The timing is significant. Just a few days after the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, President Obama issued an Executive Order designed to encourage Americans to incorporate climate change awareness into their activities and plans.
In that order, he writes, unambiguously, “The impacts of climate change — including an increase in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, more heavy downpours, an increase in wildfires, more severe droughts, permafrost thawing, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise — are already affecting communities, natural resources, ecosystems, economies, and public health across the nation.”
In response, he calls on local governments, businesses, and individuals to, “improve climate preparedness and resilience; help safeguard our economy, infrastructure, environment, and natural resources; and provide for the continuity of executive department and agency operations, services, and programs.”
The Executive Order lays out the following actions:
- Several government agencies including, Defense, NOAA, and EPA, are to forge a plan to protect resources and watersheds
- All agencies are to make an inventory of climate change risk and actions they recommend to address them
- Resources such as open data frameworks to enhance cooperation between local governments, NGOs and the private sector will be established
The order, which builds upon a 2009 order, is part of a larger plan to mitigate the impacts of climate change. That effort got serious this June when Obama directed the EPA to begin enforcing carbon limits on power plants. That plan, to date, has been criticized for not being aggressive enough.
Time will tell if this new phase will ramp things up. The fact that it involves the formation of a task force is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does bring to mind other task forces and committees that have failed to come up with meaningful outcomes on things like the budget.
Of course, the politics will overwhelm the science. So the question is: are the politics ready to change? Pew Research claims that two-thirds of Americans acknowledge that human activity is responsible for climate change. Even 61 percent of Republicans agree, if you don’t count the Tea Party. As in other crucial matters, it is only the Tea Party that is holding us back. Only 25 percent of them acknowledge what the overwhelming scientific consensus knows to be inconveniently true.
The order’s intent is to ensure that all government plans and activities take climate change into account as a matter of course. For example, roads, bridges, and flood control projects must all be designed to incorporate contingencies necessitated by our best understanding of the probable risks that a warming climate could bring.
In the words of John P. Holdren, the president’s science adviser, “All of that is now going to be shaped by the awareness of climate change, and the things that can be done to make those investments produce a much more resilient society.”
The order seems to have received a warm welcome from the environmental community.
Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green For All, said,
One year ago this week when Superstorm Sandy hit New York and New Jersey, we learned how vulnerable we all are to the devastating potential of extreme weather caused by climate change. And today, we applaud President Obama for leading our nation in preparing our neighborhoods to survive the storms. The executive order acknowledges that while climate change threatens us all, it doesn’t do so equally. Social, economic, and infrastructural stability are important factors in determining how vulnerable a neighborhood is to floods, fires, and hurricanes. Superstorm Sandy confirmed what we learned from Hurricane Katrina more than eight years ago. Communities with the fewest resources have the hardest time preparing, escaping, surviving and recovering from extreme weather.”
The order is another small, but not insignificant step to address the looming climate changes ahead. Several difficult and highly contentious issues still await government action, including the Keystone XL pipeline, and the Pacific Coal Export Terminals that some have said could have an even greater impact.
RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining romp that is currently being adapted for the big screen. Now available on Kindle.
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