Over the last several months, it admittedly has been difficult to stay optimistic about the willingness of state governments across the U.S. to address threats to people, communities, and wildlife from climate change.
The North Carolina General Assembly tried to ban outright the use of accelerated rates of sea level rise in coastal planning, but after much criticism, the legislature instead passed a bill preventing state agencies from developing sea level rise policies for four more years while the Coastal Resources Commission updates its sea level rise study. While the bill that was passed was certainly better than the original bill under consideration, it limits the ability of North Carolina to prepare for sea level rise. In the words of Rep. Deborah Ross, “[b]y putting our heads in the sand, literally, for four years, we’re not helping property owners, we’re hurting them.”
While not quite as extreme as its southern neighbor, lawmakers in Virginia couldn’t use words like “sea level rise” and “climate change” in legislation requesting funding for a coastal flooding study or it would have had virtually no chance of passing.
Despite the unwillingness and refusal of many state governments and legislatures to address climate change, there are glimmers of hope. In my last blog post, I mentioned recent legislative progress in California on sea level rise. Connecticut also has released a draft climate preparedness plan for public comment.
And last week, the Aloha State became just the latest state to take steps towards preparing for the impacts of climate change. Governor Neil Abercrombie signed Act 286 into law, which amends the Hawaii State Planning Act to prioritize actions that address climate change impacts. Because the actions of state agencies and counties must be consistent with the State Planning Act, the inclusion of climate change adaptation as a priority guideline will influence the implementation of state programs and policies, local land use decisions, and the allocation of public funding.
Legislators and officials in Hawaii recognize the significant risks that the state’s communities, water resources, economy and ecosystems face from climate change, and they are preparing accordingly. Other states, like North Carolina, must stop ignoring the writing on the wall and follow suit.