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Air pollution is the worst pollution-related epidemic in the world and one of the biggest environmental issues of our lifetime, responsible for the death of at least seven million people every year. More than 90% of the world’s population currently lives in places where air quality levels exceed World Health Organization (WHO) limits. This poses huge health threats, including coronary and respiratory diseases, higher chances of cancer, and preliminary death. Though low-income countries – the majority of which are located in the Global South – are hit hardest by the effects of air pollution, the US suffers its fair share of health issues as well. Here are the most polluted cities in the US.

In early 2022, the American Lung Association published its annual State of the Air report on the most polluted cities in America, which analyses data from 2018-2020. The study found that 4 in 10 people in the US – amounting to about 135 million people –  currently live in places with unhealthy and polluted air. 

Caused by the burning of fossil fuels in power plants and motor vehicles, high ozone and smog, and climate change-induced weather events such as wildfires, air pollution has only been exacerbated by global warming changes with increased heatwaves and prolonged pollen seasons. 

The report has also found that people of colour are 61% more likely to live in a country or city with air pollution than Causasians, and are three times more likely to live in a place that has failed all three air quality thresholds established by the American Lung Association. 

You might also like: Effects of Air Pollution on the Environment

15 Most Polluted Cities in the United States in 2021

More than 20 million people, approximately 6.4% of the US population, live in one of the 15 countries where year-round particle pollution levels are worse than the national air quality limit. Here is a list of the 15 most polluted cities in the country according to particulate matter (PM 2.5) levels.

1. Bakersfield, California (annual PM2.5 of 17.6 μg/m3)

2. Visalia, California (annual PM2.5 of 16.6 μg/m3)

3. Fresno-Madera-Hanford, California (annual PM2.5 of 16.6 μg/m3)

4. San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, California (annual PM2.5 of 14.5 μg/m3)

5. Los Angeles-Long Beach, California (annual PM2.5 of 14.2 μg/m3)

6. Medford-Grants Pass, Oregon (annual PM2.5 of 13.9 μg/m3)

7. Fairbanks, Alaska (annual PM2.5 of 13 μg/m3)

8. Phoenix-Mesa, Arizona (annual PM2.5 of 12.8 μg/m3)

9. Chico, California (annual PM2.5 of 12.2 μg/m3)

10. El Centro, California (annual PM2.5 of 12.1 μg/m3)

11. Sacramento-Roseville, California (annual PM2.5 of 11.9 μg/m3)

12. Cincinnati-Wilmington-Maysville, Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana (annual PM2.5 of 11.6 μg/m3)

13. Indianapolis-Carmel-Muncie, Indiana (annual PM2.5 of 11.5 μg/m3)

14. Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton, Pennsylvania-Ohio-Wyoming (annual PM2.5 of 11.1 μg/m3)

15. Bend-Prineville, Oregon (annual PM2.5 of 11 μg/m3)

Air Pollution in California 

A stunning number of cities from the state of California have topped the rankings when it comes to air pollution, whether it be by year round particle pollution, by short term particle pollution, or by levels of ozone. 

For example, Los Angeles California, which has a population of 10,039,107, received a Grade F in the State of the Air report with its weighted average of 106.5 in air pollution. Outdoor air pollutants largely come from fossil fuel sources – California particularly has a massive car culture where a majority of Californians drive rather than take public transportation or walk. 

Wildfires in California are a big contributor to air pollution in the state. Areas like El Dorado and the Bay Area have suffered a number of deadly and devastating wildfires over the years. Smoke and carbon emissions from these forest fires released into the atmosphere, prolongs wildfire seasons in the region and worsen quality of air in the long run. 

You might also like: 4 Factors Affecting Air Pollution in California

How to Stem the Effects of Air Pollution

The Clean Air Act (CAA) is a comprehensive US federal law that regulates all sources of air emissions. It was first legalised in 1970, later establishing the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, which protects the public health and welfare by specifically regulating emissions of hazardous air pollutants. The landmark law has been able to stem air pollution levels from exponential increases, and it’s been projected that the CAA managed to prevent over 230,000 deaths and save nearly US$2 trillion in 2020 alone.

However, this alone does not solve the problem, especially as climate change and global temperature increase continues to grow. At the 2021 Climate Leaders’ Summit, President Joe Biden has pledged to cut US emission by half by 2030 from 2005 levels, as well as setting the target of reaching zero carbon emissions by 2050. Biden is taking a number of climate actions, including an executive order to make half of all new US cars and trucks to go electric by the end of 2030, to make those goals a reality.  The latest turning point came in mid-August, when the Biden administration signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law. The new bill will help the US reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by around 40% below 2005 levels by the end of the decade – a significant improvement over the current projections of 27%. This will undoubtedly put the country within the hailing range of its pledge to cut emissions by at least 50% by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050. In turn, the new bill would also significantly improve air quality and decrease the health risks for the general population. 

How Does Air Pollution Contribute to the Spread of COVID-19 in Societies

There’s been new research on the role of air pollution gases plays in the transportation of virus molecules. Preliminary studies have identified a positive correlation between COVID-19-related mortalities and air pollution, and the possibility of airborne particles assisting the viral spread. Similarly, long-term exposure to high levels of air pollution can be linked to more severe symptoms and worse health outcomes from COVID-19,  as well as a higher rate of mortality. 

You might also like: 15 Most Polluted Cities in the World

While the majority of fires throughout the history of the US have been started by careless human actions, they have in recent years become more ferocious because of the climate crisis. In fact, rising temperatures are making them more intense, frequent, and destructive. Here are 15 of the largest wildfires in US history.

1. The 2021 Dixie Fire, California

Following an unprecedented heat wave in June 2021, California was once again engulfed in raging wildfires. According to CalFire, the fire has burned more than 463,000 acres in Northern California, taking hundreds of buildings down with it and threatening nearly 14,000 structures. Experts have warned that the Dixie Fire’s dramatic growth and size are fuelled by severe drought conditions and global temperature increase. The Dixie Fire of 2021 was named the second-largest fire in California history.

2. The 2020 Bay Area Fire, California

Starting in the Bay Area, the Bay Area fire was one of the largest wildfire in US history and tore through parts of California, Oregon and Washington state. By September 15, they burned almost one million acres of land and killed at least 35 people. At one point, every 24 hours, an area the size of Washington DC was being burned. The North Complex fire alone was responsible for more than 300 000 acres of scorched land, killing 16 people in its wake. Five of the six largest blazes in the state were recorded in 2020. Meanwhile, Stanford researchers estimate that the smoke and resulting poor air quality eventually led to hundreds of excess deaths in California cities and across the west coast in Washington and Oregon.

worst wildfires in history

This wildfire map uses near and shortwave infrared data collected between July 24 and September 26th, 2020, to track changes in the landscape’s green spaces. The bar at the bottom measures the severity of the burns from the deadliest wildfire in US history (Source: Earth.Org). 

3. The 2018 Camp Fire, California

The Camp Fire was reported on November 8 2018 in Butte County. The fire grew rapidly and became the deadliest and largest fire in California history. It burned 153 336 acres, destroyed nearly 19 000 homes and killed at least 85 people. While it was contained on November 25, search and rescue efforts continued into December.

4. The 2017 Tubbs Fire, California

The Tubbs Fire started in October 2017 in Northern California and was one of more than 200 fires that hit the state that year. The wildfire burned more than 36 800 acres across Sonoma and Napa counties. The fire killed 22 people and destroyed thousands of homes; the city of Santa Rosa lost 5% of its housing stock.

You might also like: What Causes California Wildfires?

5. The 2013 Yarnell Fire, Arizona

The Yarnell Hill Fire started on June 28, 2013 in Yarnell Arizona. The wildfire is believed to have been started by a lightning strike and it burned more than 8 000 acres of land. The fire killed 19 firefighters, making it the deadliest and largest wildfire in Arizona history. 

6. 2004 Alaska Fire Season

The 2004 fire season in Alaska was the worst on record in terms of area burned by wildfires in the history of the US state of Alaska. More than 6.6 million acres of land were burned by 701 fires. 215 of these were started by lighting strikes; the other 426 were started by humans. The summer of 2004 was extremely warm and wet in comparison to typical interior Alaska summer climate, which resulted in record amounts of lighting strikes. After months of this lighting and increased temperatures, an uncharacteristically dry August resulted in the fires that continued through September. 

7. The 1991 Oakland Hills Fire, California

This famous wildfire started on the hills of Oakland, California on October 19 1991. It started as a wind-driven brush fire, but turned into a firestorm that tore through residential neighbourhoods and charred 3000 homes and apartment buildings. In just two days, the fire spread across 1 520 acres of land. 25 people were killed and at least 150 more were injured. 

8. The 1988 Yellowstone Fires

These fires collectively formed the largest wildfire in the recorded history of the Yellowstone National Park in the US. Spurred by drought conditions and winds, the fire quickly spread out of control and turned into one large fire that burned for several months. Only cool, moist autumnal weather extinguished the fires. A total of 793 880 acres, or 36% of the park, were affected by the fires. More than 9 00 firefighters fought the fires at its peak and at one point, more than 4 000 US military personnel were brought in to assist. 

9. The 1918 Cloquet Fire

On October 12, 1918, sparks from a railroad led to a wildfire in Carlton County, Minnesota because of extremely dry conditions. More than 250 000 acres of land was burned and at least 550 died, while a further 12 000 were injured or displaced. 

10. The Great Fire of 1910, Connecticut

Also called the Big Burn, Big Blowup or the Devil’s Broom fire, this wildfire roared through the states of Idaho and Montana during the summer of 1910. The fire burned for just two days, but strong winds caused the initial fire to combine with other smaller fires to form one massive blaze that destroyed 3 million acres and killed 85 people, making this one of the worst wildfires in Us history. 

You might also like: The Impact of Wildfires on Biodiversity and the Environment

11. The 1902 Yacolt Burn

This is the collective name for dozens of fires in Washington state and Oregon that occurred between September 8 and September 12 1902. They collectively caused 65 deaths and burned through 500 000 acres. In addition to careless human action, the summer of 1902 had been drier than usual and there was a build up of slash left from loggers that had not been burned off properly in the preceding two summers which acted as fodder for the fires. 

12. The 1871 Great Michigan Fire

In October 1871, the Great Michigan Fire started out as a series of smaller fires that merged. The fire ravaged the towns of Holland, Port Huron and Manistee, as well as the shoreline of Lake Michigan. The fire is estimated to have burned at least 3 900 square miles in Michigan and killed around 500 people.

13. The 1871 Peshtigo Fire, Wisconsin

The blaze started on October 8 1871 and burned around 1.2 million acres. At least 1 152 people were killed, making this the worst fire that claimed more lives than any of the other wildfires in US history. It happened on the same day as the Great Chicago Fire, which overshadowed the Wisconsin fire. 

14. The 1884 Great Hinckley Fire

In September 1884, the Great Hinckley Fire broke out near the town of Hinckley, Minnesota. At that time, trees were commonly stripped of their branches before cutting them down for lumber, but that left pine forests filled with dry, dead branches. This fuelled the fire and caused it to burn 250 000 acres in just four hours. Officially, 418 people were killed but historians believe that hundreds of Native Americans were killed and were left out of the fatality count.

15. The 1881 Thumb Fire, Michigan

One of the largest wildfires in US history started on September 5 1881 in the Thumb region of eastern Michigan. The fire is thought to have been exacerbated by dry summer conditions and drought. Burning around 1 million acres, it spread from Lapeer County to Huron, Tuscola, Sanilac and Lapeer counties. At least 282 people were killed. The flames produced so much soot and ash that the sun was partially obscured in the East Coast, turning the sky a yellowish colour.

These are just some of the worst wildfires in US history; there are many more that have caused extensive damage to communities and landscapes. Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of wildfires around the world, but especially in the US and will continue to do so until the causes of climate change- including burning fossil fuels- are addressed urgently. No state can afford to deal with the carnage of these crazy fires every year, making curbing climate change absolutely vital

Featured image by: EO Photographer Justin Sullivan

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like: Top 12 Largest Wildfires in History

It is undeniable that the climate crisis and land-use changes are worsening wildfires around the world. According to the UN, extreme fire events are set to increase by about 50% by the end of the century, with the Western US, northern Siberia, central India, and eastern Australia already experiencing significantly more blazes. Here is a list of the top 12 largest wildfires in history and the damage they caused to biodiversity, ecosystems, and urban settlements.

Top 12 Largest Wildfires in History:

1. 2003 Siberian Taiga Fires (Russia) – 55 Million Acres

In 2003 – during one of the hottest summers Europe experienced up to that point – a series of extremely devastating blazes in the taiga forests of Eastern Siberia destroyed over 55 million acres (22 million hectares) of land. A combination of extremely arid conditions and increased human exploitation during recent decades are believed to have played a role in what is remembered as one of the most devastating and largest wildfires in human history. The fires spread across Siberia and the Russian Far East, northern China, and northern Mongolia, sending a plume of smoke that reached Kyoto thousands of miles away. Emissions from the Siberian Taiga fires can be compared to the emission cuts promised by the European Union under the Kyoto Protocol and their effects can still be seen in present-day environmental studies on ozone depletion.

2. 1919/2020 Australian Bushfires (Australia) – 42 Million Acres

The 2020 Australian bushfires went down in history for their catastrophic impact on wildlife. The ​​extreme bushfires tore through New South Wales and Queensland in southeastern Australia, burning 42 million acres, destroying thousands of buildings, and killing dozens of people as well as 3 billion animals, including a staggering 61,000 koalas. Australia experienced the hottest and driest year in its recorded history in late 2019 and early 2020, which was a major contributing factor to the devastating wildfires. Data released by the climate monitoring body show Australia’s mean temperature in 2019 was 1.52°C higher than average, making it the warmest year since records began in 1910; January 2019 was the warmest month Australia has ever recorded. Rainfall was 40% below average, its lowest level since 1900.

You might also like: 3 Things to Know About Australia Wildfires and Bushfires

3. 2014 Northwest Territories Fires (Canada) – 8.5 Million Acres

In the summer of 2014, over 150 separate fires broke out across the Northwest Territories, an area of about 442 square miles (1.1 billion square kilometres) in northern Canada. 13 of them were believed to have been caused by humans. The smokes they generated sparked air quality warnings across the whole country as well as in the US, with smoke visible as far away as Portugal in western Europe. A total of nearly 8.5 million acres (3.5 million hectares) of forest were completely destroyed and firefighters operations cost the government a staggering US$44.4 million. These devastating consequences made the Northwest Territories Fires one of the worst recorded in nearly three decades.

4. 2004 Alaska Fire Season (US) – 6.6 Million Acres

The 2004 fire season in Alaska was the worst on record  in the history of the US state of Alaska in terms of area burned. More than 6.6 million acres (2.6 million hectares) of land were burned by 701 fires. 215 of these were started by lightning strikes; the other 426 were started by humans. The summer of 2004 was extremely warm and wet in comparison to the typical interior Alaska summer climate, which resulted in record amounts of lighting strikes. After months of this lighting and increased temperatures, an uncharacteristically dry August resulted in the fires that continued through September.

5. 1939 Black Friday Bushfire (Australia) – 5 Million Acres

Gone down in history as Black Friday, the bushfires that destroyed more than 5 million acres in Victoria – a state in southeastern Australia – in 1939, were the culmination of several years’ drought, followed by high temperatures and strong winds. The fires covered over three-quarters of the state’s area and resulted in 71 casualties, making it the third most deadly bushfire in Australia’s history. Despite going on for several days, on 13 January, when temperatures reached 44.7C in the capital Melbourne and 47.2C in Mildura in the northwest, the fires escalated, claiming 36 lives and destroying more than 700 homes, 69 sawmills as well as several farms and businesses. Ash from the blazes fell as far away as New Zealand.

6. The Great Fire Of 1919 (Canada) – 5 Million Acres

Despite happening more than a century ago, the Great Fire of 1919 is still remembered as one of the largest and most devastating wildfires in history. In early May, a complex of many fires swept through the boreal forest of the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The wood that had been cut for the timber industry, combined with strong, dry winds, contributed to the quick-burning flames that, within just a few days, ravaged about 5 million acres (2 million hectares), destroying hundreds of buildings and claiming 11 lives.

You might also like: 10 Interesting Facts About Wildfires

7. 1950 Chinchaga Fire (Canada) – 4.2 Million Acres

Also known as the Wisp fire and ‘Fire 19’, the Chinchaga Forest Fire burned in Northern British Columbia and Alberta from June until the early fall of 1950. It went down in history as one of the largest recorded fires in North American history, burning an area of approximately 4.2 million acres (1.7 million hectares). While lowering the impact on buildings and threat to humans, the lack of settlements in the region allowed the fire to burn freely. The massive amount of smoke from the blazes created the historic ‘Great Smoke Pall’, a thick cloud of smoke that obscured the sun for nearly a week, turning it blue and making it visible to the naked eye without discomfort. The phenomenon could be observed for several days across eastern North America and Europe.

8. 2010 Bolivia Forest Fires (South America) – 3.7 Million Acres

In August 2010, more than 25,000 fires burned across Bolivia, covering an area of approximately 3.7 million acres (1.5 million hectares) and damaging especially the country’s section of the Amazon. The thick smoke that resulted from them forced the government to halt numerous flights and declare a state of emergency. Among the causes was a combination of fires started by farmers to clear land for planting as well as dry vegetation resulting from the extreme drought that the country experienced during the summer months. The Bolivia forest fires were some of the worst the South American nation experienced in nearly 30 years.

9. 1910 Great Fire of Connecticut (US) – 3 Million Acres

Also called the Big Burn, Big Blowup or the Devil’s Broom fire, this wildfire roared through the states of Idaho and Montana during the summer months of 1910. Despite burning for just two days, strong winds caused the initial fire to combine with other smaller fires to form one massive blaze that destroyed 3 million acres (1.2 million hectares) – approximately the size of the entire state of Connecticut – and killed 85 people, making this one of the worst wildfires in US history. Despite being remembered for the destruction it caused, the Fire paved the way for the government to enact forest protection policies

10. 1987 Black Dragon Fire (China and Russia) – 2.5 Million Acres

Also known as the Daxing’annling Wildfire, the Black Dragon fire of 1987 may have been the largest single fire in the world in the past several hundred years as well as the deadliest forest fire in the People’s Republic of China. It burned incessantly for over a month, destroying approximately 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) of land, 18 million acres of which were forest. While the exact cause is not clear, Chinese reports stated that the fire might have been caused by human action. A total of 191 lives were lost during the fire, with a further 250 left injured. Additionally, nearly 33,000 people were left displaced.

You might also like: The Impact of Wildfires on Biodiversity and the Environment

11. 2011 Richardson Backcountry Fire (Canada) – 1.7 Million Acres

The Richardson Backcountry Fire broke out in May 2011 in the Canadian province of Alberta. It was the largest fire event since the 1950 Chinchaga Fire. The blaze burned nearly 1.7 million acres (688,000 hectares) of boreal forest and resulted in a series of evacuations and shutdowns. According to authorities, the fire was almost certainly the result of human activities, however, extremely dry conditions, abnormally high temperatures, and high winds aggravated the intensity.

12. ​​The 1989 Manitoba Wildfires (Canada) – 1.3 Million Acres

Last on our list of the largest wildfires in history are the Manitoba fires. Between mid-May and early August 1989, a total of 1,147 fires – the highest number ever recorded – broke in Manitoba, a Canadian province home to an immense variety of landscapes, from the arctic tundra and the Hudson Bat coastline to dense boreal forest and large freshwater lakes. The record-breaking fires burned nearly 1.3 million acres (3.3 million hectares) of land, resulting in the evacuation of 24,500 people from 32 different communities. The costs to suppress them amounted to US$52 million. While fires during the summer months are nothing new in Manitoba, the number of fires occurring in 1989 was nearly 4.5 times higher than the 20-year average of 120 monthly fires. While May’s blazes were mostly attributed to human action, most of July’s fires were caused by intense lightning activities.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like: 15 Largest Wildfires in US History

Research for this article was conducted by Earth.Org research contributor Anjella Klaiber

The volcanic islands of Hawaii have been subject to the looming threat of rising sea levels. In 2015, the government set a target to achieve 100% electricity sales from renewable energy by 2045 in order to fight global warming. Since then, clean energy – solar energy in particular – has seen huge and continuous development. We examine some of the policies implemented by the government in terms of renewable energy in a bid to fight climate change in Hawaii.

Overview: Solar in Hawaii

Because of its geographical isolation, Hawaii heavily relies on imported petroleum and is the most petroleum-dependent state in the US. Thankfully, the state is making great strides in substituting it with clean energy, particularly solar power. 

In 2020, the total amount of petroleum-fired generation declined to the lowest level in more than two decades, despite still accounting for 60% of Hawaii’s energy mix. In the same year, 30% of Hawaii’s electricity was supplied by renewables, with 17% coming from solar panels. As of the first quarter of 2022, the solar installations in Hawaii generated enough energy to power more than 368,000 homes. 

The government invested a total of US$3.8 billion in solar power generation as of the first quarter of 2022 and further US$137.46 million in 2021, and it was projected that 728 megawatts can be further provided within the next 5 years. Honolulu, the capital of Hawaii, has the highest solar capacity per capita among all the other US cities in 2022, accounting for 1,134 watts per person.

Solar power as an alternative to fossil fuels can alleviate climate change significantly, as it does not generate any greenhouse gas emissions during generation itself, with studies showing that solar power has a considerably smaller carbon footprint than fossil fuels over its life cycle.

You might also like: Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Energy

 2045 Target: 100% Renewable Energy

The government’s commitment to put the brakes on its petroleum reliance in order to combat climate change in Hawaii is noticeable. Its legislature amended the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) in 2015, making Hawaii the very first state to set a legally binding deadline on achieving 100% of electricity sales from renewable energy by 2045. 

The target was followed in 2018 by the passage of Act 15 in 2018, which requires Hawaii to become net carbon negative “as soon as practicable, but no later than 2045.” In 2020, the interim requirement of 30% renewable energy had been met, and the next energy efficiency standard will be to reduce electricity consumption by 40% by 2030.

Some tangible action has been taken to achieve this 100% renewable energy goal and mitigate the impacts of climate change, including the three Hawaii solar projects, Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI), and the Powering Past Coal Task Force (PPCTF).

Climate Change in Hawaii

Picture 1: Governor Ige signed bill setting 100% renewable energy goal in power sector

Three Hawaii Solar Projects

Three grid-scale solar power projects at Kawailoa, Waipio and Mililani on the island of Oahu were proposed in 2018, which contribute significantly to the 2045 goal of clean energy. All three projects were completed in 2019, generating a total of 110 megawatts each year that can be used by about 11% of Oahu households. The project is also the largest block of grid-scale solar power ever installed in Hawaii. 

“Hawaii is on the front lines of the fight against climate change, and the shift to renewable energy is one of our best weapons,” said Hawaii Gov. David Ige

“Building solar energy at this scale represents tremendous progress toward our renewable energy goals. I thank all the partners involved for making it happen.”

Kawailoa Solar is not only the largest among these three solar projects, but also the largest in Hawaii, holding a contracted capacity of 49 megawatts and supplying energy to 14,300 households. Waipio Solar has a slightly lower contracted capacity, reaching 45.9 megawatts and powering 13,400 households. The last project, Mililani Solar II, led to the construction of 150,000 solar panels which hold a capacity of 14.7 megawatts.

Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI)

Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI) is a framework of statutes and regulations supported by a diverse group of stakeholders committed to Hawaii’s clean energy future. Launched in 2008, HCEI has a primary goal of meeting 70% of Hawaii’s energy needs through renewables by 2030.

HCEI is propelled by the help of more than 100 community members and national experts who formed working groups dedicated to achieving the primary target. Partnerships with public and private sectors such as Drive Electric Hawaii, Hawaii-Okinawa Memorandum of Cooperation, Hawaii Advanced Visualization Environment Nexus are also instrumental in promoting clean energy through HCEI.

Besides collaboration, significant progress is also made through policy action in HCEI. In 2016, Act 202 was enacted, establishing a renewable fuels production tax credit which grants sellers an income tax reduction for the renewable energy sold. In 2017, Act 32, an act relating to climate change which helps align Hawaii with Paris Agreement goals, was further enacted.

In 2018, ten years after its launch, HCEI has seen considerable achievement. 60 utility-scale renewable energy projects were installed in total, while energy performance contracts for a total value of US$507 million were signed. 5,100 people were employed in energy efficiency, with 4,900 worked in the solar industry.

Powering Past Coal Task Force (PPCTF)

Several renewable power projects that are intended to substitute the electricity from the coal plant, particularly those in fall 2022 and summer 2023, have been delayed because of global supply chain headwinds and pricing pressures. 

Established in March 2021 by Governor David Ige, Powering Past Coal Task Force (PPCTF) aims to track and coordinate the progress of these behind-schedule projects and measures. Stakeholders will actively engage in project permitting and site development to help avoid further delays of crucial projects and programs. Coming from diverse backgrounds, participants of PPCTF include the Public Utilities Commission, the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Hawaiian Electric, Hawaii Energy, and Earthjustice.

Conclusion

As seen from its vision of combating climate change in Hawaii, the state will continue its effort in developing renewable energy with conspicuous results. In fact, Hawaii’s last-ever coal shipment arrived in Oahu in July 2022, bound for the last remaining coal-fired power plant, which will be shut down in September. The transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy is remarkable. With substantial help from the government as well as both the public and private sectors, Hawaii is on track to reach its 2045 goal of 100% renewable energy, setting a successful precedent for not only the other states in the US, but many other cities around the world.

You might also like: All You Need to Know About The US Inflation Reduction Act

Despite being a major win for the climate, analysts warn that California’s ambitious plan to ban gas-powered cars by 2035 faces several challenges.

In an unanimous vote last Thursday, the California Air Resources Board –  the state’s top air regulator – voted to ban the sale of gas-powered cars effectively by 2035. 

With the adoption of the Advanced Clean Cars II, the statewide plan that mandates the sale of zero emissions and hybrid plug-in vehicles, California became the world’s first government to effectively ban gas-powered cars.

The plan’s initial goals are set for 2026 and 2030. By then, at least 35% and 68% of total new vehicle sales respectively must be powered by batteries or hydrogen. 

You might also like: Hydrogen vs. Electric Cars: Comparing Innovative Sustainability

“This is monumental,” California Air Resources Board member Daniel Sperling told CNN. “This is the most important thing that CARB has done in the last 30 years. It’s important not just for California, but it’s important for the country and the world.”

California’s cities are notorious for having congested freeways and smog-filled skies. Not surprisingly, Los Angeles – where more than one in every two people own a car – is the leading city on the most ozone-polluted list

To reduce air pollution, the state recently adopted some of the nation’s strictest regulations for vehicles. To target personal vehicular emissions, many California cities are now increasing public transportation infrastructure. The government is also encouraging residents to transition to electric vehicles (EVs) by offering tax breaks and other financial incentives while expanding its network of charging stations. 

According to the California Energy Commission, in 2021 alone, EVs represented 12.4% of all vehicle sales, placing the state as the indisputable US market leader. Furthermore, California has almost 35,000 charging stations, by far the highest number across the country. 

Despite all this, analysts say the industry faces several challenges in ending sales of gas-powered cars by 2035.

Among the main roadblocks is the cost prices of electric vehicles. With the average price currently being around US$66,000, EVs are effectively well beyond the means of many people, and this despite the recent $7,500 tax credit provided by the Inflation Reduction Act adopted by the US government earlier this month.

Moreover, even though California has one of the most advanced infrastructure networks for electric vehicles in the whole country, experts believe that other states must drastically increase the availability and reliability of charging stations if they hope to incentivise people to buy EVs.

You might also like: New Law Aims at Drastically Reducing Plastic Pollution in California by 2032

As the latest IPCC report warned, it is ‘now or never’ to limit global warming below 1.5C. Countries around the world are already bearing the brunt of climate change but the reality is that, unless we reverse this trend, the effects that we are going to experience in the near future are going to be significantly more devastating. The US is certainly not spared by global warming. From north to south, from east to west, all of its states are affected by pollution and extreme weather events in some shape or form. Here are the top environmental issues in North America and what the government is doing to tackle them. 

Top Environmental Issues in the US in 2022

1. Air Pollution

As the world’s second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, preceded only by China, it comes as no surprise that air pollution is one of the biggest environmental issues in the US. In 2021 alone, about 67 million tons of pollution were emitted into the atmosphere in the country, mainly coming from the transportation and electric power sectors. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), in the same year, the country’s electric power sector emissions from coal increased for the first time since 2014

The latest assessment on air pollution conducted by the American Lung Association found that 4 in 10 individuals – accounting for about 135 million people – are currently living in areas with unhealthy and polluted air. While the main cause is the burning of fossil fuels, climate change-related events such as wildfires and prolonged pollen seasons further exacerbate the quality of air in the country.

You might also like: Worst States for Climate Change in the US

Adopted in 1970, the Clean Air Act (CAA) is a comprehensive US federal law that led to the specific standards of emissions of hazardous pollutants that cause smog, acid rain, and other health hazards by setting specific limits on the atmospheric concentration of these pollutants. However, this alone will not solve air pollution in the country and the government’s best solution is drastically cut emissions.

A promising step forward was made in August 2022, as the Biden Administration passed the long-awaited   Inflation Reduction Act, the largest climate investment in the country’s history. Through investments in renewable energy and electric vehicles, the landmark bill is expected to help cut greenhouse gas emissions in the US by around 40% below 2005 levels by the end of the decade and bring the country one step closer to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. In the long run, this will significantly reduce air pollution.

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2. Water Pollution

According to a survey conducted by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), approximately half of the country’s rivers and streams – amounting to more than 700,000 miles of waterways – and more than one-third of its lakes are polluted and unfit for swimming, fishing, and drinking. 

In the US, agricultural pollution is the top source of contamination in rivers and streams, the second-biggest source in wetlands, and the third main source in lakes as well as a major contributor of contamination to estuaries and groundwater. This type of pollution includes how we grow, raise, transport, process, and even store food and nonfood crops as well as other agricultural products. 

A report released in August 2022 by California’s State Water Resources Control Board found that in the Western state alone, nearly one million people face possible long-term health conditions from drinking water containing unsafe levels of contaminants such as arsenic and nitrate. The audit found that 371 of California’s water systems contained high levels of toxic chemicals that can result in long-term, negative health risks including liver and kidney problems as well as cancer. 

The report comes as California, along with several other western states, battles one of the worst and longest droughts in nearly 1,200 years, which has forced the state to increase its reliance on groundwater. The auditor noted that the risks of toxic pollutants contaminating drinking water are higher in drought conditions: as groundwater levels sink, hazardous farm chemicals seep deeper into the soil, tainting underground drinking water supplies.

Tainted water has extremely detrimental effects on human health as well as the environment, with repercussions on biodiversity. According to a study published in The Lancet, water pollution alone killed more than 500,000 people in 2019 and makes about 1 billion people sick every year, especially among low-income communities. Even swimming can pose a risk. Every year, approximately 3.5 million Americans contract health issues such as skin rashes, pinkeye, respiratory infections, and hepatitis from sewage-laden coastal waters, according to EPA estimates.

In the US, the Clean Water Act of 1972 established the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters and regulating quality standards for surface waters. As for water destined for humans, the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is the main federal law that ensures the quality of drinking water across the nation by protecting aquifers, the main source of drinking water. Groundwater can become contaminated by human activity through the illegal or accidental dumping of chemicals. 

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3. Water Shortages

The consequences of climate change are felt across the entire country, with some states experiencing worst effects than others. Historically, droughts in the US have had catastrophic impacts on agriculture and water reserves: the country has been experiencing continuous droughts over the last 20 years and each of them has caused billions of dollars in economic loss.

Among the worst-hit states are California – with currently 88% of the population estimated to live in drought, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Droughts bring with them a whole host of problems for the environment and the larger human population. With diminishing precipitation and rainfall, soils and crops dry out easily and die. In July 2022, nearly 230 million acres of crops were found to be undergoing drought conditions. Moreover, when these events occur over prolonged periods, they severely impact water levels in lakes and reservoirs, resulting in water shortages in nearby communities and cities. 

Water scarcity has been and will continue to be a salient environmental issue for the US as drought seasons become more prolonged and severe. At Lake Mead, a reservoir formed by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River in the southwestern US that some 40 million Americans depend on, water levels have crawled down progressively and at a dangerous speed. Here, the first-ever Tier 1 Water Shortage declaration for the reservoir has been in effect since early 2022.

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Image 1: Severe drought threatens Hoover Dam Reservoir on the Colorado River and Lake Mead in southwestern US (photo by Wikimedia Commons)

As the climate crisis worsens, the task of solving or at least tackling the consequences of droughts in the US becomes increasingly challenging. One thing is for sure: to reduce water shortage in cities and urban environments, water conservation and efficiency are key. Ageing infrastructure and deteriorating water delivery systems including pipes and mains cost the US an estimated 2.1 trillion gallons of lost drinkable water each year. Adopting widespread energy-efficient technologies and appliances could significantly reduce water wastage. Other methods worth expanding and considering include water recycling infrastructures and stormwater capture technologies.

As for the agriculture sector, adding more resources in crop rotation, no-till farming – a method for growing crops with minimal soil disturbance – and the use of cover crops could help build up soil health, enabling it to absorb and retain more water.

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4. Wildfires

In the US, a typical fire season that used to last for four months on average is now lasting nearly double that time because of climate change. In 2020, the country experienced one of the largest wildfires in history, which lasted for the entire year, tearing through parts of California, Oregon, and Washington state. 

A 2017 report found that careless human activities were behind about 84% of all wildfires in the US and accounted for 44% of the total area burned. This includes abandoned cigarettes, campfires, and barbecues that were not put out properly, as well as so-called “gender reveal parties” – particularly popular in the country where expectant parents use pyrotechnic devices to reveal a baby’s gender. One notable example is the El Dorado fire, where a smoke bomb led to a fire that lasted more than two months and covered over 22,000 acres of southern California. Another study showed that human-sparked fires typically spread about 1.83 kilometres per day, more than twice as fast as lightning-induced fires.

Smoke from large-scale wildfires causes significant air pollution in the affected area and is a threat to public health. In 2022, for example, 7 out of 15 most polluted cities in the US were located in California, a state that was most affected by severe fires that season. Smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles, which can penetrate deep into the lungs and aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases. Smoke and poor air quality inhalation can lead to minor issues such as burning eyes and allergies or in a worst-case scenario, premature death. The 2021 wildfires that plagued much of the southwest US were visible from the east coast, and near-surface smoke from it contributed to hazy and even smog conditions.

To establish healthy and resilient forests and communities that can adapt themselves to these fires, the state set up the California Wildfire and Forest Management Task Force, in charge of developing a comprehensive plan to expedite efforts to reduce wildfire risk for vulnerable communities, improve the health of forests and wildlands, and accelerate action to combat climate change. This would include prescribing controlled burning to thin forest overgrowth – which acts as tinder for wildlife – and increase sustainable timber harvest programmes. 

While these mitigation measures could lower the intensity of California wildfires, researchers suggest it might soon be not enough. “The trends that are driving this increase in fire risk, fire size, fire severity over time are continuing – that’s climate change,” Professor LeRoy Westerling of the University of California Merced, who studies how the climate crisis affects wildfires, warned.

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5. Food Waste

Food waste in America has skyrocketed in recent years, tripling in just five decades and it is now estimated to be 30-40% of its entire food supply, valued between US$161 and $218 billion. Today, the US counts as the second highest country in the world for food waste per capita, behind only Australia. Sadly, Americans throw away more food than the citizens of the UK, Germany, France, Italy, and Sweden combined, equivalent to nearly 206 billion pounds (103 million tons). On a daily basis, that’s about 0.5 kilograms (one pound) of food discarded by one American. 

As the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reports, about 6-8% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced if we stopped wasting food. In the US alone, the production of lost or wasted food generates the equivalent of 37 million cars’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions. 

Food production is one of the most water-intensive practices as growing crops requires extensive amounts of water. In the US, agriculture alone is responsible for 80% of all water consumed, and it is estimated that between 21% and 33% of it is wasted every year.

Ironically, while almost 40% of food in the US is wasted, 37 million Americans and 11 million children are considered to be food insecure, a number that is expected to further rise in the coming years. 

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Figure 2: Environmental Impacts of Food Waste in America

But there is some good news. Fortunately, the US is home to some of the world’s most successful food waste startups that are changing the game and helping tackle one of the most pressing environmental issues of our times. Moreover, in 2015, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched the 2030 Food Loss and Waste Reduction Goal alongside a series of programmes and initiatives aimed at reducing climate and environmental impacts associated with food loss and waste while improving food security and saving money for families and businesses. Led by EPA, USDA, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the federal government is “seeking to work with communities, organisations and businesses along with our partners in state, tribal and local government to achieve this goal.”

These initiatives alone, however, will not completely eliminate food insecurity or solve the issue of food waste. In order to achieve this, it is necessary that individuals do their part as well, learning first and foremost how to reduce food waste in their households and communities.

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6. Plastic Pollution

Last but not least on our list of the most pressing environmental issues in the US in 2022 is plastic pollution. 

A congressionally mandated report released in late 2021 described the US as the leading country for plastic waste generation. The analysis found that the country produces more plastic waste than any other nation, equivalent to about 42 million metric tons every year, which amounts to 287 pounds (130 kilogram) per person. In total, the country produces almost twice as much as China, and more than all the countries in the EU combined. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 82.2 million tons of containers and packaging were discarded in the US in 2018. The situation has further deteriorated since China imposed a plastic ban in the same year. 

Researchers note that recycling infrastructure in the US has been unable to keep up with the growth of plastic production, and they estimate that 1.13-2.24 million metric tons of waste are leaked into the environment and oceans each year. This includes everything from plastic bottles and straws to packaging, most of which are made from fossil fuels and can take hundreds of years to decompose. 

Plastic production in the US is also currently responsible for 232 million metric tons of greenhouse gases every year, the equivalent of 116.5 gigawatts of coal plants. But, according to the report, the production is set to outpace coal plants in the country by 2030.

Implementing Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policies has been increasingly more popular in several US states as a solution for plastic pollution. An EPR legislates that the responsibility and costs of disposing of packaging materials and waste lie with the producers and manufacturers that made them, as opposed to consumers. While a number of European countries and Canadian provinces already have EPR in practice, the state of Maine became the first in the US to implement it in July 2021. Several others are now hopping on the bandwagon, including New York and California, aiming to implement it in the next year or two.

The latter has also recently introduced strict rules on single-use plastic packaging, requiring a 25% cut in production as well as 65% of all single-use plastic packaging to be recycled within the next decade. Companies that fail to comply with the new regulations could face fines of up to $50,000 a day.

In August 2014, California also became the first state to enact legislation imposing a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at large retail stores. Other states such as Hawaii and New York followed suit, mandating plastic bag bans on grocery stores and other retailers in 2015 and 2019 respectively.

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Globally, about one-third of all known shark species face extinction and noted shark biologist and author David Shiffman says the biggest threat is unsustainable overfishing. Shark finning, a particularly cruel practice, continues despite actions to halt it, in part, due to illegal criminal trade. According to Greenpeace, the US is the fourth-largest shark exporter of shark meat in the world behind Spain, China, and Portugal. 

The news about shark fishing is sobering. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that less than 23% of the 66 shark stocks in US waters are safe from overfishing, while the status of more than half of all shark stocks is not known. 

Sharks are fished for their meat and other body parts including their fins. Shark finning is a practice where the fin is sliced off, often while the animal is alive. The shark’s body is then discarded back into the ocean where the animal dies from blood loss and suffocation. Indeed, commercial fishers often opt to keep only the fins as these are the most valuable part of the shark.

Suffocation occurs because many species of sharks need to keep moving in order to breathe. As the shark swims, water passes over its gills, the respiratory organs that function like our lungs. Tiny blood vessels in the gills extract oxygen from the water while carbon dioxide is passed out of the gills.  

Shark fins are valued in some places of the world for culinary and medicinal purposes. Fins are an essential ingredient in shark fin soup, a dish considered in Chinese culture as a symbol of status. As Caty Fairclough wrote for the Smithsonian: “Popularity has not faded with time and has even expanded with China’s growing population. Today shark fin soup is still prevalent and has become a staple for more than just emperors on special occasions. As a result, fishermen have a large incentive to gather and sell shark fins.” 

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In January 2020, a European Citizens’ Initiative ‘Stop Finning – Stop the Trade‘ was registered. This aimed to end the fin trade in the 27 member states that comprise the Union. Shark finning is currently prohibited on board EU vessels and in EU waters. Despite this, as the initiative stated, the European Union “is among the biggest exporters of fins and a major transit hub for the global fin trade.” At the end of the signature collection period in March 2022, the petition had surpassed by more than 202,000, the goal of one million signatures. 

On August 2, an Associate Press article implicated the role of the American seafood industry in the shark finning trade. Since 2000, federal law has made it illegal to cut the fins off living sharks. However, individual states may determine that fins from dead sharks may be removed and exported overseas. A recent report by Greenpeace listed the US as the fourth-largest shark exporter in the world behind Spain, China, and Portugal. The country’s regulations on shark finning, therefore, are inconsistent and lead to a misconception that shark finning in the US is illegal. 

Criminal activities are supported by a market that pays as much as US$500 a pound for shark fins. As two recent criminal indictments in Florida show, exporters may be falsely labelling cargo bound for China. “Every year, American wildlife inspectors seize thousands of shark fins while in transit to Asia for failing to declare the shipments.” – TCR reports

Several attempts have been made by US Congress to pass a bill to “make it illegal to possess, buy, sell, or transport shark fins or any product containing shark fins, except for certain dogfish fins”. Penalties would be imposed for violations under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. According to the text, the maximum civil penalty for each violation would be “$100,000, or the fair market value of the shark fins involved, whichever is greater.” The legislation, originally introduced in 2017 by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, is once again winding its way through Congress. A 2020 poll found that 77% of all Americans and 79% of all registered voters supported the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act. 

Effective laws and enforcement are lacking worldwide. Without adequate protection for sharks, marine ecosystems and economics suffer. As top predators, sharks maintain a balance in the undersea world. Sharks have played active roles in the marine ecosystem for millions of years, long before dinosaurs existed. Additionally, there are economic consequences for under-regulated shark-finning. By way of example, Ellen Johnson writes in an article for the Mystic Aquarium that in some areas sharks are worth “more alive than dead due to the growing popularity of shark ecotourism.”

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On Tuesday, US President Joe Biden signed into law the biggest climate bill in the country’s history. But the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 is more than just “a win for Democrats” ahead of midterm elections in November. It is a major and urgently needed step forward in the global fight against climate change from the world’s second-largest polluting nation. Here’s all you need to know about this historic bill and how it will help shape a greener future in the US.

Where Does the Money Come From?

The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) includes a landmark US$369 billion to fight the climate crisis, the single largest investment in climate and energy in the US to date. But where will the government get the money from?

The cost of the legislation is covered through a series of tax changes, which are expected to bring in hundreds of billions of dollars of revenue for the US government. Those changes include a 15% corporate minimum tax on certain large corporations, expanded energy-related tax credits, and a new 1% excise tax for companies on purchases of their own shares – set to take effect in 2023. The bill also includes enhanced enforcement from the Internal Revenue Service targeting high-income households, with the goal of bringing in $124 billion in tax revenues currently lost to fraudulent tax returns.

These and other provisions in the Act will allow the government to raise enough money in revenue to balance out new investments in clean energy and reduce deficits over the next decade.

Renewable Energy

According to an independent analysis from the US Energy Information Administration, renewable energy currently accounts for approximately 12% of the country’s energy mix. The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 includes significant investments in renewables, particularly solar and offshore wind, as well as new credits for nuclear power production and clean hydrogen and incentives to develop more facilities that produce clean energy inputs, components, and finished products.

The IRA also promotes vital technologies such as battery storage. Up until now, such projects were ineligible for tax credits unless they were directly related to solar power. The new law removes these requirements, providing all battery storage projects with the same tax credit that covers 30% of the size of the investment.

Through these incentives for investments in clean energy, the government hopes to push consumers to make more sustainable choices and make their homes more energy efficient.

The costs of solar and wind energy have plunged significantly in recent years. The first has recently become the cheapest source of electricity in history, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). The increased support for renewable projects and hefty investments to boost the national manufacturing of solar panels and wind turbines will lead to an unprecedented expansion of clean energy across the country, driving costs further down.

Carbon Capture Technologies

The Inflation Reduction Act provides huge incentives for carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration (CCUS) projects and expands eligibility for carbon capture and sequestration credits, with the deadline for the beginning of construction extended to 2033 from the current 2026. Besides supporting technologies that capture and store carbon dioxide released during power generation and industrial processes, the new bill also seeks to drive the deployment of direct air capture technologies, which extract CO2 directly from the atmosphere.

Tax credits for capturing carbon dioxide at industrial facilities and power plants will increase from the current $50 per ton to up to $85 per ton if the carbon is stored. If the carbon is used instead for oil drilling, the credit will increase from $30 to $60 per ton. Credits for capturing carbon from the air via direct air capture will experience the highest jump, from $50 to $180 per ton if the carbon dioxide is stored and from $35 currently to $130 per ton if used.

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Electric Vehicles

The Inflation Reduction Act will provide tax breaks to make electric vehicles (EVs) more affordable and help low-income households to make the switch from gas-powered to electric vehicles. However, there’s a catch.

With the new bill, most electric vehicles no longer qualify for the full $7,500 federal tax credit that supported millions of buyers with upgrades in recent years. This is because EV batteries – the majority of which are produced with minerals, components, and battery cells imported from China – must now be made in North America. More precisely, the new law stipulates that at least half of all car batteries must come from the US, Mexico, or Canada by 2024, rising to 100% by 2028.

Moreover, the Act introduced new price and income caps, effectively excluding those whose whole income exceeds a certain threshold and forcing them to select a vehicle within a certain price point.

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Community Support

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) described the new Act as a “game-changer for the American people” that will “reduce harmful air pollution in places where people live, work, play, and go to school” as well as “empower community-driven solutions in overburdened neighbourhoods.” Indeed, the bill moves to ensure that low-income and minority communities across the country that have long borne the brunt of pollution can finally benefit from climate spending.

The bill is expected to bolster climate resilience and strengthen the nation’s infrastructure, protecting cities and their people against heat, flooding, and other global warming-triggered extreme weather events.

What About Fossil Fuels?

Several provisioning of the Inflation Reduction Act will affect fossil fuel industries, increasing oil and gas royalties, rental rates, and the minimum required bid in onshore lease auctions. Despite these strict leasing terms, the bill includes some oil and gas provisions, provided that companies invest in new carbon and methane capture technologies. It also includes the mandate of new oil and gas lease sales on federal lands and water, including a commitment to open up federal lands and offshore waters that are utilised for renewable energy development to analogous onshore and offshore oil and gas drilling.

Heavier taxes on the oil and petroleum companies will also provide revenue for the Superfund programme, used to pay for the clean-up of the country’s most heavily-polluted industrial sites. 

Targets of the Inflation Reduction Act

According to several studies, the new bill will help the US reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by around 40% below 2005 levels by the end of the decade – a significant improvement over the current projections of 27%. This will undoubtedly put the country within the hailing range of its pledge to cut emissions by at least 50% by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Some experts also expressed hope that the US transition will put the country on the path to keeping the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming temperatures to 1.5C possible.

EO’s Position: The latest IPCC report clearly shows that the world is rapidly losing sight of being able to stay under the 1.5C limit of global temperature rise. We need to phase out fossil fuels immediately and scale up renewable energy generation to avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change. Our planet has already warmed around 1.2C since pre-industrial times, and we are still on track to exceed 1.5C of warming within the next two decades. Unless the world at large drastically stops adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, record-high heatwaves and other extreme weather conditions will become even more frequent, threatening millions more lives around the world.

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President Joe Biden signed the landmark bill on Tuesday, describing it as the country’s “biggest step forward on climate ever”. The package is also a major win for Democrats ahead of November’s midterm elections.

US President Joe Biden finally signed the healthcare, climate and tax package on Tuesday, marking the end of a heated debate and more than a year of negotiations among Democrats. 

The signing came just days after the House passed the bill in a party-line vote of 220 to 207. Senate has previously passed the Inflation Reduction Act 51 to 50, with Vice-President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote. 

The bill’s predecessor and one of Biden’s first legislative framework proposals, the Build Back Better Act, stalled in the Senate mainly due to resistance from Joe Manchin. The centrist Senator from West Virginia quietly negotiated the Inflation Reduction Act with majority leader Chuck Schumer over the last few months, announcing his surprising U-turn in late July.  

This historic piece of legislation is set to pave the way for a greener future in the US – the world’s second-largest polluting country after China – but ultimately also for the entire planet. 

US$369 billion will be directed toward investments in renewable energy such as solar and wind as well as emission reduction through tax breaks for electric vehicles. Experts estimate a 40% reduction in US emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels, bringing the country one step closer to its commitment to reach net zero by 2050. 

“With this law, the American people won and the special interests lost,” Biden said in the bill-signing ceremony at the White House. “Today offers further proof that the soul of America is vibrant, the future of America is bright and the promise of America is real and just beginning.”

With midterms looming and Republicans fighting to regain control of Congress, Democrats are hoping that this legislative success will help overcome any damage to their prospects posed by high inflation.

Featured Image: Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz (Flickr)

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The CHIPS and Science Act will direct approximately US$67 billion toward accelerating the growth of clean energy and zero-carbon technologies in America.

On Tuesday, US President Joe Biden signed into law one of the most significant investments in climate change the country has ever undertaken after Congress passed the US$280 billion package to boost the semiconductor industry and fund scientific research.

The main focus of the CHIP and Science Act is to increase the domestic production of semiconductors. Today, the US produces about 10% of the world’s supply, with about 75% of global production relying on East Asia. Now, the hundreds of billions in investments unlocked by the bill “will ensure US leadership in the technology that forms the foundation of everything from automobiles to household appliances to defence systems.” – a White House statement reads.

That being said, the CHIPS Act also sets aside roughly $67 billion that will be used to fund scientific research necessary to fight climate change, including nanotechnology, clean energy, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence, as well as disaster-resilience research. It will also accelerate the growth of zero-carbon technology and establish a new federal office to organise clean-energy innovation.

As The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer explains, the CHIPS Act is “one of the largest climate bills ever passed by Congress”, exceeding the total amount of money the government invested in renewable energy tax credits from 2005 to 2019. 

The Act came just hours after US Senate voted on a landmark tax-and-spend bill, a surprise deal that Senator Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democrat Senator Joe Manchin struck last week. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which Manchin initially refused to support citing inflation concerns, includes the largest climate investment in the country’s history, with $369 billion of spending on clean energy.

While the IRA will lead to an immediate reduction of carbon pollution, bringing the country one step closer to achieving its 2030 emission target, the CHIPS Act will focus on investing money in the development of technology necessary to reach the country’s climate goals.

These two landmark bills, coupled with last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, are set to “more than triple the federal government’s average annual spending on climate and clean energy this decade”, equivalent to more than $521 billion  – Lachlan Carey from the nonpartisan energy think tank RMI told The Atlantic.

CHIPS act

Image 1: US climate spending, 1990-2029

Featured Image: Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz (Flickr)

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