U.S. President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act on Aug. 16, 2022, including electric vehicle subsidies with 'buy American' rules. Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty

The 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, President Joe Biden’s landmark climate law, is now expected to prompt a trillion dollars in government spending to fight climate change and trillions more in private investment. But the law and Biden’s broader “buy American” agenda include measures that discriminate against imports.

One year in, these policies, such as the law’s electric vehicle subsidies, appear to be succeeding at growing domestic clean energy industries – consider the US$100 billion in newly announced battery supply chain investments. But we believe the law also clearly violates international trade rules.

The problem is not the crime but the cover-up. Today’s trade rules are ill-suited for the climate crisis. However, simply tearing them down could hinder economic growth and climate progress alike.

If U.S. leaders instead take responsibility for forging an improved international trade system – rather than denying the violations of trade rules or pointing fingers at similar transgressions by trade partners – they could help put the global economy in a better position to weather increasing climate-related trade tensions.

Building, then violating WTO rules

The United States has shaped international trade rules more than any other country.

In the 1940s, the U.S. proposed rules that were eventually largely adopted as the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, or GATT, a series of multinational agreements to reduce trade barriers. The most ambitious of the GATT agreements was the U.S.-instigated Uruguay Round of the 1990s, which created the World Trade Organization.

Some WTO rules are vague, but others are crystal clear, including an unambiguous prohibition of subsidies contingent on the use of domestic products instead of imports. Certain provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act do exactly that, such as the electric vehicle subsidies that require a large percentage of parts to be produced in North America.

The choice facing U.S. policymakers was between accepting the Inflation Reduction Act, including its rule-breaking, protectionist elements, or missing the small window to pass federal climate legislation.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) explicitly refused to provide the 50th vote needed to pass the law if it wasn’t to his liking, and among his asks was domestic sourcing requirements. More broadly, any meaningful climate legislation that does not support the local economies of fossil fuel-heavy regions may be dead on arrival in the U.S. Senate.

Without the Inflation Reduction Act, however, the U.S. had next to no chance of meeting its climate commitments, which would have dampened climate policy momentum across the world.

U.S. leaders might have been justified in begging for forgiveness after passing the legislation rather than asking for permission to violate trade rules. Instead, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee, said his team reviewed the international trade laws very carefully and found no violations.

Instead of an apology, U.S. leaders have said, “You’re welcome,” arguing that the subsidies will benefit other countries by accelerating the deployment of clean energy technologies and lowering costs.

While there is strong evidence to support this argument, it falls flat from a country that has failed to fulfill its obligations to take federal action on climate change for decades and just violated trade laws it has held others accountable to for so long. India’s power minister accused the West of hypocrisy, saying the Inflation Reduction Act’s protectionism will inhibit the energy transitions in developing economies.

The real concern: Rising protectionism

The Inflation Reduction Act contains a fundamental contradiction. Its promise to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions relies on the rapid diffusion of technologies, knowledge and finance across borders. Yet, its domestic subsidies may accelerate the adoption of trade barriers that inhibit these same cross-border flows, thus slowing progress on climate change.

Moreover, the investments it catalyzes will immediately benefit the U.S. economy, while the shared benefits of technological progress and emissions reductions will unfold over many decades for other countries. In the intervening years, other countries may respond with protectionist policies of their own.

Indeed, the real concern might not be the opening salvo, but the shootout of growing protectionism that ensues. For all its drawbacks, the growth in international trade since World War II has led to immense economic progress in much of the world, including the United States. The WTO and its predecessors have been instrumental in reducing harmful tariffs and providing a consistent set of trade rules to which countries are supposed to adhere.

Biden and von der Lyden talk in the Oval Office. They're leaning foward toward each other in their chairs and smiling.
Combating climate change was on the agenda when European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited the White House in March 2023. The European Union has proposed its own rules to support its domestic clean energy industries. Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Biden administration is attempting to assuage these concerns by forging agreements that make more foreign producers eligible for Inflation Reduction Act subsidies. But, in our view, bespoke agreements with a handful of countries aren’t enough. A new vision is needed for international trade rules that support low trade barriers and “green industrial policies” alike.

An opportunity to modernize international trade

Global trade rules have not been updated in a generation. They are sorely in need of reform.

The usefulness of the WTO is contingent on most parties agreeing that its rules are worth following. Without a new working consensus and backing from the largest powers with effective vetoes, the organization will become irrelevant.

The first step to fixing the situation is to stop denying the problem or digging deeper holes, such as the United States’ ill-advised blocking of appointments to the WTO’s dispute settlement Appellate Body since 2017 to protest what it sees as overreach by the body.

More proactively, the U.S. can reestablish its commitment to trade rules by instigating a process to develop equitable reforms.

That could begin with a global summit to discuss the changes necessary to reflect new realities. High-level leadership from the United States would add considerable heft to the ongoing efforts to reform global trade rules.

Any fundamental rewrite of WTO rules will be a long and painstaking process. Instead, it may be sufficient to add a few clauses to existing agreements – like GATT Articles 20 and 21, which deal with exceptions to the trade rules – that clearly and transparently recognize that governments will need to nurture emerging domestic industries to cut emissions fast, ensure energy security and support vulnerable economies.

New rules could limit and define the appropriate use of green subsidies, carbon border tariffs, export and import controls and supply chain coordination. For example, the U.S. and other developed countries could agree to limit subsidies’ domestic sourcing requirements to only emerging, innovative clean technologies that require public support to commercialize. Building on this, all countries could work toward an explicit list of clean energy, transport and industrial technologies needed by all that can be traded with reduced or minimal tariffs.

Of course, these trade tools would have to be managed carefully to avoid proliferating and exacerbating tensions.

In the meantime, since U.S. leaders are already acting as if these rules exist, they’ll have to accept that other countries’ leaders may act similarly — a new Kantian Golden Rule for trade.

It may turn out that the United States did the world a favor by throwing off the shackles of outdated trade rules. That will depend on whether U.S. leaders take advantage of the opportunity to reframe the discussion around the country’s recent legislation as steps toward a modernized international trade regime that better aligns with the world’s climate goals.

The Conversation

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Read more …The US broke global trade rules to try to fix climate change – to finish the job, it has to fix...

Iconic California from a 1920s orange box label. Covina Citrus Industry Photographs

Images of orange groves and Spanish-themed hotels with palm tree gardens filled countless pamphlets and articles promoting Southern California and Florida in the late 19th century, promising escape from winter’s reach.

This vision of an “American Italy” captured hearts and imaginations across the U.S. In it, Florida and California promised a place in the sun for industrious Americans to live the good life, with the perfect climate.

But the very climates that made these semitropical playgrounds the American dream of the 20th century threaten to break their reputations in the 21st century.

Women in 1920s-style bathing suits lounge on a beach in Florida.
A postcard illustrates the latest style for Miami beach bathing around 1920. Asheville Post Card Co./Wikimedia

In California, home owners now face dangerous heat waves, extended droughts that threaten the water supply, and uncontrollable wildfires. In Florida, sea level rise is worsening the risks of high-tide flooding and storm surge from hurricanes, in addition to turning up the thermostat on already humid heat. Global warming has put both Florida and California at the top of the list of states most at risk from climate change.

My books and research have explored how these two states were sold to the U.S. public like twin Edens. Today, descendants of those early waves of residents are facing a different world.

Selling semitropical climates

As railroads first reached Southern California and the Florida peninsula in the 1870s and 1880s, land, civic and newspaper boosters in each state worked to overturn beliefs that people only thrived in colder climes. In the decades after the Civil War, white Americans living in the North and Midwest had to be persuaded that sun-kissed climates would not do them more harm than good.

Employed by the transcontinental railroads, influential writers like Charles Nordhoff contested eastern notions of Southern California as barren desert where “Anglo-Americans” would inevitably succumb to the “disease” of laziness.

Challenging persistent ideas of a malarial swampland, promoters in Florida, including the state’s own Bureau of Immigration, similarly put a growing emphasis on climate as a vital resource for fruit growers and health seekers.

Photograph of orange grove and passenger train in Southern California, ca. 1880.
In the late 1800s, state promoters published pamphlets selling settlers and tourists on California’s semitropical climate. California Historical Society Collection, 1860-1960, University of Southern California Libraries and California Historical Society.

Climate became integral to California’s and Florida’s growing reputation as idealized U.S. destinations. Moreover, it was deemed unlike other natural assets: an inexhaustible resource.

Tourists and settlers gave weight to these claims. “The drawing card of Southern California,” a tourist from Chicago visiting Pasadena wrote in the Chicago Tribune in 1886, “is the beautiful, even climate.” Peninsula Florida was “blessed by nature with a semi-tropical climate,” a visitor wrote in the Atlanta Constitution in 1890. He saw its destiny to attract those who would “bask in the sunlight of a genial clime.”

This proved a compelling vision. In the 1880s, both Southern California and eastern Florida saw booms in settlement and tourism. Southern California’s population more than trebled during the decade to over 201,000, while peninsular Florida’s doubled to over 147,000.

Affluent white Americans weighed up the merits of each: for citrus-growing, winter recuperation, land investment. The differences were, of course, numerous. One state was western, the other southern; one more mountainous, the other flat. Some boosters critiqued their subtropical rival’s climate.

Southern California was too arid, a writer in the Florida Dispatch claimed, a desert “parched for want of water.” Florida, meanwhile, had too much of the stuff, editorials in California replied: a wetland fit for reptiles but potentially deadly to new residents who would wilt in its torrid summers.

Yet Southern California and Florida became connected through economic futures founded upon climate promotion and related industries of citrus, tourism and real estate. If rivals, they shared distinct market ambitions.

“California and Florida can [together] control the citrus trade,” the Los Angeles Times declared in 1885, arguing for mutual benefits in the promotion of oranges. The pair had much to gain from persuading Americans to eat their fruit.

Two men stand next to a large billboard reading: 50 foot lots at altos Del Mar. $745 and up.
Swampland was drained for subdivisions across Florida in the early 20th century. State Library and Archives of Florida

Developers in both also changed the landscape by rerouting water to create communities in once-inhospitable places. In California, the spread of irrigation to turn “desert into garden” enabled the growth of citrus towns such as Riverside, while vast aqueducts conveyed water to thirsty cities like Los Angeles.

In Florida, flawed schemes sought to “reclaim” – essentially drain – wetlands, including the Everglades, where boosters like Walter Waldin sold Americans on a once-in-a-lifetime “opportunity to secure a home and a livelihood in this superb climate.”

An inexhaustible resource

The roaring ‘20s saw a new influx of sun-seeking, automobile-driving Americans drawn by boosters to the beaches and orange groves of Los Angeles County and South Florida.

A drawing of a carnival midway with a Farris wheel, roller coaster, malt shop and ocean in the background.
A postcard of a beachfront amusement park at Mission Beach in San Diego celebrates leisure time in sunny California in the 1930s or 1940s. Boston Public Library Tichnor Brothers collection/Wikimedia

Comparing Florida and California had become a national pastime as popular as mahjong and crossword puzzles, according to Robert Hodgson, a subtropical horticulturist at the University of California, in 1926.

Hodgson traveled to Florida to act as a judge at an agricultural show in Tampa where, the Los Angeles Times reported in a dig at Florida, he visited everything “from the dizziest pink stucco shore subdivision to the latest aspiring farming colony reclaimed from the alligators.”

Rows of perfect orange trees beside a pristine lake
A postcard dated 1925 shows an orange grove in Florida. State Library and Archives of Florida/Wikimedia

Snipes aside, climate and the lifestyle they offered to middle-class Americans set Southern California and Florida apart. Hodgson wrote that they were similarly “blessed by the gods” through a “joint heritage of something like 90% of the subtropical climatic areas of the United States.”

Climate, moreover, was unlike other natural resources. Whereas precious metals or forests could be mined or cut down, climate was different: an infinite resource. It “can never be exhausted by man in his ignorance or cupidity,” he explained.

Climate as crisis

This history of climate-based advertising puts into stark relief the challenges faced by California and Florida in the era of climate crisis.

Today, both confront recurring natural disasters that are exacerbated by human-caused climate change: wildfires in California, hurricanes and flooding in Florida, and increasingly dangerous heat in both.

Palm trees stand above the wreckage of a fire-burned building and homes. The air is still smoky.
Fire season has become an almost year-round threat in many parts of California. Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images

Extensive home-building in wildfire and coastal zones has compounded these risks, with insurance companies now refusing coverage for properties at risk of fires or storm damage, or making it prohibitively expensive.

A woman in a dress carrying her shoes and a man in red and white striped shorts walk down a street that is filled with water to above their ankles.
Street flooding during high tides has become more common in Miami Beach, Fla., as sea level rises. Hurricanes on top of higher seas are increasingly destructive. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Once marketed successfully as the United States’ two semitropical paradises, Southern California and Florida now share disturbing climate-influenced futures.

These futures bring into question how historic visions of economic growth and the sun-kissed good life that California and Florida have promised can be reconciled with climates that are no longer always genial or sustainable.

The Conversation

Henry Knight Lozano received funding from the United Kingdom's Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as part of this research project.

Read more …California and Florida grew quickly on the promise of perfect climates in the 1900s – today, they...

Canada’s seemingly endless wildfires in 2023 introduced millions of people across North America to the health hazards of wildfire smoke. While Western states have contended with smoky fire seasons for years, the air quality alerts across the U.S. Midwest and Northeast this summer reached levels never seen there before.

Read more …North America’s summer of wildfire smoke: 2023 was only the beginning

Hurricane Idalia inundated parts of Tarpon Springs, Fla., and other coastal communities on Aug. 30, 2023. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

As questions loom over the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s ability to fund disaster recovery efforts, people whose homes were damaged or destroyed by recent wildfires and storms are trying to make their way through the difficult process of securing financial aid.

Residents in communities hit by Hurricane Idalia, the Maui fires or other recent disasters have a long, tough journey ahead. Early estimates suggest Idalia caused US$12 billion to $20 billion in losses, primarily in property damage, acccording to Moody’s Analytics. And rebuilding Lahaina, Hawaii, has been forecast at over $5.5 billion.

How well the initial disaster response meets residents’ needs has far-reaching consequences for community resilience, especially for vulnerable residents, as we saw after Hurricanes Katrina and Maria.

I am a law professor who focuses on disaster recovery and preparedness and has created several legal clinics to assist survivors. Here’s what anyone facing losses after a federally declared disaster needs to know.

Declaring a disaster

The road to recovery starts with state and federal governments identifying damages – both property damage and economic damage. These assessments will shape the scope of federal assistance and how resources are allocated for each community and survivor. The level of damage will determine whether the president approves a major disaster declaration or simply an emergency declaration.

FEMA created a survey tool, released in May 2023, to make these assessments more consistent. It is now used by officials to collect information about damage to residences, whether owners or renters live there, and the amount of insurance coverage, among other details. That information is then used to determine the extent of the disaster, its impact on infrastructure and the type of aid needed in the request for a federal disaster declaration.

A man wearing a T-shirt with the state seal of Hawaii speaks with reporters, standing next to a woman with 'FEMA' on her cap and shirt.
Hawaii Gov. Josh Green (center) and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell (right) speak to reporters in Lahaina on Aug. 12, 2023, while surveying the wildfire damage there. AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

Once the federal government issues an emergency or major disaster declaration, individuals can apply for disaster recovery funding.

Documenting the damage

Step 2 is determining individual damages.

Amid the grief and the rush to find temporary housing and rebuild lives, it can be hard to focus on meticulously documenting what was lost and dealing with insurance. But federal aid has relatively short deadlines – people have 30 days from the formal disaster declaration to apply for disaster unemployment assistance and 60 days for individual and household assistance, such as aid for housing, though that deadline is often extended.

As soon as possible, disaster survivors should take photos of the damage and record every affected area of their property. That includes capturing details of damage to structures, personal belongings, vehicles and any medical equipment. This documentation will help provide the evidence for insurance claims, requests for government assistance and potential tax savings.

A woman wearing shorts, a T-shirt and face mask uses a pitch fork to dig through the ash of a home in Lahaina, Hawaii.
Even when everything is gone, as many homeowners discovered in Maui after the fires, there are ways to document the losses. AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

The Internal Revenue Service has a helpful guide for reconstructing records after catastrophic disasters that destroy everything. Government agencies can recover lost driving records, mortgage records, wills and vehicle sales records. Most of the costs for these searches can be waived after a disaster.

There are other sources, too. Title companies, property tax assessors and real estate brokers will have many documents related to a home’s value and possibly photos. Insurance policies typically list major assets. Credit card companies may have statements showing major purchases. Mobile phones, friends and social media accounts may have more photos of the property.

Keeping records such as repair invoices, receipts, leases, canceled checks and money orders can also help provide an overview of the losses. FEMA recently amended its policy to also allow affidavits to prove ownership of homes passed down through generations, known as heirship property.

Finding disaster aid

People generally have four options for aid: insurance coverage, FEMA benefits, community or nonprofit funding, and private funding, including loans. Navigating this complex landscape can be hard.

Start with your insurance – homeowners insurance, renters insurance and insurance for vehicles, as well as medical, dental and health. Disaster survivors must apply for their relevant insurance payouts before FEMA will pay benefits. President Joe Biden made an exception to this rule to offer a one-time $700 payment for Maui residents to assist with critical needs, including shelter and transportation.

In cases where insurance coverage is denied or the person doesn’t have insurance, FEMA can become a lifeline.

FEMA’s Individual Assistance program offers benefits that include coverage for temporary lodging, home repair, transportation and medical needs. The agency provides up to $41,000 for housing assistance after emergencies or disaster declarations. FEMA’s disaster relief fund is close to depleted, however, after several multibillion-dollar disasters. Without additional funding from Congress soon, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said some recovery funding may be delayed to the next fiscal year, which starts in October.

A man looks out a door that is blocked at the bottom. A sump pump is running next to it. The water is nearly up to the windows.
A store owner uses a sump pump to try to keep Hurricane Idalia’s rain and storm surge from flooding the building in Tarpon Springs, Fla., on Aug. 30, 2023. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

To cover the costs that go beyond FEMA’s limits, survivors may need to secure private loans or disaster loans, such as Small Business Administration disaster loans, to bridge the gap. Homeowners can apply for SBA loans to replace or repair their primary residence or personal property, including cars, furniture and other items. Additionally, SBA loans can also cover business losses.

For those unwilling or unable to resort to loans, state and local governments often create housing recovery centers using Community Development Block Grants. These grants can help survivors reestablish housing, but the funding also takes much longer to arrive. A CBDG grant in Baton Rouge provided funding for rebuilding housing and to mitigate future flood damage in housing and rental programs after the area flooded in 2016.

Community partnerships are crucial

Amid the complexities of disaster recovery, the importance of community planning and collaboration cannot be overstated.

A coordinated approach that involves local governments, relief organizations and community leaders serves as a catalyst for effective recovery and also makes it easier to identify vulnerable populations and ensure the equitable distribution of resources so no one is left behind.

Communities often set up centers where residents can find and speak to advisers from insurance companies, FEMA and other sources of support. These disaster recovery centers can be the cornerstone for long-term recovery groups that help a community both recover and build resilience.

Five years after Hurricane Maria, community groups were still on the ground in Puerto Rico providing aid and resources to the local community. Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, local housing groups were still providing support to New Orleans residents, especially those employed in the hospitality industry.

In the midst of this formidable journey to recovery, the indomitable spirit of communities banding together, combined with the concerted efforts of government agencies and organizations, can be uplifting. Each step forward represents a collective stride toward healing, renewal and a future marked by greater unity.

This articled was updated Sept. 1, 2023, with early damage estimates.

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