Getting Serious about Climate Change Adaptation

The climate change headlines haven’t been very encouraging lately. Climate and energy legislation is going nowhere fast in Congress. While the House of Representatives passed a comprehensive bill last June, the Senate has been unable to secure the votes for a similar bill. Efforts by Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman stalled last week over a disagreement on immigration reform. It’s unclear if or when they will resume.

The gridlock continues despite the fact that we know climate change poses an urgent threat to our communities and rivers. What’s more, we know what we have to do to solve the problem: reduce carbon pollution and begin adapting to the inevitable climate change impacts we’ve already caused with past emissions. On the adaptation front, we have to begin preparing our communities for the worsening floods, droughts, and water pollution we’re already beginning to see. All of the infrastructure and land use decisions we make now have to withstand for a more volatile and uncertain climate.

But all is not lost. In the absence of Congressional action, the Obama administration has been making progress on a couple fronts. Late last year the Environmental Protection Agency formally acknowledged that greenhouse gases pose a threat to human health and welfare, which allows them to regulate emissions under the Clean Air Act. The administration has also been making quiet progress on climate adaptation. In the fall of 2009, President Obama ordered the White House Council on Environmental Quality and a number of federal agencies to begin creating an adaptation strategy for the U.S. Government. In mid-March this task force released a progress report on their efforts including a number of key elements to be included in a national adaptation strategy.

The progress report is a great step toward developing a national adaptation strategy that can help reduce the vulnerability of our communities to the impacts of a changing climate. However we have to ensure that as we prepare our communities for climate change that we do so in a way that helps rather than harms wildlife and natural environments. We need to protect and restore the wetlands, forests, rivers, and floodplains that provide us with clean water and protect us from floods.

You can add your voice to the important adaptation work that the task force is undertaking. They are accepting public comments on the progress report until May 14th. Tell them that you support their work and that they need to ensure that they help prepare our rivers and communities for climate change.