Candidates and Local Leaders Need to Face Up to Climate Change

In spite of the historic Paris climate meeting in November and agreement to limit the increase in the global average temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius, none of U.S. presidential candidates of either party is talking about climate change. Yet, both our economic and national security (which the candidates do spend a great deal of time talking about) depend on addressing climate change right now.

2015 was the hottest summer on record, and 2016 promises one of the wettest winters. It is hard to have missed the flood of headlines that closed out 2015 and began the new year. "Monster Storm System Spawns Tornadoes, Blizzards, Flooding" "Death Toll Rises in Missouri Floods; California is Entering the Fourth Year of a Record-Breaking Drought"

California and much of the Southwest have been impacted by an extended drought as the southeast and Midwest have been experiencing unprecedented flooding. While it may seem contradictory--too much water vs. not enough--these extreme weather and climate conditions are intensified by climate change, can occur at the same time in the same place, do not cancel each other out, and have a direct impact on our hopes of a sustained economic recovery and a peaceful, prosperous future.

Extreme weather events such as storms and drought are increasing and increasingly being linked to climate change. The threat to our economy is becoming obvious. For example, in South Florida, an area historically plagued by floods now worsened by rising sea levels caused by climate change, a renewed building boom has triggered a heated conversation between water advocacy groups such as Miami Waterkeeper, scientists such as Harold Wanless at the University of Miami and developers of luxury real estate in what could resemble a future "Waterworld."

Back in the 1990s the military coined the acronym VUCA to map planning for times of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. But I would argue, that midway through the second decade of the 21st century, we are living in the days of VUCO--volatility, uncertainty, complexity and opportunity.

Yes, opportunity.

That is the part we need to embrace. We cannot afford to look away. Our future depends on it.

Miami Mayor Phil Levine has been proactive in balancing the environmental and economic needs of the city by raising the storm-water fee $7 per household per month and fast-tracking a program to install electric pumps along prime flooding spots on the city's west side. He has been able to draw upon tax revenues provided by the building surge to pay for environmental initiatives.

The Santa Clara Valley in California is another area that has long dealt with the threat of seasonal flooding from the Guadalupe River. Thanks to the Guadalupe River Park and Flood Protection Project, local agencies have dramatically improved flood protection for downtown San Jose and other neighborhoods and businesses while protecting habitat and greatly expanding the Guadalupe River Park with new trails, plazas and open space. Over the past two decades, Santa Clara Valley Water District has invested $1.2 billion in flood protection improvements, including major construction projects, channel maintenance, an underground bypass system to divert fast-moving floodwater away from the river, channel widening, bridge replacement, trails on both sides of the river, and additional riparian habitat.

2016 is the year when we can choose to embrace opportunity.

The global climate accord represents an opportunity and a blueprint for climate security that we must embrace. Let's let our elected officials and candidates know we expect them to honor it.

Clean energy represents a tremendous economic and job creation opportunity. And it is ready to be built to scale. Let's thank our Congressional Representatives who voted to extend tax incentives for the development of solar and wind to help diversify our energy portfolio and urge them continue to support action to decarbonize our economy.

In addition, our ability to innovate and develop new technologies promise solutions to many of our climate-related challenges, but we must invest in those solutions now, so they will be there when we need them.

So, when you are choosing a presidential candidate to support, go to their websites and see what their plans are for addressing climate change and participating in the climate accord. When you attend a campaign event, ask them if they support regulations that reduce greenhouse gas emissions (those gases that warm the planet). Ask them if they support investing in research that supports the ability of our best minds in our nation's universities and in the private sector to work on finding solutions to our climate challenges.

There is a Chinese Proverb that the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago and the second best time is now. Please plant a tree. Don't look away.