The Climate Struggle Literally Hit Home in 2022
That transition to an all-electric life—no more gas stoves or water heaters, either—will also create jobs. One estimate reckons that the IRA will create nearly a million per year over a decade. These should serve both red and blue regions: Rural areas might have solar or wind farms that need building and maintenance, while bluer urban areas have lots of buildings that need better insulation and heat pumps. “What a great opportunity for us to create jobs that are going to be highly skilled, well-paid labor that can’t be outsourced very easily,” says Foley. “You can’t insulate your attic from China.”
In an increasingly polarized US, the green economy stands to benefit the whole political spectrum. November’s midterm elections showed just how serious American voters have gotten about climate change. Democrats focused in large part on the end of Roe, to be sure, but also on climate, with candidates like Nevada senator Catherine Cortez Masto and Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer running—and winning—on the issue. “You can see that it created no backlash at the polls,” says Stokes. “Voters are really concerned about this.”
Meanwhile, European nations are racing to engineer their own climate turnarounds, thanks in large part to Russia cutting gas shipments following its invasion of Ukraine, and to the explosions that shut down the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines between Russia and Germany. (Germany, for example, pledged this summer to cut its gas use by 20 percent, and in Poland, heat pump installations—which quadrupled since 2017—accelerated after the invasion.) “When it gets cold—sort of like January, February—it’s going to be a problem,” says Philip Webber, chair of Scientists for Global Responsibility, who studies UK home efficiency and the impact of the Ukraine war on the energy system.
Some of that response has been governmental, like negotiating gas deals with other suppliers, boosting solar energy production, and limiting energy use in public spaces. Some cuts have come from industry, both in factories and office towers. But as in the US, much of this conservation is focused on households. In March, the International Energy Agency published a 10-point plan to wean the European Union off Russian gas, and four of them were aimed directly at consumers: reducing energy prices, boosting energy efficiency in buildings, turning down thermostats, and, yes, installing heat pumps.
But not all energy-focused funding efforts are a done deal. In November, as its energy system descended deeper into crisis, the government of the United Kingdom announced it would spend $7 billion to make housing more energy-efficient. Homes in the UK are notoriously leaky, meaning people have to use more energy for heating, while the cost of the energy is soaring and supplies are dwindling. (And burning more wood for home heating isn’t a sustainable solution.) That $7 billion, though, won’t land until 2025, after the UK’s next general election in May 2024, when climate-forward Labour politicians could take power and enact much more ambitious low-carbon plans anyway. They’re calling for $70 billion—10 times as much—just for home insulation over the next decade.
Better insulation and heat pumps are decidedly unsexy solutions—and they are not yet well distributed enough to stave off a cold winter for people in the places worst hit by the energy crisis. But they’re absolutely critical going forward. Although the events of 2022 have provided plenty of incentive, Webber says, it’s a transition that will take some time—and will be well worth the effort. “Even if you don’t care about climate change, you’ll be more comfortable and spend less on energy,” says Webber. “I think it’s about modernizing your living standards as much as anything else.”