Skip to main content

Adapting to Climate Change

October 25, 2010 – The White House released a report on the 14th of this month about climate change. The subject of the report is adapting to climate change. Not preventing, little in the way of mitigating. Adapting. Yes, I know – it’s too late for prevention. I also know that actions being taken on the city and state levels will help to mitigate some of the effects of climate change. I know that anything the federal government does is best done quietly, without fanfare. I know that the EPA is kicking into high gear (and that the Republicans only await a favorable verdict on Election Day before they act to stop it). Still: how very inspirational it must be to our international “partners” to know that we are devoting ourselves, at the national level, to adaptation.

The title of the report says it best: Progress Report of the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force. So much said with so few words; this title speaks of missed opportunities, of misguided attempts on the part of our government to silence those who knew better, of denial sanctioned at the highest levels. Am I being awfully bleak about things? I suppose I am. After all, for the very first time, the federal government is confronting this issue head on. The executive summary, which is all I’ve read, begins with this statement: “We envision a resilient, healthy, and prosperous Nation in the face of a changing climate.” This is a worthy goal, and none of us knows to what degree it can be accomplished, so naysaying serves no purpose.

All right, on to the report itself. The Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force is co-chaired by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). These agencies are charged with delivering a report describing how policies and practices of Federal agencies can be made compatible with and reinforce national climate change adaptation strategy. One would have to assume that the Task Force will also outline what that strategy is … ? Here are some clues, in that regard:

“Understanding and preparing for climate change requires both domestic and international action … Adaptation measures should focus on helping the most vulnerable people and places reduce their exposure and sensitivity to climate change and improve their capacity to predict, prepare for, and avoid adverse impacts.”

“ … most adaptive actions will occur at the local level.”

“Achieving this [strategic] vision … will also require a commitment to respond to climate change impacts that have already begun to occur while simultaneously taking proactive steps to understand and prepare for future climate conditions.”

There follows a list of “Guiding Principles for Adaptation.” These principles include descriptions, some of which say things like “Adaptation should be incorporated into core policies … ,” “Adaptation plans should prioritize helping people, places, and infrastructure that are most vulnerable to climate impacts, and be designed and implemented with meaningful involvement from all parts of society,” and “Adaptation should be grounded in the best-available scientific understanding of climate change risks, impacts, and vulnerabilities.” I should mention that, in describing the Task Force and its duties, the report states that “ … the Task Force conducted numerous listening sessions and public outreach events with a wide range of stakeholders over the past year … .” I was very glad to read that. Just as I was even gladder about the reference to “the best available scientific understanding … .” What a concept – involving the scientific community! Talk about long overdue.

The recommendation that the most vulnerable people should have an improved capacity to predict, prepare for, and avoid adverse impacts says more than it at first appears to say. Those who live in places like New Orleans need to understand the likely outcome, should they remain at home rather than evacuating, during a Category 3 hurricane. They must understand the adverse impacts of remaining before they can understand what they are avoiding. Let’s face it, the best way to avoid adverse impacts in places like New Orleans, Galveston, Houston, Biloxi, and others is to MOVE. As far as I can see, helping the most vulnerable – that’s what the report says - means helping with the cost of moving and finding new jobs. Remember, the report says they need to reduce their exposure and sensitivity to climate change. If climate change is forecast to increase the intensity of hurricanes (it is), and if levees are designed to hold up through a Category 3 storm, what about Category 4 – or 5? Helping people rebuild every time one of these powerful storms strikes a coastal city will become a very heavy burden for Americans living in the climatically changed future to assume.

The Executive Summary of the report concludes with a “Summary of Policy Goals and Recommended Actions for the Federal Government.” The next “progress” report will summarize the results of implementation efforts. It is due in October 2011, by which time coalitions among the various local, state, Tribal, private and nonprofit stakeholders are supposed to have been strengthened. Cooperation and collaboration, instead of competition? It just might work …..


Popular posts from this blog

The SunShot Initiative

In 2007, the amount of solar power installed in the U.S. was 1.1 gigawatts (GW). As of 2017, that amount has increased to 47.1 GW. Enough to power 9.1 million average American homes. If you're thinking "we've still got a long way to go," you'd be right. On the other hand, increasing installed power by 4300% deserves some attention.  How'd we do it?

The Department of Energy played an important role. In 2011, they initiated a program called The SunShot Initiative. They set targets for the years 2020 and 2030, by which times generating solar power would have become more affordable. More affordable on a utility scale, more affordable on a commercial scale, and more affordable on a residential scale. Thus far, they've succeeded in hitting the 2020 goal for utility-scale generation. Needless to mention, they reached that goal three years early. The goals, it should be mentioned, don't take subsidies into account. It's the technology, in the case of util…

The Future Has Arrived

September 4, 2017 - Wildfires are burning throughout the Pacific Northwest. Hurricane Harvey has decimated the greater Houston area and parts of Louisiana. Hurricane Irma glowers out in the Atlantic. In other words, forecasts made decades ago are proving accurate. Four hundred parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was regarded as a tipping point, the point at which climate change would take on a life of its own. If no one ever drove their car another block, if farmers never used another ounce of chemical fertilizer, if not so much as one more acre of land was cleared with fire, climate change would continue on its way, wreaking havoc.

We passed four hundred ppm this year. I'm not sure where we stand right now; we were supposed to be at around 410 by spring. I'm not advocating giving up. Of course not. We must still - and at this point, will, whether we want to or not - consciously lower our standard of living, and stop enjoying the conveniences for which we are…