet to come. But it’s obvious that climate-related measures will receive a lot less than half of that $2 trillion since other crucial items in the bill also need funding. From this story, you can get a sense of what specific items may get slashed or spared.

Suppose, however, that $1 trillion got approved for climate. Since it’s planned for the money to be allocated over a decade, that works out to $100 billion a year. A laughable amount far from able to accomplish the desperately needed acceleration of the green transformation already underway. As inadequate as that would be, the final actual figure might well be just $50 billion a year.

Politicians across the spectrum have no problem voting every year for a trillion-dollar defense budget (the annual total when the Veterans Administration is included). But propose a matching trillion dollars a year invested in climate defense? Outrageous, they will say. “Fiscal insanity” as Manchin would have it.

So instead of really stepping up to what is required, the bill we finally get—assuming we do get it—is likely to provide 10% as much for climate defense as gets turned over to the Pentagon every year. You can count on some politicians to argue that if 10% isn’t enough, more funding can be added later.

That’s supremely optimistic whether we’re talking climate matters or other elements of the soft infrastructure included in the bill, like childcare or pre-K funding. The odds are against getting a second bite anytime soon, as was the case with any second economic stimulus under President Barack Obama.

Obviously, we’re not going to get anywhere near a trillion a year for climate defense. We climate hawks are told—as we have been for decades—to be realistic and patient. The problem is that the political reality of the Senate margin doesn’t mesh with the reality of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that labels our current situation as “code red for humanity.”

The counsel of delay is a favorite of those in Congress who pretend they accept what climate scientists are warning us about but don’t act like it. If they really trusted the warnings, they would be demanding the president call a climate emergency and scrambling to take immediate action. They don’t. That delay is just another form of denial.

Six years ago in the first Democratic presidential nominee debate, when each candidate was asked what they thought was the biggest national security threat, Sen. Bernie Sanders did not hesitate: “The scientific community is telling us if we do not address the global crisis of climate change, transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to sustainable energy, the planet that we’re going to be leaving our kids and our grandchildren may well not be habitable. That is a major crisis.”

We’re further along the trajectory to disaster than in 2015 when he caught flak for saying what he did. And yet we still have a number of Democrats in Congress (and it’s more than the two obvious ones) who show by their tepid addressing of climate change that they just don’t get it.

The only path to more aggressive measures on climate is electing more candidates who do get it. However, that path is strewn with countless obstacles, including, of course, the shameless Republican leaders who are jack-hammering democracy.

As Ezra Klein writes, now “might be the high-water mark of power [Democrats will] have for the next decade.” But fight we must, no matter how slim the odds in our favor.