Joe Biden, Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr / cropped from original / licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0, linked at bottom of article Joe Biden, Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr / cropped from original / licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0, linked at bottom of article

John Clarke on the Democrats’ inadequate Climate Bill and the need for the anti-capitalist left to pose a real alternative and build mass action to demand it

With great fanfare, the Biden administration’s climate bill has finally passed been passed by the Senate. Rather tellingly, the whole undertaking was delayed by months of deal making with ‘fossil-fuel friendly Democrats.’ The watered down Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA), will now face opposition from Republicans in the Congress and, without doubt, further efforts by powerful fossil fuel interests to dilute it and undermine its passage.

‘Bipartisan’ compromises are a major feature of US political life and the stock in trade of the Biden regime in particular. The massive weakening of the previous Build Back Better initiative, as it moved from a bold plan to a greatly diminished reality, is the clearest possible evidence of this. To assume that the IRA won’t suffer further reductions before it is passed into law would be politically naive. Indeed, last month, Biden acknowledged that “This bill is far from perfect. It’s a compromise. But it’s often how progress is made” and he opened the door for further concessions by declaring that “My message to Congress is this: This is the strongest bill you can pass.”

Let’s assume, however implausibly, that the IRA passes into law without any further loss of blood. On that basis, we can weigh claims that are being made regarding its effectiveness and adequacy against the many sharp criticisms that have been thrown at it. On the positive side, there has certainly been a predictable wave of optimistic and enthusiastic responses to the long awaited deal.

“This bill will really turbocharge that transition to clean energy…Increasingly I’m more optimistic that keeping the temperature rise under 2C is more reachable,” declared Anand Gopal, executive director of policy at Energy Innovation. Leah Stokes, a climate policy expert at the University of California, was even more effusive, saying “This bill includes so much, it comprises nearly $370 billion in climate and clean energy investments. That’s truly historic. Overall, the IRA is a huge opportunity to tackle the climate crisis.”

Green capitalism

An accurate assessment of the extent to which the IRA will address the climate crisis must hinge on whether the measures taken are adequate to contain the effects of climate change and also on whether the directions it takes offer a meaningful basis for creating a sustainable relationship between human societies and the natural world.

It is suggested that, if implemented, the bill could lead to the reduction of US carbon emissions ‘by between 31% and 44% below 2005 levels by 2030.’ However, the thrust of the measures that are being adopted is not to challenge and contain fossil fuel companies but to coax them in a co-operative effort to create a greener capitalism. ‘Much of the bill is really tax credits to companies to invest in clean energy projects.’ The focus isn’t on ‘direct public investment in climate projects but incentives to the private sector to do the right thing. The capitalist sector is being left to deliver on these targets.’

A wide range of environmental advocates and community representatives have offered scathing responses to the Biden initiative. “Solving the climate crisis requires eliminating fossil fuels, and the Inflation Reduction Act simply does not do this,” said Steven Feit, senior attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law (Ciel). An analysis by the Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) concludes that bill will further “the expansion of fossil fuels and unproven technologies such as carbon capture and hydrogen generation – which the bill will incentivise with billions of dollars of tax credits that will mostly benefit oil and gas.”

Jean Su, from the Center for Biological Diversity, described the bill as “a deal which sacrifices so many communities and doesn’t get us anywhere near where we need to go, yet is being presented as a saviour legislation.” Su added that “The IRA is a huge step towards creating a green capitalist industry that wrongly assumes the economic benefits will trickle down to low-income communities and households.” There was also outrage that the bill includes ‘a slew of concessions to the fossil fuel industry, including mandating drilling and pipeline deals that will harm communities from Alaska to Appalachia and the Gulf coast and tie the US to planet-heating energy projects for decades to come.’

The assumption underlying the IRA that capitalism that chart a green course and establish an environmentally friendly form of global exploitation is, of course, in line with the prevailing agenda. The dominant approach is to promote ‘tech fixes’ for the climate crisis. The thinking of the highly influential Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for example, has been shaped by notions of carbon capture and storage. ‘At last year’s Glasgow COP26 meetings on the climate crisis, U.S. envoy and former U.S. secretary of state John Kerry stated that solutions to the climate crisis will involve ‘technologies we don’t yet have’ but are supposedly on the way.

At the same time as dubious tech fixes are advanced in place of timely and adequate measures of emission curtailment, fossil fuel interests and their political enablers offer strategies for transition from carbon that evade the changes that must be made and that will not avert climate disaster.

The World Rainforest Movement makes the argument that such an approach ‘is largely about substituting some of the fossil fuel sources with so-called renewable energy sources…certifying and promoting some energies and industrial processes as ‘green,’ ‘sustainable’ or ‘carbon neutral.’ Such a course, however, ‘does not even start to challenge any of the root problems of the climate and environmental crisis’ and provides ‘a green camouflage for a more destructive capitalism.’ This is precisely the direction being taken by Biden’s climate bill.

Eco-socialist model

A realistic approach to the climate crisis must take fully into account the destructive logic of capitalist accumulation and the level of seriousness of the crisis it has brought us to and it goes without saying that no such perspective is remotely possible from the Biden administration. In the competitive scramble to maximise profits that is fundamental to capitalism, the natural world and its resources are as expendable as the workers who produce those profits.

The only viable course that can address the present crisis and the factors that have created it, must be based on posing a clear anti-capitalist alternative. This will require bold demands and powerful mass action that takes up the fight for immediate measures of mitigation, while struggling for a just and rational society that can act in ways that are in harmony with nature. We must greatly increase the pace of reducing carbon emissions, ensure fossil fuel deposits are left in the ground, address the vast global inequalities that underlie the climate crisis and fight for a just and effective process of transition that is based on the needs of workers and communities, instead of the profits of the capitalists.

The problem with the Biden bill is not simply that it is too little, too late but that it is actually part of the ‘green camouflage’ that is being used to protect fossil fuel interests, as they continue down their destructive path. Crude climate denial is no longer possible in the face of overwhelming evidence of an intensifying ecological disaster. The strategy now is to play for time, by offering false assurances and ineffective measures, so as to maintain the flow of short term profits, regardless of the inevitable consequences. If, in such a dire situation, if we place our trust in the ‘solutions’ that come out of the White House, the corporate boardrooms or from the apostles of green capitalism, we will be making a terrible mistake.

Help fund the fight for socialism

Counterfire is growing, but we want revolutionary socialist organisation in every corner of the UK. We’ve launched a crowdfunder to employ more organisers, put on more events and produce more publications. Please help us reach our target and donate today.

John Clarke

John Clarke became an organiser with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty when it was formed in 1990 and has been involved in mobilising poor communities under attack ever since.