Don’t Be Prepared

Written by Matt Barrett on . Posted in Learn

Editor’s Note: This blog, by The Nature Conservancy in California’s Executive Director Mike Sweeney, originally ran last Thursday, August 4th in The Huffington Post.

Don’t Be Prepared

Mike Sweeney – The Nature Conservancy in California

Huffington Post Green

August 4, 2011

Of the current Congress, 204 members have participated as a member of or an adult volunteer in the Boy Scouts. I don’t remember much from my own scouting days, apart from how to start a fire and pitch a tent, but the big takeaway is right in the motto: be prepared. It’s not profound, and you don’t need to hear the fable of the ant and the grasshopper to understand it; just plan ahead and don’t get caught off guard, especially when you can see danger coming. So how is it that so many former scouts in Congress forget the one thing the Boy Scouts hoped they’d remember?

Professionals ranging from scientists to military leaders have all concluded that our world’s climate is changing, and they are asking policy makers to start getting America ready for the impending changes. Californians are particularly concerned. According to a poll released last week, 75 percent of Californians believe that climate change is threat to the state’s future economy; in fact, 61 percent of Californians think the effects of climate change have already begun.

Unfortunately, instead of taking the advice of these professionals and the concerns of the largest state in the union, a majority in Congress is at best dismissive of and at worst hostile toward taking even the most basic steps to educate and protect Americans from the consequences already unfolding.

Last month, the House of Representatives passed an amendment to the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill to eliminate the Army Corps of Engineers’ climate change adaptation efforts. This program would allow the Army Corps to develop and implement practical and cost-effective methods to adjust and address problems to America’s levees and dams resulting from climate change.

Californians rely heavily on a safe and strong system of dams and levees that both protect urban areas like Sacramento and provide drinking water to Bay Area and southern California residents. As our climate changes, storm runoff from the Sierra Nevada Mountains will fluctuate, affecting the water we drink and the safety of millions of people. That’s sort of an important thing to be prepared for, even if you decide, based on your own personal science, that it’s unlikely.

As Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, said, “The entire portfolio of our structural and non-structural water resources projects will be affected by climate change, necessitating not only mitigation to climate change, but adaptation as well.”

But expert testimony and the Boy Scout motto did not persuade the majority of the House of Representatives. The Army Corps was called “a construction agency — not a scientific research agency” whose mission “does not include climate change,” and the program was cut from the House’s Appropriations Bill. Keep in mind that the Army Corps regulates 1,600 miles of levees in California that protect the water supply of more than 23 million Californians.

And this action was not isolated. Dubbing it “a propaganda office,” the House of Representatives passed an amendment preventing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from creating a new “climate service.” The proposal sought to more efficiently respond to the rapidly increasing demand for easily accessible and timely scientific information about the changing climate that would help people make informed decisions in their lives, businesses and communities.

And building on their work, the House of Representatives stripped funding to the Climate Change Adaptation Task Force , which works to align federal efforts to respond to climate impacts that cut across jurisdictions and missions, such as those that threaten water resources, public health, and oceans and coasts and to help local, state and tribal decision makers in improving management of places and infrastructure most likely to be affected by climate change.

The evidence is clear that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing, and this increase directly correlates both to burning fossil fuels and to increased temperatures. We know there’s more heat-trapping carbon in the air since we started burning fossil fuels, but we also know that the isotopes of that extra carbon tie it right back to our smokestacks, tailpipes and burned forests. Increased temperatures mean the expansion of ocean water caused by warmer ocean temperatures and melting of mountain glaciers and small ice caps, leading to rising sea levels. It will mean more frequent and severe weather events like droughts. And runoff patterns, which we all rely upon for our water supply for our homes and our agriculture, will shift.

But I digress. Let’s imagine you’re a member of Congress and your gut tells you this is all overblown. Okay, how about just a back-up plan and some preparedness in case you’re wrong — like, say, the armed forces of the United States do when they run scenarios and prepare for security threats resulting from climate disruptions?

Although several cities, ranging from conservative areas like Newport Beach to liberal enclaves like San Francisco, are preparing for climate change, many of our elected representatives in Congress have chosen the path of indifference in facing this problem. That’s a lot of scouts living by the wrong motto.

Mike Sweeney is executive director of The Nature Conservancy in California.

You can follow Mike Sweeney on Twitter at:  www.twitter.com/mppsweeney

Photo by: Flickr user The Forest History Society (A patrol of Boy Scouts from Camp Harvey West practice hiking with backpacks, in preparation for a trip into the Desolation Valley Primitive Area. Camp Harvey West is located on the upper end of Upper Echo Lake and is operated under special is permit. The large tree at the left is a veteran western juniper believed to be well over 2000 years old. Eldorado National Forest, California). Used under a Creative Commons License.

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Planet Change is a Nature Conservancy blog site designed to share stories about actions the Conservancy and others around the world are taking to fight carbon pollution and the impacts of climate change, and to help people feel the connections between climate change and their daily lives and understand actions they can take.

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