Previous: How to Cook Beans and Resist Dread
Next: cars vs. covid



View count:779,263
Last sync:2023-01-06 10:00
The thing about this bill is that it's going to keep having a huge impact on the country for many many years and, mostly, we will not even notice. That's what happens with almost all good legislation. Of course, there will also be some bits of this that won't work as intended and they'll probably be big news stories. When you've got like 150 different pieces of a bill, not everything will be perfect! But it is quite a big deal for me to see America making these investments...even if I'm not gung-ho on all of them, and some of them legit piss me's an amazing step that I did not think we would be making.

Interview with Jesse Jenkins -

Interview with Administrator Regan -

Subscribe to our newsletter!
And join the community at
Help transcribe videos -
Learn more about our project to help Partners in Health radically reduce maternal mortality in Sierra Leone:
If you're able to donate $2,000 or more to this effort, please join our matching fund:
John's twitter -
Hank's twitter -
Hank's tumblr -

 (00:00) to (02:00)

Good morning, John. Today, Joe Biden is probably going to sign the largest single piece of climate change legislation any country on our planet has ever enacted, but everything I have read— and I have read a lot— is frustratingly thin on detail.

And as I've tried to do the research myself on that, I discovered why. I have been going over non-partisan analyses, congressional budget office reports, talking to the people who wrote those reports, talking to the Administrator of the EPA, even in some cases reading the actual text of the 700-page bill, and what I have found has been a surprise, but also a bit of a delight. So let's start at the beginning.


(0:37) Around four billion years ago, something started to be alive on Earth, and ever since then, that life has had a profound effect on the planet. Photosynthesizers used sunlight to break up carbon dioxide and build their bodies out of the carbon and release the oxygen. That oxygen made all kinds of interesting, weird things happen— including, at one point, killing almost everything.

So, no! Life creating atmospheric change that has a profound negative impact on life... not actually new!

Over time, life kept shoving energy into carbon-containing molecules and then, after the life died, those molecules would break down, and the energy would be re-released. But sometimes, the molecules of the dead thing would stay trapped. And they wouldn't break down, and they would get stuck in the earth, where they'd heat up and get squished and become coal, or oil, or natural gas. All of that energy, emitted by the Sun, grabbed by life and then stored by the Earth, waiting there to power your car or your refrigerator or your Microsoft Zoom.

That energy is what has powered so much of our modern lives, but as we have released that energy to do things with, we have also released the original molecules that it was stored inside of. Those complicated carbon molecules get broken down, and carbon dioxide gets released. It is a molecule that is opaque to a lot of infrared radiation, a gas that makes our atmosphere less clear to heat.

And so heat that would otherwise escape no longer is. There is more energy in the atmosphere and it's changing weather patterns, increasing droughts and fires and storms and heat waves. But unfortunately, we also really need all of that energy to prevent people from dying in heat waves,

 (02:00) to (04:00)

to make the food that people eat, to move it around, and to power the plane that takes me to visit my brother. We can't just turn the power plants off. People would start dying very quickly, and they wouldn't stop for a really, really long time.

It's messy, and it's complex, and, like those first cyanobacteria, people started to wonder if we weren't gonna just ruin it for ourselves. But we are smarter than them, and we are more capable of passing broad-based industrial policy with a focus on clean energy than they are. Barely, just barely. And that brings us up to now.

 Today (2:29)

I'm so excited
And I just can't hide it
Hank: In 2005, a couple of years before this YouTube channel began, the U.S. hit peak carbon emissions of 7 billion tons per year. At the time, that problem looked pretty insurmountable. This is Jesse Jenkins, one of the world's leading experts in modeling decarbonization efforts, talking about those dark years

Jesse: You know, at the time, if you could get a wind farm that cost less than $100 a megawatt hour, which is, like, triple the normal electricity rate, that was a great deal. And solar was ten times the cost of normal power from a gas plant or something. But over the last decade, you know, due to supportive policies in the U.S. but also abroad in China and Germany and Japan and elsewhere, we've taken these, what we used to call "expensive alternative energy technologies," that, at the time, people were worried we couldn't get, you know, 5 or 10 or 15% of our electricity from without blowing up the grid, and now they're cheap, trillion dollar, mainstream technologies that are scaling rapidly and are powering, you know, in the case of some parts of the country, the majority of our electricity on certain days.

Hank: I'm in what seems to be a weird situation of being more optimistic now than I was 20 years ago, because, in that time, I have seen a lot of change. Since this YouTube channel began, we have dropped from 7 billion tons to 5 billion tons emitted per year in the U.S. In the next 15 years, according to Jesse's models, which, admittedly, are trying to predict the future, we will probably get down to 3.5 billion tons, 50% lower than our peak.

This week, I was able to talk to Michael Regan, the head of the EPA,

 (04:00) to (06:00)

and he also talked about this optimism.

Michael: Even when I talk to past EPA administrators, the role technology plays in the solutions that we're seeking, the quickness of innovation and the evolution of business models matching with technology as science and data, we can move much faster than we've ever moved before.

Hank: We are aiming for net zero carbon emissions in America by 2050, and this is the first time in my life that I have felt like that might be possible. We have never undergone a shift in energy use that is anything like this, maybe the original electrification of the country, but we're gonna have to make this shift a lot faster than we made that shift.

However complex you think this is, it's more complex than that, at this case, even for experts. Like, we only ever get to see our own little corner of what's going on. This is a big problem that no one person understand all of. But, in this video, you're gonna go from understanding more than like 80 or 90% of people to understanding this more than 99% of people, and it's only gonna take you, like, 15 minutes. So let's do this.

 What's This? It's Climate Change Legislation? (5:00)

TikTok Audio: "What's this?" "It's an art project?" "Okay, I like it, Picasso."

Hank: This bill basically has three big goals, and I don't see them being talked about, so here's the framework with which to understand this.

One: We are trying to decrease the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses we emit in the atmosphere.

Two: We are trying to make the impacts of climate change and pollution and also this energy shift less impactful on people or, ideally, a good thing for people so that they like it. Particularly, we would like to decrease the impacts on the most disadvantaged people.

And third, and this is important to understand anything that's going on here: This is a bill that is trying to make the United States of America into an industrial center of the clean technology revolution.

Now, there are some other smaller things in the bill that don't fit into any of these categories. We'll talk about them in the future. But that's the three big things.

Oh, look! Each one of these blocks is a billion dollars, and there are 369 of them, and we're gonna start filling them up. First, we want to drive down the cost of installing renewable energy projects. That's wind, solar, and grid-scale batteries. That's gonna lower people's electricity bills,

 (06:00) to (08:00)

and it's also gonna make it so that, when you plug in your electric car in the year 2027--we'll get to that--the power turning your wheels is going to produce less carbon dioxide.

And wow! We have filled up a lot of our billions. All this money is here to incentivize power producers to use more wind, solar, and grid-scale batteries. That's gonna reduce the amount of CO2 being released into the atmosphere, but also it does the second thing. It does that by decreasing electricity bills, having minimum wage requirements and apprenticeship requirements, and it does the third thing by requiring that a lot of the stuff that is going into these projects--solar panels, batteries, wind turbines--are made in America, and the components are either from America or from our free trade allies.

If you've ever played Tony Hank Pro Skater, you know how, like, when you do more than one trick in a row, you can get a multiplier? It's like that. If you do any of these individual things, you get some stuff, but there's multipliers every time you do more.

"But Hank," I hear you saying. "We don't make a lot of solar panels or wind turbines or batteries in America right now. How are we gonna be able to source those from America?"

Oh, don't worry about that. Boom! It's the second biggest thing in the bill: the manufacturing tax credits. Not only do the people buying the thing get the tax credit, but so do the people making the things. We're building out a whole industry here. $37 billion is expected to go toward helping companies make solar panels and batteries and battery components and wind turbines and etc., etc. And they've gotta be made in the U.S., and they gotta hit those wage and apprenticeship requirements.

"But Hank!" You continue to be concerned. "Solar power and wind power, they're intermittent. You can't expect them to be on all the time, and those batteries, they're gonna handle some of that shifting, but not all of it."

That is right. We need firm power, power that you can turn on whenever you need it. And the biggest piece of cash in this bill that goes toward that goes toward existing nuclear power plants, helping them stay open and keep operating. Existing carbon-free electricity with tax breaks, but only if you meet wage and apprenticeship requirements. Probably just expect that everything you hear about's gonna have wage and apprenticeship requirements, because this bill has to be good for people, and also there need to be people to work on these things, so you need to be training people and you need to be paying them well.

Now, also focused on firm power are smaller investments

 (08:00) to (10:00)

in potential future technologies like advanced nuclear power, advanced geothermal, and advanced biofuels. We don't know which of those things is gonna be the best or most impactful, but all of them could end up being important players in carbon-free firm power.

Alright, so now this hypothetical person who's basically constructing the bill with me is concerned that we're giving a lot of money to power plants, not a lot of money to people. Well, how about $22 billion for you and another $14 billion after that and then $12 billion after that?

The $22 billion goes to help people upgrade their appliances in their homes, like water heaters, furnaces, stoves, and even just their electrical boxes, to handle all of that new electricity. Because guess what? You might not have noticed. Your house currently has an exhaust pipe.

It's extremely likely that you have power coming into your house in two ways. The electricity that powers the lights and the microwave and your Microsoft Zune, and then there's the gas power that powers your furnace and your water heater and maybe your stovetop, possibly even your clothes dryer.

All of that means that your house chugs out CO2, and there isn't an easy way to clean that up without replacing those methane-burning appliances with appliances that run on electricity. And if you can't do that, not only are you just releasing a lot of carbon dioxide, also you're reliant on a single source of fuel for your heat and your hot water, and that fuel price can fluctuate a lot, while electricity costs don't fluctuate as much. And those fluctuations hit low-income people extra hard, because fuel costs and energy costs are a higher portion of what they spend their money on.

So, this $22 billion goes toward helping people buy and, in some cases, outright covering the entire cost of appliances that electrify these previously gas-powered things. Heat pumps to heat and cool homes using electricity, heat pump water heaters, electric or induction stovetops - just buying one of these appliances saves people money in the long-term already, but folks usually can't afford the upfront costs of that, especially doing all of these things at the same time. Well, no longer.

The next $14 billion are to help people and property owners make their buildings more efficient, and these last $12 billion are for, you guessed it, electric vehicle tax credits

 (10:00) to (12:00)

that you probably can't use.

I know what you're thinking. "All of that sounded so great until that last part. Why can I not use my electric vehicle tax credits?" Because of the third thing. These cars also have manufacturing requirements, and when this bill goes into effect, the number of cars that will qualify for that is quite small, and they will all be sold very quickly.

Now, there were already tax credits on electric vehicles, but those credits only apply for the first 200,000 vehicles from each manufacturer, and many manufacturers--GM, Tesla, etc.--have already burned through all those. This extends those indefinitely for the next 10 years, but only if they meet the requirements, because, again, the bill is about all three things. Other countries have had this kind of industrial policy for decades, and that has allowed them to build up their industries producing these things. And the people who crafted this bill, for better or worse, want the U.S. to have that kind of industrial policy.

It now looks like we are more than halfway through the things that this bill does, but we are not. Down here, things start to get much more dense, and then you realize that there are actually hundreds of ways that this bill spends money, and each one of them does a different thing for different people in different places.

Like, "Hank, what about the carbon impact of forest fires?" Yeah, that is in there. "How about decarbonizing airplane fuels?" Yeah, early stages in trying to get that done, that's in there. "Convering garbage trucks and city buses to electric?" It definitely does that. "Tax incentives for existing power plants to capture their emissions?" Yeah, $3 billion for that. "Electrifying most of the postal service fleet?" Another $3 billion for that.

"Reconnecting communities that were divided by the interstate highway system?" Yes, $3 billion for that, too. "Helping farmers figure out systems for sequestering carbon in their fields?" Sure. "Cleaning up and electrifying port infrastructure?" Definitely that. "Early market creation for low-carbon building materials?" Also in there.

"New transmission lines, because all this electrification's gonna require a more robust grid?" Yeah, that, too. "Charging stations for EVs?" Got that as well. "Grants for tribes to invest in clean energy?" Got that, too. "Buying debt from rural power co-ops if they promise to shut down their carbon-emitting power plants and giving them money to build new infrastructure?" That's in there, too!

 (12:00) to (14:00)

There's a lot of things that are trying to do really specific, individual things. But there's also big hunks in here that aren't prescriptive. It's money for communities to do things that they want to do to decrease their impacts. Here's EPA administrator Michael Regan again talking about that.

Michael: A lot of these grant dollars that are in the act, we're able to give those to community groups who are partnering with universities and incubation centers. The matching dollars and the low-interest loans are available to people who have never been at the table.

If we get these universities and these young adults, these incubation centers, really tackling these issues with community groups on the ground, these solutions can look 1001 different ways, and we have to feed all of these solutions to see which ones work for each individual community. We don't have to accept the notion that there's a one-size-fit-all. It can look 1001 different ways.

Hank: "But Hank," this hypothetical person who is walking me through this entire bill is now asking me. "Why are we doing all of these individual things instead of just doing the one thing? If you did one thing, it would do everything, and that's just to make fossil fuels more expensive."

 What The Bill Doesn't Do (13:10)

Mean Girls Audio: Gretchen, stop trying to make "fetch" happen. It's not going to happen.

Hank: A few years ago, an ex-lobbyist from Exxon Mobile was caught on video saying this.

Lobbyist: Nobody is going to propose a tax on all Americans, and the cynical side of me says, "Yeah, we kind of know that." But it gives us a talking point that we can say, "Well, what is Exxon Mobile for?" Well, we're for a carbon tax.

Hank: Here's the thing. We passed this bill staring down the highest inflation rate in decades and $5 per gallon gas. There are two ways to incentivize the move toward clean energy. We can make clean energy cheaper, and we can make fossil fuels more expensive. And with people already having a hard time getting their butts to work, nobody in Congress was gonna keep their jobs if they intentionally made fuel costs go up.

This bill is very nearly all carrots for clean energy and just a few sticks for fossil fuels, but I will talk about those sticks now,

 (14:00) to (16:00)

because one of them I love very much. Methane is the most simple carbon-containing molecule, and it is even better at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Over the short term, it's 80 times better at trapping heat. And as we've moved away from coal and toward natural gas, which is basically just methane, that has been good, because methane is a more efficient fuel.

You get more heat per carbon dioxide molecule that you release, except that, at every step of the way, methane can leak into the atmosphere - at the wellhead, at the pipeline, at the compressor, at the infrastructure that delivers it to your house, and the facilities that use it.

The Methane Emissions Reduction Program provides incentives to fix leaks and acquire more advanced systems for keeping methane from being released, and it also pays for teams to check and see if there are methane leaks and charge increasingly hefty fines to the companies that are releasing this entirely usable, potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. Those fines go up and up and up until they generate a fairly significant amount of revenue as it forces these companies to clean up their act.

The other sticks against fossil fuels are fairly minor. They reinstate the superfund tax, which is basically a big pool of money that polluters pay into, and that money is then used to rehabilitate the damage that they do to the environment. It is a superfund. When I was a kid, I thought it was the super fun program. It's not that.

There's also an increase in the percentage of money that the government gets back from oil companies when they take oil and gas off of federal lands. And finally, there's an increase in the cost of holding a lease without developing it, so just having it sit there and not using it. There's an increase in that cost. Both of those are basically ways to dis-incentivize companies from using federal lands to produce oil and gas.

So there are a couple of sticks to keep fossil fuels a little more under control, but mostly we want their costs to remain steady or even go down as demand for them decreases, because the alternatives are just better.

But also, weirdly, there's a couple of carrots for fossil fuels.

 Joe Manchin Just Won't Do That (15:49)

And I would do anything for love

Hank: Since we are obsessed with anything that makes us feel bad, if you've heard anything about this bill, you have heard that Joe Manchin,

 (16:00) to (18:00)

moderate Democrat, forced the inclusion of a few very weird provisions. First, and most frustratingly, he took a few oil and gas leases in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico that Trump had authorized, and then Biden had paused, and people have been fighting against for years, and was like, "You want my name on this? You make those leases happen." It's super weird. It's super frustrating. It's outside of the normal process. No one likes this, except for, of course, the oil and gas companies and Joe Manchin.

And the other thing was basically a way to prevent any President or lawmakers in the next 10 years from banning fossil fuel leases on federal land, and it does this by tying the ability to put clean energy projects on federal land to a requirement to offer leases for oil and gas drilling on other, separate federal land. Now, an offered lease is not a sold lease, and a sold lease is not an oil well, but it is still disappointing. It kinda gets stuck in your throat, even if modelers show that the overall carbon effectiveness of the bill only goes down by about 2% because of these provisions.

So Manchin, I guess, got what he wanted out of it, which is everyone talking more about how he loves fossil fuels and they're his pretty little baby than the entire rest of the bill. And also he got to be, like, one of the title names on the bill, despite being one of its biggest opponents. (laughs) So, ah!

So now, the right question to ask is, "Is all of this going to work?" And, luckily, I have prepared for you more squares! Each one of these is roughly 5 million fewer tons of CO2, and, by 2030, there are 200 of them, so that's roughly a billion fewer tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Here's where we'll be. Decreased CO2 in transportation saves us 280 million tons per year. Cleaner power generation saves us 360 million tons. Cleaner industry saves us 130 million. Cleaner buildings save us around 70 million tons, same for the equivalent carbon dioxide effects of mostly methane but also other greenhouse gases produced by cars, like nitric oxides. And finally, carbon sequestration in agricultural and forest lands gets us a final 80 million tons. And, of course, we do not pause there. The effects of these changes are projects to get us down another 500 million tons by 2035.

I'm aware that there are gonna be people who are gonna be

 (18:00) to (20:00)

mad at me for being pretty unapologetically excited about this bill. Like, I'm mad that we lost the Civilian Climate Corps, which would have been thousands of young people working on the ground on these problems. I am frustrated that we lost a lot of due process on these oil leases, and they weren't even something that I was actively working on, so I can't imagine what it must be like for the people who have been fighting those battles.

Look, I don't know if it's that I'm old now, or that I'm privileged in, like, a thousand ways, or that I've been through a number of climate fights that went very badly. Or maybe I'm just thinking practically about the fact that this might be our last chance to get something substantial done for years, like, many years maybe, especially because there was every likelihood that this could have just not happened like many other parts of the original Build Back Better didn't happen.

In fact, four measly weeks ago, it seemed like it wouldn't happen. I got to talk to Jesse Jenkins about that.

Jesse: I was on vacation with my family, or leaving for vacation, and I got the call from Senator Schumer's staff that the bill was dead. Same phases of grief, right? Shock, loss, anger. And some people stopped at anger, and they just got mad at Joe Manchin on the internet and yelled at, you know, got cynical, like you were talking about.

And some of us, including some members of, you know, a few handful of members of the Senate, again said, "No. (laughs) This is not how it's gonna end. I refuse to accept that." So, this is also bargaining, right? That's one of the phases of grief. And we went back to work, and we bargained. And it, against all odds, it worked.

I had pretty well given up hope that it was gonna succeed at that point given this is the second time the rug was pulled out from under us. You know, I wanted to be able to tell my kids that we fought to the very end, and it worked. And I am so grateful--I'm gonna tear up a little--for all the people, really, that did that, because it was very, very close to failure.

Hank: I don't harbor any illusions that I live in a perfect world or a perfect country or that perfect legislation exists. There are 330 million of us. The fact that we get anything done at all is a little impressive. And over the last 10 years, we have made tremendous strides in cutting carbon emissions, and that has been, in large part, because of government investment

 (20:00) to (22:00)

in the U.S. and elsewhere. Between 2009 and 2017, America spent around $20 billion per year fighting climate change. Over the next 10 years, we will spend $80 billion per year.

There are a lot of super powerful people who have been working really hard this whole time to slow this down as much as they can. At first, they say it doesn't exist. Then they say it's not caused by people. Then they say it's caused by people. but it's not that big of a deal. Then they say it's that big of a deal, but the costs to take it on are too great. We have hit them with reality at every step in that process, and we are gonna hit them with reality at this step in the process, too.

They will tell us that the costs are too great, and after we prove to them that it's not, they will tell us that it's too late. Nothing gets done if you don't believe it can't be done, and I, for the first time in decades of this, have started to believe that it can be done.

And it's happening, I think, for two reasons. One: because of the very hard work of a lot of people, from policy to science to communication and outreach. And two: because it is getting hard to ignore the very real effects of all of this extra energy in our atmosphere and in our oceans.

We might be in a very narrow window here, a moment when the effects are too present for anyone to ignore anymore but not so present that they will hold us back from implementing solutions. I don't know how long that window is gonna be open, and I was not sure that it was open until somebody did something and said something, and they kept working and they kept pushing and they kept making the case that this needed to be done until it got done.

But now, it feels like the window's open. It does not feel like we are done. One big step does not get you over the mountain pass. There is much more to do, but, as I've been saying, I am more optimistic now that this is a challenge that we can actually take on than I have been maybe in my entire career. John, I'll see you on Tuesday.

 Outro (21:50)

Heads up, my full interviews with Jesse Jenkins and Administrator Regan are up over on hankschannel. I learned a ton from both of them. They're fascinating conversations. There's links in the description.

And also, just a general thank you

 (22:00) to (22:24)

to everyone, and there are thousands of you, who worked in some way on this bill, either advocating or writing or doing policy analysis. Like, it's a big thing. Both on my behalf but also on behalf of, like, my son, who's gonna be around for more of this future, and I want his future to be one that I can believe in, one where the fair rides that he loves so much are powered by clean energy, and you're helping with that, so thanks.