Can the U.S. deliver on a mega-plan? Is replacing cars with cars with a different power source a winning climate strategy?
President Joe Biden has been busy in the last few weeks. First came his $2 trillion infrastructure plan, officially titled the American Jobs Plan. A plan unrivaled in its scope since President Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930’s.
That was quickly followed by hosting a climate change summit for leaders from around the world. No small feat given that the U.S. has been absent from the world stage on climate for the previous four years. The previous White House occupant didn’t see it as a priority, or didn’t see it at all.
A few off the cuff thoughts on both.
In the abstract, there’s little to not like in Biden’s infrastructure plan. It hits the traditional hot spots like roads, bridges and airports. And it proposes getting rid of all the lead pipes that deliver water to homes, traditionally a state and local responsibility. Then it expands the definition to include stuff like taking care of caregivers and investing in high-speed broadband. Both make sense.
My concern is about classic overreach, can the U.S. government deliver on a plan of this magnitude? There will be more demand for money than can be accommodated. Every member of congress, all 535, will have pet projects of which some will be worthy, others not. How does that sort itself out? And let’s face it, the bureaucracy-laden U.S. government isn’t exactly a model of efficiency.
Republicans want to spend on infrastructure but on the traditional kind. They’ve floated an approximate $650 billion proposal which is a non-starter for the Biden administration. Let’s hope they can find a common ground that’s closer to what President Biden is proposing.
Then there’s climate change and it intersects with the president’s infrastructure plan.
The cornerstone of the Biden climate initiative seems to be electrification of the auto industry, replacing cars with cars with a different power source. Or better-said, replacing one bloated SUV and pickup truck with one that has a different power source.
Does that make sense? Not to me. It wreaks of having your cake and eating it too. Sounds like, let’s deal with the climate conundrum but without sacrificing anything from our comfy, consumption-focused lifestyles. I’m not sure nature will recognize the nuance.
All props to New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo for questioning if cars replacing cars makes sense as a way to deal with climate change. His column is here.
The wild-card in this is the Covid-19 pandemic. Not much of substance can take place until it’s extinguished and we’re not there yet. Even if some have declared victory.
Chicago-based environmental journalist