Hurricane Sandy, © NASA

Mr. President: It’s Time to Go Big on Climate

Jamie Rappaport Clark, President and CEO 

The only option that will be effective in dealing with the climate crisis is to go big. We have already exceeded 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels: a frighteningly high concentration the earth hasn’t felt in millions of years. Each day that passes will make it more difficult to limit global temperatures to levels we have a hope of managing and responding to the impacts.

Any climate change strategy that doesn’t provide for the climate impacts happening right now would be incomplete. Preparing for climate impacts is the only way to face the severe storms, droughts, fires and other dangers that currently threaten both people and wildlife. Simply put, if President Obama is to create a climate plan that delivers, it must include policies that make us and our natural resources more resilient to climate impacts.

Forest fire, courtesy USDA

Climate change will mean more frequent and intense droughts and forest fires. (Photo courtesy USDA)

Controlling emissions and increasing energy efficiency are both essential to combat climate change in the long term. But climate change is already here. We’ve already seen what it can do to our communities, wildlife refuges and other natural resources. The severe drought of summer 2012 cost the U.S. $35 billion in damages, only to be trumped by Hurricane Sandy, a storm so violent it cost nearly twice that amount. The impacts of a changing climate are undeniably already here and we are ill prepared.

That’s why it’s vital that our president invest in climate adaptation work in the United States. Making our landscapes more resilient is a win-win: it protects people and their communities and wildlife and its habitat. We benefit immediately from adaptation work like restoring wetlands, reducing erosion and using prescribed burns to control wildfires. Meanwhile, reducing emissions and changing our energy infrastructure will help ensure that such work won’t be
in vain.

Fighting climate change requires an integrated approach. Doctors don’t just give someone with a broken bone a pain reliever. Climate adaptation, like a cast, is meant to stabilize an urgent problem and pave the way for healing. President Obama understands how vital it is to transform society to deal with climate impacts, and climate adaptation will have to play an important role in any comprehensive strategy he proposes.


Originally published in The National Journal