Washington Weekly: August 25, 2021
The Past Week in D.C.
Updates from Congress:
- Yesterday, after days of negotiations with moderate members of the party, House Democrats passed the $3.5 trillion budget blueprint that would drastically increase the country’s social safety net and provide critical funding for climate change measures.
- The budget plan passed 220-212 along party lines, and allows Democrats to move forward with passage of a bill through the reconciliation process — which would require no Republican votes — once legislation is crafted.
- In order to overcome a temporary revolt by conservative-leaning Democrats, Speaker Pelosi — whom President Biden later called “masterful” in her negotiation tactics — and other Democratic leaders agreed to vote on the infrastructure bill by September 27.
- While this was a significant step for Democrats, they are not over the finish line yet, as moderates have already called for the September 27 infrastructure vote to be a stand-alone process, while progressives still consider the two measures linked, signaling that they will only vote for the infrastructure bill once the reconciliation bill is passed. In the Senate, Democrats also must keep all 50 Senators aligned, including moderates Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Krysten Sinema (D-AZ), both of whom have referenced concern over the steep price tag.
- Yesterday, House Democrats also passed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to secure and strengthen voting rights in our country. Unfortunately, the much-needed legislation to combat anti-voting rights packages in Republican-led state legislatures across the country faces an all but certain Republican filibuster in the Senate, likely precluding it from becoming law.
Last week, in a huge win for the environment, a federal judge in Alaska blocked construction permits for a multi-billion dollar oil drilling project in the state’s North Slope, called Willow, that would have produced 100,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 30 years. Construction had been approved by the Trump administration and then legally supported by the Biden administration. In blocking the construction, the judge cited environmental concerns, stating that the government had failed to take into account how the project would impact local wildlife and the effect that burning oil would have on global warming.
Michigan LCV Analysis: What does this mean for Michigan?
Last week, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, commonly known as UNICEF, released its first ever Children’s Climate Risk Index report, providing a comprehensive look at children’s exposure to climate change impacts, and the risks associated. The report, the first of its kind, ranks countries based on children’s risk of exposure to climate-induced threats, as well as the ability of local services and governments to support and aid those who experience frequent environmental hazards.
Unsurprisingly, smaller, poorer countries, largely in Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, have the highest percentage of climate risk, exposure to environmental “shocks” (i.e. major unexpected weather events), and child vulnerability, despite large, wealthy nations emitting the vast majority of carbon that leads to global warming. Children in wealthy nations, however, are far from immune — including in the United States. In fact, U.S. kids, as well as those in China and other powerful countries, are at “extremely high” risk of exposure to climate and environmental shocks, according to the report.
The top-line global numbers from the report are drastic and shocking: approximately 1 billion children (half of the children in the world) live in countries with extremely high risk to climate change impacts; 330 million children (one-in-seven kids worldwide) risk exposure to at least five major climate and environmental hazards/risks (including flooding, fire, drought, and extreme weather); 920 million children globally (nearly one-third) are exposed to water scarcity; and 600 million (roughly a quarter of children alive today) risk extreme exposure to diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.
And remember, these numbers don’t capture the obvious fact that the planet may be uninhabitable when children alive today reach old age without drastic change immediately. This reality has led a growing number of young adults to forgo having children altogether, citing the immorality of bringing a human into a world that may be destroyed during their lifetime.
While adults across the world have thus far been unable to come together to address this disastrous situation, largely for political reasons, some children are taking matters into their own hands — led, in many ways, by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who has become the face of global youth climate activism. Greta, who rose to prominence when, at 15, she began protesting outside the Swedish parliament calling on lawmakers to take stronger action on climate change, has now created an international youth movement called Fridays For the Future. Last week, she wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times in response to the world’s shock at the recently released U.N. climate change report, stating: “Young people have been sounding this alarm for years. You just haven’t listened.”
Examples of young people in Michigan (and many other states) joining this youth global climate movement abound. Dolores Perales, a recent college graduate who grew up in a Southwest Detroit community surrounded by industrial facilities and diesel trucks, is now the Environment and Community Sustainability Specialist for Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision. Her work and advocacy earned her the 2021 Young Climate Leader Award from the Michigan Climate Action Network. Naina Agrawal Hardin (a past speaker at Michigan LCV’s annual “Environment and Equity” event), is joining with partners to lead student strikes, organize to educate the public and demand climate action now, and hold decision makers accountable.
As adults, we owe it to young people, who already face the difficulties and anxieties of childhood, now coupled with the many uncertainties and fear navigating COVID-19, to come together to address climate change now. While yesterday’s passage in the House of the $3.5 trillion budget plan that would provide critical funding to combat climate change was a step in the right direction, the pace of negotiations, and the need for partisan passage of any climate funding, remains extremely frustrating.
Greta Thunberg’s movement and the efforts of Dolores Perales, Naina Agrawal Hardin, and so many more will continue to have significant impact. Yet, much of their work comes from young people who cannot yet vote, let alone hold office.
With it now abundantly clear that near simultaneous passage of both an infrastructure bill and reconciliation bill is our best and most straightforward path to make significant progress on climate change in the short term, lawmakers in D.C. must put politics aside, be the adults in the room, and act. Our kids are counting on us.
A Deeper Dive
The Center for American Progress has an excellent twitter thread today showing Senator Schumer’s breakdown of the combined impact of the reconciliation & infrastructure bills on climate change (see graphic below). The thread also links to additional resources providing more detail on some of the fundamental policy tools and investments outlined in these bills. The bottom line: these investments can reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 45% below 2005 levels by 2030.