While there is no debate among scientists about climate change, the political debate continues in Washington, D.C. Perhaps the clearest indicator of climate reality is at the local level, where leaders across the nation continue to seek the federal government’s help in dealing with the impacts of climate change in their communities.
This local urgency has routinely overcome climate politics. When extreme weather strikes our communities, political leaders of both parties unite to support rebuilding. When farmers and forest owners are hit by overwhelming losses from drought, hurricanes, and pest infestations, there is bipartisan support for funding to help landowners. Ask members of Congress if they want to take steps to avoid such problems in the future, and the answer will be a resounding, “Yes!”
The realities of climate change in our daily lives make ideological debates immaterial. If you are concerned by trends such as California’s “new normal” of alternate drought and flooding, coastal inundation on an unimagined scale, or a future of extreme heat waves, you are a supporter of climate change preparedness funding.
This urgency is what makes the dramatic climate cuts in President Trump’s first budget so damaging. The administration has proposed deep cuts to vital climate preparedness programs that communities urgently need. In fact, Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, said simply and clearly, “When it comes to climate change, we’re not spending money on that anymore.”
Thrown out in these broad brush cuts are many programs essential to protecting cities and towns, farmers and foresters, and others on the front lines of climate change. Take the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA) suite of programs to prepare coastal communities for sea level rise and other climate risks, such as the agency’s Coastal Resilience Grants. These programs help coastal communities assess future risks from flooding and plan measures that will avoid future loss of life and property. This is good, solid risk management in action—the kind of measure a good businessperson would use to protect his or her investments.
The elimination of NOAA climate preparedness programs will not only cut off communities from funding and technical assistance, but also forgoes private sector matching funds that these NOAA grants require. For example, The Trust for Public Land used NOAA funding designated for Superstorm Sandy recovery to help the City of New York to plan for a safer Staten Island—one of the hardest hit areas. For every $2 of funding from NOAA, my organization brought an additional $1 we raised from private individual donors and foundations.
My organization has also used climate resilience grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to work with cities such as New Orleans and Cleveland on flooding and heat risk issues, again bringing our own money to the table to match federal funds. These are great public-private partnerships, the kind of collaborations which would no longer be possible if the Trump Budget cuts are approved by Congress.
Big cities are not the only places at risk from the President’s budget cuts. Climate preparedness for rural communities which voted heavily for President Trump last November could be hurt by major cuts proposed for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Cuts of that scale would inevitably impact successful USDA programs to help farmers and foresters prepare for climate change.
This help is urgent because farmers and foresters face widespread climate-driven problems, including wildfire and pine beetle infestations hurting forestry in the Rocky Mountain region, and escalating crop losses from flooding and drought in many parts of the country. I know from working in the forest sector for much of my career that people who work the land see climate change more clearly than most of us. They live close to the land every day, and their livelihoods are affected by even tiny changes in the natural resources they manage.
New threats from climate change are obvious to foresters and farmers. As a result, USDA has seen great interest in programs like the USDA Climate Hubs and U.S. Forest Service Climate Change Response Frameworks, which give landowners science-based guidance about the climate changes that are coming, and help them manage for productive farms and forests despite these shifts.
Getting more information about the weather and changes in the land is not controversial in agriculture and forestry—it is essential to success. These USDA programs are pretty much like a climate-informed Farmers’ Almanac.
With so much to lose, the proposed budget cuts don’t make sense for the long term. All of the federal climate change resilience programs at risk likely don’t cost $1 billion total, yet a single storm like Superstorm Sandy or the recent California floods can do many billions of dollars in damage. Losing the vitality of our forestry and agriculture sectors to climate change would equate to billions of dollars in lost productivity. Even more important is the human cost: the lives at risk from extreme weather and the families that will lose their livelihood if forestry and farming are no longer viable. Investing in climate preparedness now -- using sound science and a collaborative approach with communities and landowners -- is a “no regrets” investment in the American people and our future. Hopefully, bi-partisan support in Congress for “climate-smart” solutions will allow this enlightened perspective to prevail.