Short-Term Climate Solutions (circumventing a stubborn U.S. Senate)

Following the announcement that the Senate will likely not pass a climate bill this year, there has been understandable concern from many that we’re headed for some potentially devastating impacts to our communities and water supplies as temperatures rise. Well, as if to answer that hopeless tone, a group called the Presidential Climate Action Project (PCAP) released a report last week detailing steps the Obama Administration can take to address climate change in the absence of Congressional action. They recommend five actions that we could start in the near term:

  • Create a national roadmap for the transition to a clean energy economy
  • Dramatically boost energy efficiency
  • Reinvent national transportation policy
  • Eliminate fossil fuel subsidies under the Administration’s control
  • Invest in ecosystem restoration as an adaptation strategy

The first four are essential steps to start bringing our emissions under control and, in combination with EPA regulations to limit carbon pollution, could put us on a path to a clean energy economy that would help us avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change.

The final recommendation is perhaps the most intriguing, as it addresses the need for action on climate adaptation. It’s important to remember that the Senate’s failure to pass a climate bill not only means that we don’t have emissions reductions targets; it also means that the adaptation provisions included in various climate bills won’t become law in the near future. In their report, PCAP gets it right by focusing on the need for the Obama Administration to push forward with adaptation by protecting and restoring ecosystems. The authors emphasize that human development has degraded the ecosystems that provide clean water, reduce floods, and can help us adapt to a more volatile and uncertain climate:

“Over the past century, national policy has resulted in replacing natural systems that provided [ecosystem] services at no cost with engineered systems that are expensive to build and maintain. With a false sense of security created by flood control structures, many communities have continued building in natural floodplains only to see structures fail to perform as designed, or fail because of inadequate maintenance.”

The report stresses the need to change these ill-conceived policies and restore our degraded landscapes as the primary strategy for adapting to a changing climate. The authors recommend that the Obama Administration create new standards for infrastructure projects, assess the potential for green infrastructure solutions, and explore the feasibility of new restoration projects.

All is not lost. There’s still a lot we can do even if the Senate continues its stubborn resistance to addressing climate change. The Obama Administration would do well to build on the considerable climate efforts it has already undertaken and follow the recommendations of the PCAP report.