How the US Might Reach Biden’s New Climate Goal

Of course, we need to accelerate the rate of electric vehicle deployments in the first place. “One of the easiest ways to do that is use the muscle of the federal government to buy a lot of electric vehicles for the entire federal fleet,” says Hausfather. At the same time, he says, the consumer market for EVs is already taking off. “We’re seeing a real shift there. The amount of money being put behind electric vehicles is, to be honest, pretty staggering, especially compared to a few years ago,” he continues. “The fact that earlier this year, Tesla was worth more than all of the world’s oil companies combined is certainly a sign of—probably a bubble—but also where the market thinks the future of these technologies is going.”

A greener grid will also allow for the decarbonization of buildings. Instead of heating homes with natural gas, we’ll be more likely to heat them with renewable electricity. That will be especially beneficial if energy-hungry building systems like AC units run on renewables instead of electricity made by burning fossil fuels. Efficient temperature control will be all the more critical as climate change produces hotter heat waves and colder winter storms, putting more strain on heating and cooling systems.

Deploy the Civilian Climate Corps

When Biden unveiled his American Jobs Plan late last month, he called for a $10 billion investment in a new Civilian Climate Corps, a reboot of the New Deal–era Civilian Conservation Corps. “This $10 billion investment will put a new, diverse generation of Americans to work conserving our public lands and waters, bolstering community resilience, and advancing environmental justice through a new Civilian Climate Corps, all while placing good-paying union jobs within reach for more Americans,” the plan promises.

The idea is to better prepare communities for the ravages of climate change, for instance by restoring wetlands to act as natural flood protection systems. But the program could also help reduce climate change by cutting emissions. Workers could help construct the infrastructure for wind turbines and solar panels, for instance, or retrofit buildings to be more energy-efficient. Even something as simple as planting more trees in cities will help reduce emissions: More vegetation means better cooling, so residents don’t have to run air-conditioners as often.

“There’s plenty of important work that can be done,” says Hausfather. “It’s not all just building wind turbines and solar panels.”

There may be troubles with the Civilian Climate Corps right out of the gate, though. That $10 billion would fund maybe 200,000 workers total. By contrast, the original corps employed over 500,000 people at its peak, and 3 million total. Scaling that up for today’s population, the new Civilian Climate Corps would need to employ 9 million workers over its lifetime. There’s still some hope for that—Biden’s jobs plan is a wish list, not final legislation. Senator Edward J. Markey and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez actually introduced legislation this week calling for a Climate Corps that would employ 1.5 million people over 5 years.

Think Big, but Also Small

While we’re waiting for the Civilian Climate Corps to mobilize and for the national grid to green, states, cities, and even individuals can make seemingly small changes that add up to big transformations. Last month, for example, scientists ran a feasibility study that modeled what would happen if California covered all of its canals with solar panels. Someone would have to pay for all those solar panels, of course, and the researchers didn’t model potential side effects, like impacts on wildlife. But this relatively simple modification could have a big impact: The state would save 63 billion gallons of water from evaporating each year while generating half the new energy capacity it needs to reach its own decarbonization goals by 2030.

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