Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, © Gary Garton

Changing the Climate Conversation

Jamie Rappaport Clark, President and CEO

This country has been bogged down for too long with the intractable debate about whether or not humans’ consumption of fossil fuels is causing global warming. As a result, we’ve dangerously delayed the debate we really should be having: what should we do about the change in climate that is clearly taking place?

Jamie Rappaport Clark

Defenders’ president and CEO, Jamie Rappaport Clark

Unfortunately, the national leadership that we need to answer that question will not be forthcoming anytime soon from our gridlocked and paralyzed Congress. By default, this means that President Obama will need to accelerate his efforts to take control of the climate change conversation by promoting the proper conservation and management of our natural resources, maximizing energy efficiency in this country and ensuring the safety and protection of our vulnerable communities. Federal agencies are already taking steps to address climate change impacts on federal lands and have established overarching frameworks for responding to climate change, such as the development of the National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy and the release of individual federal agency climate adaptation plans. The administration has also made important investments in applied science to better understand climate impacts, such as the new National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center. But much more needs to be done to reduce our vulnerability to climate change.

We need to move beyond debating whether this is happening to our planet. What we should be discussing is how to most effectively respond and take action. How best to move forward and change our policies to plan for extreme weather? How to promote energy efficiency in a way that keeps our economy strong and makes a significant difference? And while it’s important to talk about how climate change can affect weather patterns and make storms, droughts and flooding more severe, simply linking climate change to the latest weather disaster doesn’t help the conversation. Supportive media must take the next step and bring attention to the conservation and adaptation work that helps reduce the severity of these effects, like wetland restoration and managing forests to reduce the intensity of wildfires.

The time for “ifs” about climate change is over. Now, our leaders have to ask themselves what to do next, and how.

Originally published in the National Journal