What’s the Big Idea in President Obama’s Budget? Building Resilience to Climate Consequences.

, , Director, Climate & Energy | March 6, 2014, 3:35 pm EDT
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To Washington insiders, the release of the president’s budget is a rather ho-hum event. Congress has all but abandoned any adherence to the official budget process, but President Obama this week did submit to Congress a proposed budget as required. Although this budget does not have the force of law, it does give him the chance to recommend important initiatives. His proposal for a Resilience Fund should be a conversation starter.

Taxpayers are already footing the bill for some aspects of climate change through disaster relief. If funded, the president’s proposal would help communities prepare for climate change and could reduce the need for costly bailouts in the future.

Resilience funding is essential to confront the consequences of climate change already being felt. It is an essential, but inadequate response to climate change. Congress needs to get behind the Resilience Fund, but it also needs to get serious about reducing the risks of the changing climate. Unless and until we start cutting emissions that cause global warming, the problems communities are facing, and their price tags, will continue to grow.

How much does climate change cost?

angela-post-federal-budget_030614The Resilience Fund confronts members of Congress with the reality that climate change is already costing the country — and their constituents — economically. Coastal flooding, wildfires, and declining water resources are affecting people where they live and work. Everything from food prices to homeowners’ insurance rates is being affected by climate change. When these costs of living increase, people who are already struggling economically are the most vulnerable.

Southeast Florida knows well the costs of sea level rise. Miami Beach is spending more than $200 million to overhaul its drainage system compromised by sea level rise. Fort Lauderdale is looking at similar expenses. During certain high tides, seawater backs up into stormwater pipes, flooding streets and neighborhoods.

The draft National Climate Assessment indicates that California’s central valley will be hard hit by climate change, with sunflowers, wheat, tomato, rice, cotton, and maize expected to lose 10 to 30 percent of their yields, especially beyond 2050. Fruit and nut crops which depend on “winter chilling” days may have to be grown elsewhere for productive yields. Animals exposed to many hot nights are increasingly stressed. Many vegetable crops will be hit when temperatures rise only a few degrees above normal.

Building resilience

The Resilience Fund is part of the Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative in the President’s budget. It will support research to better understand the projected impacts of climate change; provide resources to help communities plan and prepare for the impacts of climate change and encourage local measures to reduce future risk; and fund breakthrough technologies and resilient infrastructure.

John Holdren, the president’s science advisor, provided some specific details of what the fund would support in this blog post, including:

  • $400 million to FEMA for hazard mitigation and preparedness assistance
  • Grants to NOAA and Interior for coastal resilience
  • EPA state grants to protect water quality
  • USDA efforts to reduce wildfire risk
  • Research on sea level rise forecasts, distributed generation, and microgrids

Reducing risk

Renewing the production tax credit for wind energy — another aspect of the president’s budget — is one small way lessen our reliance on fossil fuels that contribute to climate change.  Coal-importing states like Michigan and Minnesota are actively considering strengthening their state renewable energy standards. California, with the most ambitious clean energy requirement in the country, is proving that a low-carbon economy can work. The EPA rules regulating carbon emissions from power plants, expected out later this year, are an even more powerful way to limit greenhouse gases and promote low-carbon energy.

These incremental energy and climate policies are all essential steps to take to address climate change. But our scientists at UCS, along with many others around the world, are telling us that we are reaching dangerous levels of warming — bringing unavoidable impacts of climate change.

Let’s hope the president’s Resilience Fund and other aspects of his Climate Action Plan succeed in spurring a national demand for action that Congress can no longer ignore.

Despite a global commitment to hold rising global average temperature below 2 degrees C, (3.6 F), the current emissions trajectory will result in increases between 4 and 6 degrees C (7.2 or 10.8°F) by the end of the century. Source: U.S. Global Change Research Program

Despite a global commitment to hold rising global average temperature below 2 degrees C, (3.6 F), the current emissions trajectory will result in increases between 4 and 6 degrees C (7.2 or 10.8°F) by the end of the century. Source: U.S. Global Change Research Program

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  • Some people deny that humans can terraform a planet and yet they can read about the proposed settlement of Mars and subsequent plans to “create” an atmosphere-a process that will take centuries without blinking an eye. Our atmosphere is already established, it is apparently not taking much effort to simply raise the temperature in a time when the Earth’s orbit is slowing moving us a bit further from the sun and the planet should be cooling. What I do not understand is the WHY of their denial despite overwhelming evidence that we are in big trouble. What do they think will happen if they accept the prospect of terraforming of our own planet? Will lightening strike them? We could easily preserve the beauty of our planet by developing our potential for harnessing solar, wind, and tidal power. We could recycle almost everything, as I an many people I know do with so little conscious thought it has become such a habit. The planet Earth is beautiful and very rare and the only home we have. Why burn it down?

  • Resa Raven, PsyD

    The current congress will not doubt ignore the President’s budget proposals aimed at increasing community resilience, but the rest of us don’t have to. I will continue to discuss the issues raised in your article with those around me that are willing to face the harsh realities of what we have created and are continuing to create in regards to global warming, or global heating, as I prefer to call it. As a psychologist I have witnessed how denial can destroy the individual lives of perfectly well-intentioned but preferring-to-remain clueless persons too often. I hope I don’t have to witness the destruction that can come from an entire nation of people choosing not to confront the consequences of our past actions. Many thanks for your work.