Failure to pass Build Back Better would disillusion a generation of voters, and potentially fracture the Democratic party
Deep into the night last Friday, long past the hour when most Americans had ceased paying attention, Congress passed the $1.2tn bipartisan infrastructure bill otherwise known as the BIF. Its passage was heralded as a victory for President Biden, and the daily news chyrons dutifully marked a point in his column. But beyond the horserace myopia of the Beltway – and especially among young people – the news came tinged with the threat of disaster. Because for those of us interested in sustained human civilization on a habitable planet, the most relevant fact about the BIF is this: without consequent passage of the clean energy and social welfare bill known as Build Back Better, the BIF alone will exacerbate the climate crisis.
The reasons are manifold. The bill is riddled with exemptions and subsidies for corporations like ExxonMobil, whose lobbyists were caught bragging about their role in shaping the text. It invests in highways, bridges and airports that – in the absence of an aggressive drive to electrify cars and planes – will only add to emissions from the transportation sector. And the climate funding it does contain is focused not on drawing down emissions but on preparing Americans for worsening floods, fires and superstorms. If this is all we get, the message to young people is clear: Exxon will continue to be allowed to drown your homes, but not to worry, the government is investing in some life vests. Good luck!
Daniel Sherrell is the author of Warmth: Coming of Age at the End of Our World (Penguin Books) and a climate activist