So this bill is a stealthy way of driving Americans as society towards a cleaner future. It transforms small individual actions – you can afford a heat pump or solar panels better – into collective actions.
But how much individual change constitutes in the face of systemic problems has been a thorny debate for years. For example, does it really matter if you decide to fly less to reduce your carbon footprint? After all, aviation accounts for only a small fraction of global emissions, and there is an entire international economic system based almost entirely on fossil fuels. Wouldn’t it be more effective to change the behavior of the aviation or oil industries, for example?
“There’s this debate in the climate community about individual action versus systemic action,” says Jamie Alexander, director of Drawdown Labs at Project Drawdown, a nonprofit organization dedicated to climate change mitigation. “I think this deal helps show that they’re not really two completely different things. They are very closely related and demand even at the household level can help transform the system massively.”
One idea among clean energy advocates is that residents of the future electricity grid will be fewer consumers Attendees. If more people have their own solar panels and store energy in large household batteries like Tesla’s Powerwall, they can give away some of their extra power when they don’t need it. And if more people park electric cars at home and connect them to a local microgrid, utility companies could tap into those extra batteries at home when there’s a shortage. That would mean people working together instead of relying on fossil fuel-powered utilities to keep the heating or air conditioning running.
“I feel empowering individuals to address climate change and be better equipped for the world we will live in as it continues to change is really empowering,” says Alexander. “Making homes more energy efficient will also help improve resilience in the face of changing weather and these heat waves that we’re seeing around the world.”
This month, for example, Texas’ precarious power grid was put to another test during a grueling heat wave as people cranked up their air conditioners. But desperate attempts to cool poorly insulated homes with inefficient appliances is putting a strain on the power grid — and that problem gets worse as temperatures soar. The alternative is to take advantage of these types of tax credits before the heat gets worse by installing better insulation, thicker windows and high-efficiency heat pumps, especially in low-income communities. The power grid – and public health in general – will thank us.
Perhaps the difficult thing is finding the labor to do all this work. Last year, the Biden administration proposed creating a Civilian Climate Corps that would push Americans to retrofit homes and cultivate green spaces that cool urban areas. But that didn’t make it into this new bill. As the clean tech revolution accelerates in the US, it may not be demand and devices that are holding us back, but a lack of the trained workforce to deploy it all.
This new bill isn’t perfect, says Casale. For one, it actually mandates more offshore drilling. Nor does it penalize utilities for not using more renewable energy. And it has yet to pass the Senate, where it will likely go to a vote in the next few weeks. But the tax credits have the potential to prepare American homes for a green energy future and increasingly extreme weather conditions. “The tax credit piece is really critical, really exciting,” says Casale. “That’s a big step forward if we can get that across the finish line – despite some parts that are definitely not perfect.”