MEMO: We Can’t Afford Cost of Inaction on Climate, Jobs, and Justice


*** Senior Sierra Club policy staff and leadership, along with grassroots volunteers, are available to discuss the urgent need for Congress to take meaningful action on climate, jobs and justice. *** 

Every day, people in communities across the United States suffer immediate and worsening effects of the interlocking crises of climate, health, economic insecurity, and injustice -- impacts that could be addressed by swift passage of the Build Back Better Act. 

Several studies released this week highlight the massive economic, environmental, and human costs of climate inaction that will continue to escalate until Congress passes the Build Back Better Act. Once the Senate approves this vital package of investments, the United States will finally begin to make significant progress toward addressing the climate crisis while advancing economic equity, public health, and racial, Indigenous, gender, and environmental justice. 

In the meantime, communities across the country suffered from 20 climate-related weather disasters last year that caused at least 688 deaths and that each cost over $1 billion in damage -- resulting in a total cost of $145 billion in 2021. A report from the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information states that extreme weather events such as droughts, storms, rising sea levels, floods, and hurricanes have cost more than $742 billion in the past five years alone and more than $2 trillion since 1980. A Washington Post analysis found that 40 percent of Americans live in counties hit by climate-related disasters in 2021.

NOAA also reported that the contiguous U.S. experienced its fourth-warmest year on record in 2021. A New York Times analysis found that 2021 broke records for extreme temperatures across the country. Globally, the past seven years were the hottest seven on record, according to a report from the European Commission’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. Another new study this week shows that the past five years have been the hottest five on record for the oceans, driven by greenhouse gas emissions.

These dire statistics will only grow worse until we boost the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. Greenhouse gas emissions increased 6.2 percent in 2021 compared to 2020, including a 17 percent surge in coal-fired power generation, according to a new report from the Rhodium Group.

Amid this dark cloud of climate costs, the Build Back Better Act not only shines a ray of light on combating the climate crisis, but it will also help the average person save money on essential expenses while creating higher-paying jobs for workers. When it passes, it will reduce the costs of healthcare, prescription drugs, child care, and eldercare; create free universal access to preschool education; cut utility bills; and provide more affordable clean transit options. A recent study shows that the Build Back Better Act will save the average family at least $7,400 per year, or $15,000 for single-parent households. Seventeen Nobel Prize-winning economists agree that the Build Back Better Act “will ease longer-term inflationary pressures.” Meanwhile, the bill is expected to support more than 2 million jobs each year in its first five years, according to analysis from the Economic Policy Institute.

It behooves members of Congress to understand what’s at stake for their constituents -- and especially for frontline, fenceline, and environmental justice communities -- as they push for urgent passage of the full suite of climate and social investments in the Build Back Better Act.



  • Communities across the country see increasingly frequent destruction from climate-fueled disasters.

  • It becomes more expensive to reduce carbon emissions to acceptable levels.

  • The nation lacks a clear path to meet President Biden’s international commitment to cut U.S. climate pollution in half by 2030.

Public Health 

  • Out-of-control climate change has major impacts on every American’s health. Rising temperatures are leading to more frequent and severe heat waves, heavier rainstorms and flooding, and increased air pollution. All of these changes are posing serious and costly risks to public health.

  • People who live in public housing are not getting BBBA’s much-needed upgrades to their living conditions, including reduced energy costs, healthier forms of heating, and protections from storms, flooding, and other extreme weather events.

  • Families in half a million low-income homes are subject to the dangers of lead-based paint and other health and environmental hazards that BBBA would eliminate.

  • Millions of people drink lead-contaminated water from lead service lines that BBBA would replace.

  • Communities who live near the fenceline of factories continue to endure cancer risks from dangerous air pollution levels without BBBA’s investments to cut industrial pollution.

  • Communities endure toxic runoff from outdated stormwater systems during heavy downpours without BBBA’s upgrades. 

  • Elderly people and children run the risk of life-threatening heat exposure during increasing heat waves without BBBA’s investments in urban green spaces.

Transportation & Pollution

  • Residents of affordable housing lack access to safe, frequent public buses and metro lines that BBBA would enable.

  • Schoolchildren breathe polluted air from diesel school buses that BBBA would electrify.

  • Electric vehicles are beyond the means of working and middle-class families, and their charging stations remain out of reach, without BBBA’s investments.

  • Ninety percent of U.S. Postal Service trucks continue to run on polluting fuels without BBBA’s investments to electrify the mail trucks.

  • Ports continue to be hotspots of toxic air pollution due to unabated emissions from trucks, ships, and machinery without BBBA’s investment in healthy ports.

  • Neighborhoods -- primarily in Black and Latinx communities -- continue to be divided by highways that reinforce systemic racism and spur pollution without BBBA’s support for reconnecting communities.


  • Families continue to struggle to pay utility bills without the hundreds of dollars in energy cost savings that BBBA would deliver each year.

  • Wind and solar power remain out of reach for many communities, including in rural areas, without BBBA’s historic investments in renewable energy.

  • Many families remain unable to afford installing solar panels on their rooftops without BBBA’s rebates.

  • Low-income and Indigenous communities, as well as churches, hospitals, schools, local governments, and other nonprofits, are not able to proceed with solar and wind projects without BBBA’s cost offsets.

  • The country’s electric grid remains unreliable without BBBA upgrades, leaving communities vulnerable to disastrous grid failures like the one that killed over 100 people in Texas last year when a cold snap knocked out power for over 4 million homes.

  • Thousands of farmers are unable to afford to switch to renewable energy and machinery that uses less energy without BBBA’s cost supports.

  • Many working and middle-class families are unable to afford weatherizing or electrifying their homes to reduce utility bills and pollution without BBBA’s rebates.

Environmental Justice & Community Resilience

  • People who live in environmental justice communities lack critically needed funds to support clean up and economic investment without BBBA’s historic block grants.

  • Neighborhoods that have endured decades of environmental injustice are exposed to toxic pollution, disproportionate harm from climate disasters, and unhealthy living standards without BBBA’s investments in clean air and water and climate resilience. 

  • Communities that have been dependent on fossil fuels and communities where factories have closed suffer without BBBA’s investment in family-sustaining clean energy and clean manufacturing jobs and job transition support.

Lands & Water

  • The coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is at risk of being devastated by oil and gas drilling, greatly threatening the Gwich’in people’s way of life, without BBBA’s protections.

  • Vital forests and wetlands are prone to damage from extreme temperatures, hurricanes, and storms without BBBA’s restoration efforts. 

  • Families, farmers, and businesses in drought-stricken areas continue to experience increasing water shortages without BBBA’s investments in drought relief. 

  • Hundreds of thousands of farmers do not have the economic means to protect healthy soil and boost their harvests without BBBA’s investments in regenerative agriculture.


About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit