Speaking against the backdrop of one of the worst droughts in California history, President Barack Obama on Friday announced plans to pitch to Congress a $1 billion climate change resilience fund intended to help communities facing climate change-induced negative weather.
The proposed fund is separate from Obama’s wider climate action plan and will be included in his 2015 budget, set to be released next month. This means the fund must be authorized by Congress and will not rely solely on executive authority. According to the White House, the fund would finance research on the projected impacts of climate change, help communities prepare for its effects, and fund “breakthrough technologies and resilient infrastructure.”
Last week, the Assistant to the President on Science and Technology, John Holdren, said without any doubt, the severe drought afflicting California and several other states across the country is tied to climate change.
“We really understand a number of the reasons that global climate change is increasing the intensity and the frequency and the life of drought in drought-prone regions,” Holdren said. “This is one of the better-understood dimensions of the relationship between global climate change and extreme weather in particular regions.”
Holdren said these effects include more rainfall that occurs in heavy downpours, meaning less is absorbed into the earth and more becomes runoff; more rain and less snowfall in the mountains, which means less melting snow to feed rivers in the spring and summer; and higher temperatures causing more evaporation.
“Recent events have reinforced our knowledge that our communities and economy remain vulnerable to extreme weather and natural hazards,” the administration said in a statement released last week.
From Hurricane Sandy in 2012, to this year’s record-low temperatures in the Midwest, to the California drought, the evidence of climate change is everywhere. And it’s costing us.
A 2013 report by Ceres found that extreme weather events cost the United States $100 billion in 2012. Most of this went towards federal crop, flood, wildfire and disaster relief. Only 50 percent of the damages in the United States caused by extreme weather events are privately insured, which means the federal and state governments are left to pick up the remaining tab.
But rather than encourage behavior that reduces risks from extreme weather events, public disaster relief and recovery programs tend to promote behavior that increases these risks–such as agricultural practices that increase vulnerability to drought and new development in hurricane- and wildfire-prone areas.
In September, a coalition of leading scientists from around the world, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced it is 95 percent confident that human influence is the dominant cause of global warming. Translation: The debate is over–climate change is caused by human action.
With Congressional Republicans clinging to fiscal austerity, it seems likely the president will face opposition to the $1 billion measure. But climate change is becoming less of a partisan issue as its effects become more and more difficult to ignore. Some 80 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents now support increasing renewable energy use and more than 60 percent believe the United States should take action to address climate change, according to a Yale-George Mason University study. Only a third of Republican respondents said they agree with the GOP’s position on climate change, which has changed dramatically since 2008.
Photo Credit: Flickr Bert Kaufmann
Based in San Francisco, Mike Hower is a writer, thinker and strategic communicator that revels in driving the conversation at the intersection of sustainability, social entrepreneurship, tech, politics and law. He has cultivated diverse experience working for the United States Congress in Washington, D.C., helping Silicon Valley startups with strategic communications and teaching in South America. Connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter (@mikehower)