In a decisive action some feared would never come, President Obama today signed an executive order that will begin to prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change. The order comes just one year after Hurricane Sandy devastated the eastern coast, bringing death and devastation to waterfront communities, including the country’s most populated metropolis, New York City. That storm, and the drought, wildfires, floods and other extreme weather that has occurred since, were a wake up call for much of the nation. Today, President Obama’s executive order acknowledges that climate change is real, it’s happening now, and if we are to survive, we must begin to prepare our cities to withstand an uncertain future. Unfortunately, the order seems resigned to dealing with the symptoms of climate change rather than stopping a major cause: i.e. fossil fuel extraction and consumption.
The opening paragraph of the executive order begins:
The impacts of climate change — including an increase in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, more heavy downpours, an increase in wildfires, more severe droughts, permafrost thawing, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise — are already affecting communities, natural resources, ecosystems, economies, and public health across the Nation. These impacts are often most significant for communities that already face economic or health-related challenges, and for species and habitats that are already facing other pressures. Managing these risks requires deliberate preparation, close cooperation, and coordinated planning by the Federal Government, as well as by stakeholders, to facilitate Federal, State, local, tribal, private-sector, and nonprofit-sector efforts to improve climate preparedness and resilience; help safeguard our economy, infrastructure, environment, and natural resources; and provide for the continuity of executive department and agency (agency) operations, services, and programs.
The executive order outlines multiple strategies that the federal government must and will employ in order to protect American citizens from the effects of human-accelerated global climate change. Those strategies include policy change, modernizing federal programs to support climate resilient investment, managing lands and waters for climate preparedness and resilience, and a multi-agency plan to develop and provide authoritative, easily accessible, usable, and timely data, information, and decision-support tools on climate preparedness and resilience.
According to the AP, the executive order also “establishes a task force of state and local officials to advise the administration on how to respond to severe storms, wildfires, droughts and other impacts of climate change.” The task force will be responsible for deciding “how roads, bridges and flood control projects can be made more resilient to the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels and warming temperatures.”