The Inflation Reduction Act brings our oldest technology to combat climate change

The Senate passage of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, the most comprehensive climate legislation in US history, puts our nation on the right track to tackle climate change from all angles. You may have heard how the law would take an economy-wide approach to reducing emissions, accelerating the clean energy transition and helping American families transition to low-carbon and money-saving technologies. What you may not know is how this new legislation will also push our oldest climate change technology – trees – to naturally remove carbon emissions from the air while revitalizing American communities and creating jobs.

Yes, the humble, familiar tree is our best existing natural carbon storage solution, and a recent Pew Research Center poll found that 90 percent of Americans support planting trees as a way to combat climate change. No wonder, given that two of the most pressing climate threats to our communities — extreme heat and wildfire — are both tree-related.

Climate change costs lives

The extreme heat that has killed thousands of Americans in recent summers is being fueled by climate change – and will continue to get worse. A Duke University study suggests that heat-related deaths in the United States, now at 12,000 a year, could increase to nearly 100,000 a year by the end of the century if we don’t act to provide our communities with the right tools to make it more heat-resistant like treetops.

Our wildfire crisis is also being fueled by climate change, which is drying out and killing our forests at an unprecedented rate. Forests of sick and dead trees are like a powder keg waiting for the spark that climate change is also providing in the form of more thunderstorms. It’s no surprise that climate change has already doubled the number of acres burned in the western United States in the last two decades alone. And without intervention, it will only get worse.

We have the power to fight back against these climate threats, but we must make the right investments in planting trees and tending to our forests. The Inflation Reduction Act follows this call.

Use the power of trees

Treeless neighborhoods aren’t just unsightly — they can be more than 20 degrees hotter, dramatically increasing the health risks in those neighborhoods. And just consider that trees in our communities already reduce the energy used to heat and cool homes by more than 7 percent, saving homeowners over $7 billion annually. That means we can save lives, greenhouse gas emissions, and money by planting trees and improving tree care in neighborhoods that need cooling shade the most. The Inflation Reduction Act addresses this challenge on a truly historic scale by providing $1.5 billion over nine years in city and municipal forestry grants to cities and their partners through the US Forest Service.

We can also fight back wildfires with smart investments that keep our rural forests and communities healthy and resilient. Climate-stressed forests can be managed to reduce their vulnerability to drought, pests and wildfires. This begins with selective, science-based thinning of forests combined with carefully managed prescribed fires that reduce the amount of woody combustible fuel on the forest floor. Again, the $2.15 billion Inflation Reduction Act steps in to treat America’s 193 million acres of national forests, with a focus on the most flammable areas near our communities and our priceless old-growth forests like those with giant sequoias to be protected.

Capture carbon on all countries

This monumental climate change legislation is historic not only because of the above investments, but because it enhances the carbon storage power of healthy forests on both public and private land. The Inflation Reduction Act provides $1.15 billion in grants and incentives to permanently keep privately managed forests from development and to help manage them so that more carbon is captured and stored in forests and forest products.

This investment has incredible potential to help slow climate change given that America’s forests already absorb about 17 percent of our annual carbon emissions and more than half of our forests are privately owned. Providing private landowners with the financial means to transform their forests into permanent natural carbon sinks is a great way to increase forests’ climate mitigation capacity. It will also help preserve all other public benefits that come from well-managed private forests, such as clean water.

On a dollar-for-dollar basis, these forest investments in the Inflation Reduction Act offer some of the most effective measures to protect America from climate change while reducing energy costs, increasing carbon storage, and creating many jobs in the process. In fact, a study by the Political Economy Research Institute found that investing in the bill’s “natural infrastructure” provisions, such as forests, will create 600,000 jobs over the next decade.

America owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.), Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.), and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who spearheaded the cause for the forests within her Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Food and Forestry. We are also indebted to the additional 47 “yes” votes from Senators (and Vice President Kamala Harris) who correctly understood the urgency to reduce emissions and strengthen natural climate solutions across the board. As this historic legislation moves into the US House of Representatives, our representatives should quickly add their “yes” to begin delivering economic and environmental solutions to America.

Jad Daley is President and CEO of American forests, the nation’s oldest conservation organization. Follow him on Twitter: @JadDaley.

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