President Trump revoked, through a sweeping executive order, policies that would have reduced our carbon footprint and better prepared our communities and military for the impacts of stronger storms, bigger floods, and rising sea levels. That’s a stance that’s also dangerous economically when extreme weather events already cost hundreds of billions of dollars in annual damages, as well as amplify regional conflicts and state instability. Long-term trends indicate the frequency and severity of extreme weather events are increasing. The Administration’s approach to this dilemma is to bury America’s head in the sand at time when higher and higher tides are coming up the beach.
Trump Made the Nation Less Resilient and More Insecure
President Trump rescinded two Obama-era orders that were important to the nation’s efforts to prepare for, and adapt to the impacts of climate change. One order required Federal agencies to plan for, and protect against climate impacts, and the other required the military to consider the national security implications of climate change. Both orders enhanced the preparedness and resilience of the nation.
Executive Order 13653 required federal agencies to develop plans and strategies to protect their operations, programs, and investments from climate impacts, e.g., requiring agencies not to sign long-term leases for buildings located in a flood zone—a commonsense approach that should be pursued even absent climate change. The order also directed Federal agencies to alter any policies that would make it harder for communities to be resilient in the face of climate change.
The other order, a Presidential Memorandum on Climate Change and National Security, required the military and other national security agencies to create a working group to plan and prepare for the impacts of climate change. For example, plans, are needed so that naval bases can deal with sea level rise. Alice Hill, a Senior Director for Resilience Policy for the National Security Council under the Obama Administration, notes that “every single affected Federal agency had concurred in [the memorandum’s] issuance,” as they have long recognized climate change as a security threat.
Tied to President Obama’s memorandum, the National Intelligence Council issued a report that listed six key ways that climate change threatens our national security:
- Threats to the stability of countries
- Heightened social and political tensions
- Adverse effects on food prices and availability
- Increased risks to human health
- Negative impacts on investments and economic competitiveness
- Potential climate discontinuities and secondary surprises
(For more detail, read “President Trump’s New Anti-Climate Executive Order Threatens Our National Security” by Shana Udvardy, Climate Preparedness Specialist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.)
Despite the Trump Administration’s myopia on the matter, the justification for these orders is clear: increasingly extreme weather and sea level rise are happening. The nation, including the military, must prepare for the impacts.
Failure to Prepare for Climate Change Impacts Presents Big Risks
Climate change is having an impact, and will continue to have an impact into the foreseeable future. Per the 2017 World Economic Forum Global Risks Report, extreme weather events, large natural disasters, and the failure of mitigation and adaptation to climate change are ranked prominently as the most likely and impactful risks over the next decade.
Extreme weather events, including prolonged high temperatures, droughts, and heavy storms, are already occurring more frequently and at greater magnitude. These events will further stress many countries beset by poverty and instability, and could potentially result in large-scale migrations of climate refugees, inflaming regional tensions. On average, 21.5 million people have been displaced by climate- or weather-related events each year since 2008.
Extreme weather also poses a significant threat to the United States. In 2016, the US suffered 15 extreme weather and climate disaster events that each exceeded a $1 billion in losses. And the occurrence of these events and the amount of resulting damages have been on the rise in recent years.
Paralleling this trend has been a rise in the number of federal disaster declarations made over the last 60 years. In the last twenty years, there was an average of 121 annual disaster declarations, compared to an average of 40 over the previous twenty years. In the first three months of 2017 alone, there have been over 20 federal declarations related to natural disasters. This is a costly burden for the Federal, state, and local governments to bear.
Rising sea levels will also directly affect our communities. A new report from NOAA projects sea levels could rise as high as 9.8 feet by 2100 on the East Coast. Even six feet of sea level rise has the potential to inundate the homes of 5 million to 14 million people in the US by the end of the century.
Coastal military bases will not escape unharmed. Coasts along the globe are home to 1,774 US military bases. Sea level rise presents a serious threat to military readiness, operations and strategy. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a Trump appointee, has recognized that these climate impacts pose a clear threat to military operations.
Trump’s Executive Order Moves America Backwards
President Trump’s executive order is the perfect example of an Administration that is stuck looking backward. Focusing solely on the past, instead of planning and preparing for these future changes, is akin to driving one’s car down the highway only looking in the rearview mirror—eventually you are going to get smacked. The revoked policies specifically sought to make the nation safer and stronger by preparing for the future.
If the President truly wanted to make America great, he would act to increase the United States’ resiliency to a future of extreme weather and sea level rise—not eliminate programs designed to reduce carbon emissions, bolster community preparedness, and strengthen military readiness.