Posted by: Steven M. Taber | October 22, 2009

“Building U.S. Resilience to Global Warming Impacts,” Oct. 22, 2009, Select Committee on Global Warming’s Hearing

The consequences of global warming in the United States will be significant even in the case of deep reductions in future heat-trapping emissions. The current and anticipated impacts — including sea level rise, more frequent heat waves, regional drought and flooding, and more intense tropical storms — pose a serious threat to our health, environment, economic well-being, and national security.

While Congress works to curb carbon pollution to avoid the worst effects of global warming, America must look at adaptation measures that will protect communities from harm caused by global warming that is already set to occur.

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, chaired by Rep. Edward J. Markey (D – Mass), is holding a hearing on October 22, 2009, entitled “Building U.S. Resilience to Global Warming Impacts.  Chairman Markey states in his published opening remarks that:

In a new report that I requested, the Government Accountability Office assesses the current steps our country is taking to address the impacts of global warming. They find that federal efforts thus far have been largely ad hoc. To effectively address the impacts, we need a strategic plan that sets our priorities, improves the information available to decision-makers, and clarifies the roles and responsibilities of federal, state, and local governments.

With only four witnesses scheduled, John Stephenson, Natural Resources and Environment, Government Accountability Office, Eric Schwaab, Deputy Secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Stephen Seidel, V.P. for Policy Analysis & Gen. Counsel, Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Kenneth Green, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute, the hearing has the potential to be dwarfed by the two days of hearings next week on the Boxer-Kerry Climate Change Bill over in the Senate.

The GAO is proposing that the U.S. government develop a “national strategic plan,” since it found that very little is being done, particularly at the federal level, in “adaptive” plans.

The plan should, among other things, (1) define federal priorities related to adaptation; (2) clarify roles, responsibilities, and working relationships among federal, state, and local governments; (3) identify mechanisms to increase the capacity of federal, state, and local agencies to incorporate information about current and potential climate change impacts into government decision making; (4) address how resources will be made available to implement the plan; and (5) build on and integrate ongoing federal planning efforts related to adaptation.

(Ed. Note: the GAO has now put on line an “e-supplement” to the Report that it issued at the Hearing this morning, which contains 101 pages of additional information supporting the Report’s findings).

Eric Schwaab, representing the State of Maryland, a state that is particularly effected by the impacts of Global Warming, stated that already

Maryland is currently losing approximately 580 acres per year to shore erosion; and alarmingly, thirteen, Chesapeake Bay islands once mapped on nautical charts have already disappeared beneath the water’s surface.

Mr. Schwaab, who correctly points out that the states are “at the front lines of planning for climate change,” ask for certain efforts to be made at the federal level to recognize the states’ efforts, provide for “intergovernmental coordination on adaptation,” and (of course) provide funding to states.

Stephen Seidel of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change offers four recommendations in developing a “federal adaptation program.”  One, each Federal agency should develop a climate change “strategic plan” for what it needs to do to build greater resilience to climate change into its programs and mission.  Two, Mr. Seidel suggests that the Federal government create a “National Climate Service” that would offer the “intergovernmental” support that Mr. Schwaab desired.  Three, Mr. Seidel recommends that any adaptation program have the appropriate structure within the Executive branch.  Finally, (and most importantly, since this is something that can be done relatively easily), the Federal government should mandate adaptation considerations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The final witness, Kenneth Green of the American Enterprise Institute suggests three things to “build U.S. resilience to global warming impacts.  First, he recommends that the U.S. should shift its focus from mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions toward an adaptation agenda, since, as Mr. Green states, “we do not, at present, have the technologies needed to significantly curb greenhouse gas emissions without causing massive economic disruption, and without preventing the developing countries from developing, and lifting their billions of people out of squalor and poverty.”  Second, Mr. Green suggests that the U.S. “remove the misguided incentives that lead people to live in climatically fragile areas such as the water’s edge, drought-prone locations, flood-prone locations, and so on.”  Finally, he points out that the U.S. must look at its infrastructure:  “another government action that leads people to live in harm’s way is the failure to build and price infrastructure so that it is both sustainable and resilient to change.”

With all of the hoopla about the Climate Change bill(s) and the potential failure of the world’s nation to reach any sort of agreement at Copenhagen, this seems to be an issue that should be rising up most people’s priority lists.  How are we going to adapt to the changes that have already occurred and to those that we have predicted to occur, but lack the technology or the political will stop?

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