Inflation Reduction Act puts our oldest climate-fighting technology to work
This article is lifted in its entirety from The Hill where it was published yesterday. The author is Jad Daley, president and CEO of American Forests, the nation's oldest conservation organization. I happily purloin it as a contribution to readers of The Daley Almanac.
The Senate’s passage of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, the most comprehensive climate legislation in U.S. history, puts our nation on track to fight climate change from every angle. You might have already heard about how the bill would take an economy-wide approach to cutting emissions, speeding the clean energy transition and helping American families make the shift to low-carbon and money-saving technologies. What you might not know is how this new legislation will also ramp up our oldest climate-fighting technology — trees — to naturally scrub carbon emissions from the air while revitalizing American communities and creating jobs.
Yes, the humble, familiar tree is our best existing natural carbon storage solution, and a recent Pew Research Center poll found that 90 percent of Americans embrace planting trees as way to fight climate change. No wonder, considering that two of the most pressing climate threats to our communities — extreme heat and wildfire — both connect to trees.
Climate change is costing lives
The extreme heat that has killed thousands of Americans over the last few summers is being fueled by climate change — and will continue to worsen. One study from Duke University projects that heat-related deaths in the United States, already 12,000 per year today, could rise to nearly 100,000 annually by the end of the century if we do not act to make our communities more heat-resilient with ready tools such as tree canopy.
Our wildfire crisis is also being fueled by climate change, which is drying and killing our forests with unprecedented speed. Forests of sick and dead trees are like a tinder box waiting for a spark, which climate change also provides in the form of increased lightning storms. It is no surprise that climate change has already doubled the number of acres burned in the western U.S. just in the last two decades. And it’s only going to get worse without intervention.
We have the power to fight back on these climate threats, but we must make the right investments in planting trees and caring for our forests. The Inflation Reduction Act answers this call.
Harnessing the power of trees
Treeless neighborhoods are not just unsightly — they can be more than 20 degrees hotter, adding dramatically to health risks in those neighborhoods. And just consider that trees in our communities already reduce energy use for home heating and cooling by more than 7 percent, saving homeowners over $7 billion annually. This means that we can save lives, greenhouse gas emissions and money by planting trees and improving tree care in the neighborhoods that need cooling shade the most. The Inflation Reduction Act meets this challenge at a truly historic level, providing $1.5 billion over nine years for urban and community forestry grants to cities and their partners through the U.S. Forest Service.
We can also fight back on wildfire with smart investments that keep our rural forests and communities healthy and resilient. Climate-stressed forests can be managed in ways that will reduce their vulnerability to drought, pests and wildfire. This begins with using selective, science-based thinning of forests combined with carefully-managed prescribed fires that reduce the amount of woody, flammable fuel on the forest floor. The Inflation Reduction Act steps up here, too, with $2.15 billion to treat America’s 193 million acres of national forests, focusing on the most flammable areas near our communities and protecting our priceless old-growth forests such as those containing Giant Sequoias.
Capturing carbon on all lands
This monumental climate-fighting legislation is historic not only for the investments above, but because it magnifies the carbon-storing power of healthy forests on both public and private lands. The Inflation Reduction Act includes $1.15 billion for grants and incentives to permanently conserve private working forests from development and help manage them in ways that will capture and store more carbon in forests and forest products.
This investment has incredible potential to help slow climate change when you consider that America’s forests already capture roughly 17 percent of our carbon dioxide emissions annually, and over half of our forests are in private hands. Giving private landowners financial tools to turn their forests into lasting natural carbon sinks is a great way to increase the climate-fighting power of forests. It will also help maintain all of the other public benefits that come from well-managed private forests, like clean water.
On a dollar-for-dollar basis, these forest investments in the Inflation Reduction Act offer some of the most effective measures for protecting America from climate change while reducing their energy costs, boosting carbon storage and creating lots of jobs in the process. In fact, a study from the Political Economy Research Institute found that investments in the “natural infrastructure” provisions of the bill, like forests, will create 600,000 jobs over the next decade.
America owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who led the cause for forests in her role as chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. We also owe thanks to the additional 47 “yea” votes from senators (and Vice President Kamala Harris), who got it right on the urgency to reduce emissions and strengthen natural climate solutions across the board. As this historic legislation moves to the U.S. House, our representatives should move quickly to add their “yea” to start delivering economic and environmental solutions for America.
Jad Daley is president and CEO of American Forests, the nation’s oldest conservation organization. Follow him on twitter: @JadDaley.