Assuring the Future of Our Economy – and Our Planet

Recently, I almost missed the implications of a major economic boon that will also give a huge boost to the imperative need to prepare for climate change – moving us closer to being the Magenta Nation of our dreams.

It’s a new bill that positions America to again become the world’s leading economy through leadership in green energy and fixing the gaps in our supply and transportation systems that have eroded over the years. I was most happy to see a way to turn the disaster of climate change into a viable economic opportunity. The newly funded initiatives build resilience for protection from disasters, clean up pollution, protect drinking water, repair and expand the electric grid, and revive and update public transportation. It will not only create new jobs but opportunities for American entrepreneurs and companies. The bill itself was even a potential sign of new opportunities to come—the Biden Administration and congressional Democrats worked with Republicans and gained support from thirteen of their number to pass the bill, a rare event in these modern polarized times.

Perhaps I missed the ramifications of this bill because of its misleading name – the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. “Infrastructure” must be one of the most boring words in the English language. The fact is, it’s the backbone of our economy – the means of transportation, communication and commerce. Ironically, because America was one of the first countries to develop its power grid and its internet capabilities, these systems are now outdated. This is why children can’t access online classes, why people in rural areas are shut out of remote work and telehealth, and why businesses everywhere are hobbled by supply chain issues and higher costs of doing business.

Overall, the bill will invest almost $1 trillion in our country’s roads, bridges, railways, and even Internet. More than $550 billion of that amount will include new spending over pre-existing spending levels for the next five years. Public transit, airports, seaports, and transportation safety programs will all see billions in funding infusion. Just as importantly, the bill goes beyond traditional infrastructure to strengthen core elements of what keep our society running: power infrastructure, resilience and storage for clean drinking water, and pollution removal from water and soil. It even includes investments in the infrastructure elements of the future in zero and low-emission cars, buses, and ferries. The bill’s funding will come from repurposed emergency relief funds from the COVID pandemic that weren’t spent, in conjunction with strengthened tax enforcement on cryptocurrencies.  

New spending is often seen as a kind of economic “shot in the arm” that will boost activity and growth, but infrastructure is a bit of a different beast. Spending on roads and bridges doesn’t happen at once—you need to identify projects considered “shovel ready”, or ready to be undertaken at that time, and even then it often takes more time to actually get such sizeable undertakings going. The bill’s $1 trillion budget is scheduled to be spent over the next five years, and the expanded timeframe will likely limit the visual economic impact in the short-term. But infrastructure shouldn’t really be intended to prioritize immediate impacts. By expanding and improving the figurative bones of our economy, infrastructure primes the pump for better potential growth in the future.

Biden’s infrastructure bill takes this focus on future growth a step further than many similar plans before it, by placing a specific emphasis on the issue of climate change in its objectives. Climate change is not a future threat to our prosperity—it already is one. Disasters linked to changing climates inflicted $95 billion in damages during 2020 alone, and that number is expected to be exceeded once the figures for 2021 are calculated. It’s too late to prevent climate change from harming our world, but the faster we take action, the more we can do to reduce the damage inflicted on future generations.

Climate actions broadly fall into two main categories: mitigation and adaptation.

Climate mitigation efforts seek to curb the emissions being put into the atmosphere to slow the growth of climate change, while adaptation initiatives strengthen our resilience to the impacts of climate change to reduce the damage we endure. The Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act takes aim at climate change through both kinds of programs, mixing mitigation and adaptation to achieve a greater effect.

On the mitigation front, $65 billion will be invested in improvements to the power grid that support the use of clean energy sources, while $7.5 billion is scheduled to build a national charging station network for electric vehicles. Another $55 billion for improved access to clean drinking water and $50 billion for climate resilience and weatherization programs headline the bill’s efforts to improve our adaptation to the changing environment, further supported by funding for community clean-up efforts after natural disasters and support for government agencies in reducing flood risk and wildfire forecasting.

Experts warn that the bill doesn’t do enough to curb emissions or meet the level of adaptation investment we will need to face the worst impacts of climate change—politics stepped in once again to water down many of the programs from the administration’s initial proposals. But even if it falls short of the mark, the infrastructure bill sets the stage for Phase 2 of our climate agenda in the Build Back Better Act, the next legislative step intending $555 billion for aggressive and targeted action to combat and control climate change.

This infrastructure spending is indeed an investment in the prosperity of our future.

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