It's the Environment, Stupid.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Global Warming Preparedness Act

Browsing through Grist today I came across Adam Browning's post from Saturday, April 1, "Not a helpful turn in the global warming conversation." Browning refers to an op-ed piece in the NY Times by the Death of Environmentalism authors, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger.

In the op-ed piece Nordhaus and Shellenberger call for a Global Warming Preparedness Act, as a way for governments (mainly on the state and federal level in the U.S.) to be better able to respond to disasters that will occur due to global warming. "The law would give the Federal Emergency Management Agency the task of coordinating a national global warming preparedness plan with other government agencies. For instance, coastal and Gulf states would be required to demonstrate effective evacuation procedures to deal with rising sea levels and more severe hurricanes, as well as to assess the risks of new construction in low-lying areas. And Southwestern and agricultural states would be required to determine their capacity to cope with future droughts."

Browning disagrees with the piece, saying that by moving toward adaptation, efforts toward prevention will cease. "For people still interested in working on prevention, this is an unproductive way to take the conversation."

I don't think it is unproductive at all to talk about adaptation, in fact that is one of my critiques about all of this global warming/climate change talk at the moment. While the coverage has moved from skepticism to acceptance, it seems like we're at an 'I told you so' phase where everyone is laying out the proof in detail: sea temperatures rising, arctic ice melting, earlier arrival of spring, migrating birds, species extinction and so on. All of the 'we must act now' advocates are pushing for emission reductions, carbon offsets, fuel efficiency, alternative energy sources - necessary, yes - but no one is really talking about how we're going to deal with the potential effects on humanity.

Even if all CO2 emissions ceased today, the concentration levels will still rise, and the earth will attempt to continue regulating itself. I believe there are things we can do on the prevention side, but we must take action toward preparedness and start thinking about how we will adapt to lessen the negative impacts and potential devastation and destruction. Will the new New Orleans be re-built to withstand category 4 and 5 hurricanes or another massive flood due to a levee breach? Can the expansion in booming areas in the southwest U.S. handle increased energy and water demands during heat waves or drought periods? Financing the cost of natural disaster destruction also must be considered (also alluded to in the op-ed piece). Will the U.S. government continue to pay for the clean-up and rebuilding of crucial infrastructure systems that allow business and residential areas to function? Should the government even be responsible for these costs?

Nordhaus and Shellenberger end their piece with: "We can agree to disagree on the causes of climate change. What we all must agree on, though, is that it poses a risk — one for which we are woefully unprepared." With adequate planning and preparedness the monetary, and human/societal losses can be significantly reduced. Yes, prevention is important, but we must also be ready to adapt.

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