Boulder and Boulder County are places where climate change threats are taken seriously and acted on vigorously through personal actions, local government budgets and business innovation. Folks who live here understand the science and speak the language. Stabilizing the climate against the many emissions disruptions that humans present is a sprawling project touching material and ephemeral aspects of all of our lives, through air, water, food, shelter and energy. The needs and desires each of us pursue to thrive are met by our current system by emitting atmospheric poisons which foul the nest for every living being to come after us. For at least centuries.
We’re each marching in a parade of generations that has initiated the Sixth Great Extinction because it’s been easier to burn dead dinosaurs than think harder and cooperate more. So, I cynically expected more of this dysfunction from Washington D.C. as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) hit the Manchin-Sinema shoals. The minds of others are impenetrable, and all I had to go on was recent history run by the same players, so I expected the IRA to succumb to the Senate miasma. This was a miserable prospect because the cities and counties and states that seek collective climate action would still be on their own, perhaps for six more long years.
But on August 16, Biden signed the IRA, unlocking $400 billion for climate action over 10 years. It was a very welcome surprise, loaded with economy-friendly incentives. The IRA has big jobs benefits and some health care wins whose details are becoming more enticing as they sink in. Our military budget next year will exceed $800 billion while the new climate spending each year will be 5% of that. Going forward we’ll put around one-twentieth as much treasure toward climate protection as we do for military capability, and we should celebrate! Because before this bill was signed, we apparently cared less than that.
This is not only exceptionally good news about climate action, it’s good for creating jobs and sparking innovation, and it will do so mightily in our backyard. According to a 2022 report from a local cleantech consultancy, Boulder-Denver-Fort-Collins is the #5 cleantech hub in the nation. Call me locally proud, but a lot of that ranking comes from exceptionally strong Boulder County cleantech businesses. Entrepreneurs in Boulder County refurbish small hydropower plants, develop solid-state EV batteries and build machines for robotic sorting of recyclable materials. Dozens of our companies improve clean power, building efficiency, mobility services and work to capture carbon in soils and materials. It is a good time to do this work if you’re inspired — I expect to see many of these companies hire steadily over time as the IRA stimulus arrives here.
This is the power of federal action backed by resources deployed at scale. It’s not just symbolic, it’s real and powerful. Consider Ukraine — at this moment to greater and lesser degrees, and to whatever ultimate outcome, the national government has largely fused with the people. Because at the end of the day, even with ugly missteps and manipulations, governments of autonomous countries are comprised of their people. What the people decide they want, on balance, is what their governments will ultimately try to get done. The same is true in every country and to get global problems addressed, collective actions must be taken at a national scale driven by the desires of the governed people.
The intersection of government with people in Colorado is in cities and counties, school districts and fire districts. IRA funds will flow in, salaries and taxes will be paid, the economy will produce green goodies, and with luck that will benefit both Boulder communities and the planet. One key aspect of IRA funds is they are for a purpose: reduce carbon emissions, contain them, or build up infrastructure for anticipated consequences. Deployment of market funding stimulated by the IRA could help local companies that are developing advanced sodium flow batteries, installing today’s solar panels or building apps for tomorrow’s EVs. Market purists might point out distortions from those stimulus dollars, but you know what? That’s what government funding is for: producing socially beneficial collective action. Incentives and credits are the main tools of the IRA and that will stimulate markets toward lower carbon activity, including Boulder.
If you’ve made it this far, here’s our local punchline: support the City of Boulder’s climate action by voting this fall to renew and modestly increase the Climate Action tax on your electricity and gas bills. You will vote on this issue (and all others, I hope) should you choose this fall. Being a tax on energy, this one is tied to measurable carbon emissions, and in a nice symmetry, all the uses are to reduce city carbon emissions and prepare for climate impacts. It is a pretty small tax, averaging under $5/month per Boulder household and will support a $6 million annual climate action budget if approved. To put that in context, the 2023 proposed Boulder city general fund budget will be around $188 million in 2023. If this tax is approved, we will be spending 3% of our city government’s discretionary budget on climate action. Like the IRA, this isn’t enough urgency for my taste, but the arrow is in the right direction. Vote yes on the climate tax.
Sam Weaver is a cleantech entrepreneur and former Boulder Mayor and Council Member (2013 – 2021).