The science & tech law that delivers hidden climate benefits
by Gabrielle Jorgensen, Advocacy Director & Co-Founder, Climate Changemakers
Climate change is a huge national security risk—and finally, the U.S. is starting to act like it.
The Department of Defense has been conducting climate risk assessments for a while now, but we hadn’t seen much acknowledgment of these risks from Congress until the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022. The threats that climate change poses to physical infrastructure and financial systems, while critically important, often obscure some of the more nebulous and sinister risks lurking just below the surface of popular discourse.
When Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in February, the West seemed to collectively jolt awake from a fossil fuel fever dream. Once the EU’s oil and gas supply was curtailed by its own sanctions on Russia, discussions of energy volatility and vulnerability rippled across the U.S. and Europe. Predictably, a lot of this conversation fell along partisan lines in the U.S. On the right, there were calls for increasing domestic oil and gas production to offset the absence of Russian fuel from the market; the left highlighted the urgent need to transition away from fossil fuels altogether.
As a climate advocate, I of course side with the left on this one—fossil fuels must be replaced as soon as logistically possible. But what’s often missing from the Democrats’ discourse is the reality that the clean energy transition doesn’t automatically relieve us of foreign energy dependence.
As the U.S. ramps up solar and wind generation, EV manufacturing, energy storage, and grid modernization, following a business-as-usual pathway will almost certainly lead us to switch our energy dependency from Russia to China. China currently dominates global solar manufacturing, lithium ion battery production (including mining for rare earth metals that aren’t easily found in the U.S., like cobalt), and was projected to lead global semiconductor manufacturing by 2030.
Enter the CHIPS and Science Act.
Designed to stop Chinese semiconductor ascendancy in its tracks, CHIPS authorizes billions of dollars toward onshore semiconductor manufacturing. Of course, reliance on semiconductor chips isn’t exclusive to the clean energy transition: they’re essential for most modern technology, including all “smart” devices. But the climate implications of this bill have been largely overshadowed by the historic investments made by the newly minted Inflation Reduction Act and the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act before it. In addition to incentivizing semiconductor manufacturing that will benefit EVs, solar, smart grids, and energy storage, CHIPS authorizes around $80 billion per year in federal R&D that could help accelerate the clean energy transition. For a crisis that needs all the technological help it can get, this is a huge win.
Investments in machine learning are also a central focus of CHIPS. This, too, could be great news for climate progress. Artificial intelligence has seemingly endless applications for both mitigation and adaptation, like electricity demand response, improving energy efficiency in buildings and fuel efficiency in electric vehicles, or enhanced climate modeling and risk projection. And CHIPS authorizes additional funds for using AI to beef up cybersecurity, which is increasingly tied to energy security as we move toward more interconnected, software-dependent power grids.
The U.S. is still quite far from meeting its emissions targets, and globally, the chances of limiting warming to 1.5 C are fading. But the combination of CHIPS, the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and the IRA signify a promising new era in which the economic, security, and geopolitical incentives to accelerate the clean energy transition are starting to converge in the eyes of policymakers. The more common ground we can find across the political spectrum, the faster we can start to make up for decades of climate inaction.
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