In an empty wind-swept field in Richmond, California, next to the county landfill, a company called RavenSr has plotted out land and won permits to build a factory to convert landfill waste to transportation-grade hydrogen for powering vehicles. Six miles away, Moxion Power has laid the concrete foundation for a factory to make energy storage batteries for freight trucks and mobile uses.

RavenSR and Moxion Power are among more than 300 companies across the U.S. launching clean energy manufacturing projects with the help of tax incentives from the Inflation Reduction Act. Meanwhile, consumers have used the law’s tax credits to purchase 1.46 million climate-friendly electric, plug-in hybrid, or fuel cell cars.

The most far-reaching climate law in history, the Inflation Reduction Act is catalyzing a transition in the U.S. economy toward cleaner energy and cleaner transportation — a shift the International Energy Agency, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and others say must happen for the world to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases to the levels scientists say would avert the most catastrophic and irreversible climate chaos.

Those safeguard levels are a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030 from 2010 levels and net zero emissions by 2050 to limit global average temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius — a target that 195 countries agreed to in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The Biden administration’s Department of Energy estimates that the Inflation Reduction Act along with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will drive down U.S. emissions by 40% from 2005 levels by 2030, a conclusion also reached in an independent study in Science.

Combined with new Environmental Protection Agency rules restricting tailpipe emissions from future trucks and cars, limiting power plant emissions, and requiring capping of methane leaks from oil and gas exploration, as well as state and private sector action, the U.S. is on track to reduce emissions 50% by 2030, the Department of Energy forecasts.

But what happens if these climate laws are gutted or reversed?

2030 is less than six years away. What happens in the next four of them will affect our chances of avoiding the worst climate chaos, experts say.

That’s why 2024 is a climate election.

“Why this election is so important and why it is a climate election is because we are out of time,” said Lori Lodes, executive director and co-founder of Climate Power, a nonprofit working on protecting climate policy, speaking to reporters recently. 

Biden vs. Trump’s record on climate change

“The choice in this election could not be more stark and the stakes could not be higher,” said Pete Maysmith, League of Conservation Voters senior vice president of campaigns, in an interview.

“Biden has taken 322 positive actions around climate and the environment. A recent one is the rules issued for power plants,” he continued. “Donald Trump basically auctioned off our climate and environmental laws — auctioned off our future — to the tune of $1 billion to oil executives when he met them in Mar-a-Lago.”

Maysmith was referring to a meeting Trump had with chief executives of major oil companies in which, according to the Washington Post, he told the executives that if they donated $1 billion to his reelection campaign, he would prioritize reversing President Biden’s environmental laws and rules once back in office.

In Trump’s first term as president, he overturned an estimated 100 environmental regulations and pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement. He shrank the EPA and required that the words “climate change” be removed from its website. On the campaign trail this time, he has repeatedly said one of his top priorities is to boost oil and gas production and free up more public land to “Drill, baby, drill.”

Not everyone gives Biden high grades for his climate work.

“Biden hasn’t been a climate panacea,” said Jeff Ordower, North American director of 350 Action, a part of the advocacy group, criticizing the Biden administration for allowing a record number of new oil and gas drilling permits and greenlighting of the Willow Project oil exploration in Alaska.

But Ordower emphasized that the presidential contest taking shape is not between Biden and some stronger environmentalist. It is between Biden and someone who would “walk us backwards” on climate progress and who blatantly dismisses climate science.

“We have an opportunity to really push for climate solutions at the scale and scope we need with an administration that’s been friendly towards solutions and that is persuadable towards pausing fossil fuels, versus an opponent who is not either of those, an opponent that pulled us out of the Paris Agreement and who will walk us back,” Ordower said in a telephone conversation.

What Trump could do to reverse Biden’s climate policies

It is not just warnings from environmental leaders that describe what could happen under a Trump second term. Trump’s own advisers and conservative economists and policymakers have spelled out a plan for a new Trump administration. Their Project 2025 Presidential Transition Project is a self-described playbook of what a new Trump presidency would do in its first 180 days.

Among Project 2025 priorities: “Support repeal of massive spending bills like the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which established new programs and are providing hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies to renewable energy developers, their investors, and special interests, and support the rescinding of all funds not already spent by these programs.”

Regarding Department of Energy reforms, it would: “Unleash private-sector energy innovation by ending government interference in energy decisions,” as well as “Stop the war on oil and natural gas,” and “Refocus FERC on ensuring that customers have affordable and reliable electricity, natural gas, and oil and no longer allow it to favor special interests and progressive causes.”

As to the Environmental Protection Agency, Project 2025 states: “EPA’s structure and mission should be greatly circumscribed to reflect the principles of cooperative federalism and limited government. This will require significant restructuring and streamlining of the agency.” It calls for downsizing the agency.

Project 2025 calls for reversing the bans on exports of liquefied natural gas and on the use of hydrofluorocarbons or refrigerant chemicals that even manufacturers favor.

A recent report from Carbon Brief, an international clearinghouse of climate research, calculated that reelecting Trump to a second term would result in 4 billion tons of climate-warming gases added to the atmosphere by 2030 – an amount it said is equal to the yearly emissions of all of Europe and Japan combined.

“A second Trump term that successfully dismantles Biden’s climate legacy would likely end any global hopes of keeping global warming below 1.5C,” Carbon Brief said.

Environmentalists could swing the election, if they vote

Given these dire predictions, a strange paradox exists in voting data. According to the Environmental Voter Project, a bipartisan get-out-the-vote nonprofit, people for whom climate change and the environment are top concerns are statically less inclined to participate in voting than the general population.

“In the 19 states we work in, we’ve identified 4.8 million individuals who are registered to vote and highly likely to call climate and environment their number one worry, but they are unlikely to vote in November,” said Executive Director Nathaniel Stinnett in an interview. “Why? Because we looked at their voting history and they didn’t vote in 2022 or in the last presidential election.”

So the Environmental Voter Project has been conducting a massive get-out-the-vote campaign, with volunteers going door to door convincing identified environmentalists to vote — but not advocating for any specific candidates.

“We turn nonvoting environmentalists into consistent voters, that’s it. We are not in the mind-changing business, just in the behavior-changing business.” Stinnett said. He wants people who care about the climate and environment to go to the polls, for all elections — local, state, and federal — because time is of the essence.

To avoid its straight reportage of factual matters becoming confused with a position of endorsement, the title of this article as presented here has been revised.