Decades after signing the first climate legislation, the U.S. House and Senate passed a revised version of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan — a substantial budget bill worth hundreds of billions of dollars for the nation’s future decarbonization projects.
With the new legislation taking effect — despite being loaded with watered-down provisions from the original bill — the Build Back Better plan might be just what the built world needs to tackle sustainability and combat climate change.
An Astronomical Investment in Climate Change
The revised Build Back Better bill is being touted as an astronomical investment in U.S. climate change spending.
While the whopping $369 billion falls short of the initial budget and stronger climate provisions, this amount of money for rapid decarbonization was something few anticipated based on prior budgetary allotments.
Of course, the revised version of legislation leaves out critical initiatives to reduce emissions by winding down the nonrenewable energy sector — a contingency held up by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Nevertheless, the bill passed and is on track to cut U.S. carbon emissions by 40% by 2030.
The budget will likely be funnelled into revving solar and wind renewable technologies and investments in cleaner hydrogen, aviation fuel and nuclear power.
Additionally, the bill will reshape how people consume energy, allowing individuals to participate in various incentive programs to save on energy costs. For instance, homeowners who’ve already switched to solar have watched their bills drop from $80 to nearly $0.
With the Build Back Better plan, the average household will likely spend $1,025 less to power their homes in 2030 than they currently do. Likewise, the bill will create millions of new jobs, deliver cleaner air, and pave the way for more sustainable infrastructure and vehicles.
Climate Change in the Built World
Climate change has dramatically affected urban life. Although cities account for only 2% of the Earth’s surface, they emit nearly two-thirds of global carbon dioxide (CO2). Perhaps more shocking is that only 25 major metropolitan areas contribute 52% of those emissions.
Greenhouse gases and rising temperatures worldwide have led to sea level rise and extreme weather events — flooding, prolonged droughts, wildfires and rapid spread of diseases. Unfortunately, these circumstances negatively affect cities by disrupting essential services, accruing billions of dollars worth of infrastructure damage, and hampering human health and livelihoods.
Take Mexico City, for example, where depleted aquifers have led to $4 million in spending on water trucks and $187 million on water bottles. Excessive heat and drought leads to dry land, which also increases the risk of buildings enduring more significant earthquake damage and collapse.
In Australia, the effects of climate change have never been more apparent. Aside from rampant bushfires, Sydney experienced its wettest season in history in 2022. It’s a natural phenomenon in part, but scientists are also largely blaming it on human-induced climate change and warming seas.
Sydney already recorded 8.6 inches of rain in four days in July — the amount the city usually sees within one to two months — with five months left of the season.
Climate change impacts show no sign of slowing down. Investing in urban resilience is the only way to safeguard the built world from potential damage.
Setting the Stage for Sustainable Infrastructure
The Build Back Better legislation will have sweeping effects worldwide. The combined decarbonization efforts of the U.S., Europe and China alone could satisfy 20% of the urban undertaking to meet the 1.5 C status outlined in the Paris Agreement.
President Biden’s bill sets the stage for the built world to follow suit by investing less money in the electric grid and directing funds toward substantial building efficiency, clean transportation and renewables.
A more sustainable infrastructure means building with enhanced functionality, from installing more windows for natural lighting for less electricity consumption to designing structures that meet green building certification standards.
Currently, one in two people reside in urban areas — a number expected to increase by 2.5 billion by 2050. However, most urban development isn’t built to meet the needs of underserved populations vulnerable to climate change.
The revised version of the Build Back Better plan misses out on some key opportunities. For instance, Sen. Manchin insisted on federal leasing sales of offshore oil and gas, which could increase production by more than 50 million tons annually in 2030.
Nevertheless, the legislation is an excellent start to pioneering the world stage for more robust climate efficiency.
Sustainable Progress in the Built World
The Build Back Better plan is a lesson in increasing efficiency and climate solutions. The way forward requires astronomical investments in future decarbonization and climate-resilient infrastructure to create a more sustainable built world.
Jane is the editor-in-chief of Environment.co where she covers green technology, sustainable building, and environmental news.