The United States and Climate Action: What is Prioritized and What is Missing?

by Ashley Stagnari 


What You Can Do

  1. Vote at all levels! Environmental activism and proactivity are vital in pushing climate change mitigation policies forward; make your voice heard.  
  2. Contact your local and federal representatives through letters and online forums; question your representative and demand change where it is needed.
  3. Participate in clubs and enroll in classes where you can explore how your major intersects with climate change; effective policy is interdisciplinary and solicits knowledge from students studying an array of disciplines.  

The debate surrounding climate change has always been political. Whether it was questioning the role of anthropogenic activity on atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions or the entities responsible for environmental degradation, the aforementioned debate is complex. One facet that is certain is the role of policy in shaping the health of our planet and of future generations. Throughout past administrations, attitudes towards climate science have been in constant fluctuation. Now, with new leaders at the forefront of political action, it is important to reflect on the progress that has been made and where improvement is still needed.

Since taking office, President Joe Biden has commented on climate change and his administration’s plans to combat this crisis. When viewing climate action plans and pending legislation, is it essential to understand the motives behind the proposals and the affiliating frameworks and nomenclature.

At the beginning of 2021, President Biden noted the creation of the National Climate Task Force, an agency striving towards implementing climate action horizontally across the federal government [1]. Specific targets included protecting environmental quality, public health, and supporting economic development [1]. Such goals parallel current climate change frameworks such as the Sustainable Development Goals, which highlight the importance of meeting humanitarian and ecological needs [2]. Noting the intersection between environmental, social, and economic wellbeing is a vital thread spreading across international agreements on climate action. The question remaining is how much progress President Biden has made as we now settle into 2022.

One can begin understanding this debate by focusing on greenhouse gas emissions. In December of 2021, President Biden created an executive order prioritizing the federal government as an initial platform for implementing sustainability across the United States [3]. This initiative specifically involves catalyzing a transition to zero-emission operations in the realm of transportation and electricity [3]. Through the development of renewable energies in the automobile industry, the Biden administration seeks to tackle lowering carbon emissions through innovation. As a result of investing in renewable alternatives, the federal government is given an opportunity to divest from fossil fuels and reduce their impact on atmospheric warming.  

What are the challenges associated with these actions? While investing in the creation of renewable energy grids and electric cars is vital towards promoting climate change mitigation, economic and social disruptions are inevitable [4]. Like many of the international climate and sustainability agreements, ensuring just labor transitions and regional equitability is also essential. In this way, the financial power of the federal government is not one universally held by smaller governmental institutions or communities across the United States. As such, Congress should continue to take the necessary steps towards aligning the new Infrastructure Bill with regional climate action standards and future-thinking strategies.  

The change occurring at the federal level serves as a case study for when innovation meets environmental protection. For this reason, carefully selecting clean energy investments for smaller entities will help to reduce the carbon footprints of institutions across the states. Moreover, equipping companies at various levels with funding opportunities to meet net-zero emissions by 2050 as outlined by Biden’s climate plan should also remain a priority [1]. As a result of mobilizing climate action in both the federal and private sectors, the United States can create a workable system where greenhouse gas footprints can be monitored across entities. This emphasizes the point that there is no form of “one size fits all” legislation: each community and company has a specific impact on climate progression. However, creating effective standards and monitoring systems for the shared attributes like energy investments and carbon accounting at these levels holds significant potential.  

While new legislation in the forms of the Infrastructure Bill and the Build Back Better Framework are hopeful signs for a national commitment to climate action, various hurdles have yet to be overcome. Choices like opening offshore drilling stations tarnish President Biden’s actions to foster renewable energy development along the East Coast [5]. Actions like these continue to place a financial burden on growing clean energy grids and further contaminate the environment. After attending major events like COP26, formalizing decisions to support new fossil fuel extraction sites contradicts the United States’ prior commitment to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and its 1.5 degree Celsius warming warning as well as the goals outlined at this major conference.

The use of terms like “pollution-free,” “good-paying jobs,” and “ national resilience” in climate action plans are all promising when analyzed at face value [1]. However, what the United States needs to solidify now are strict metrics for greenhouse gas reductions, thorough transition plans for energy grid updates, and potent legislation that demands target dates from major polluting industries and facilities as large as the federal government.  

Climate change mitigation demands an interdisciplinary approach; new laws must consider the climate crisis as the fundamental lens behind incorporating stringent emission standards and green infrastructure development strategies. Pieces of legislation like the Infrastructure Bill and the Build Back Better Framework are not sufficient unless climate change proactivity is embedded within their core.  

Works Cited

Picture: brookings.edu

[1] https://www.whitehouse.gov/climate/

[2] https://sdgs.un.org/goals

[3] https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/12/08/executive-order-on-catalyzing-clean-energy-industries-and-jobs-through-federal-sustainability/

[4] https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2021/12/08/biden-government-purchasing-climate-change/

[5] https://abcnews.go.com/US/year-bidens-climate-record-mix-progress-inconsistency/story?id=82354202