Which climate threats are the most worrying? US agencies made list
Washington – Eating less. More traffic accidents. Extreme weather is killing nuclear waste sites. Migrants are fleeing to the United States, fleeing an even worse disaster in their own countries.
Those scenarios, once the stuff of dystopian fiction, are now driving American policymaking. Under President Biden’s orders, top officials at every government agency have spent months reflecting on the top climate threats facing their agencies and how to deal with them.
On Thursday, the White House took a first look at the results, releasing the climate-adaptation plans of 23 agencies, including the Departments of Energy, Defense, Agriculture, Homeland Security, Transportation and Commerce. The plans reveal the dangers posed by a warming planet to every aspect of American life and the difficulty of dealing with those threats.
The federal government has attempted this practice before during the Obama administration. Former President Donald J. That work effectively stopped under Trump, whose disdain for climate science caused most agencies to either postpone their plans for climate change or stop talking about it.
Within weeks of taking office, President Biden instructed officials to begin work quickly. Stressing the urgency of the threat, the president gave agencies four months to come up with plans that list their main vulnerabilities to climate change and strategies to address them.
“Almost every service that the government provides will sooner or later be affected by climate change,” said Jesse Keenan, a professor at Tulane University who focuses on climate adaptation and advises federal agencies.
The plans released on Thursday are brief, many of them less than 30 pages. They include key topics: ensuring that new facilities meet tough construction standards, using less energy and water in existing buildings, better protecting workers against extreme heat, educating employees about climate science , and creating supply chains that are less likely to cause hurricanes or other aftershocks.
The documents also reflect Mr Biden’s emphasis on racial equality, looking at the effects of climate change on minority and low-income communities and how agencies can address them. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services said it would focus research grants on the health impacts on those communities.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture lists the ways in which climate change threatens America’s food supply: changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, more pests and diseases, decreased soil quality, fewer pollinating insects, and more storms and wildfires. The fires would combine to reduce crops and livestock.
To address those challenges, the department calls for more research into climate hazards and better communication of those findings to farmers.
The plan is also clear about the limits of what can be done. For example, in response to drought, farmers can build new irrigation systems, and governments can build new dams. But irrigation is expensive, the department notes, and dams affect the ecosystem around them.
Climate change also threatens Americans’ ability to move within and between cities, restricting not only mobility but also the transportation of goods that drive the economy. In a list of potential impacts from climate change, the Department of Transportation notes that rising temperatures will make roads and bridges more expensive to build and maintain.
And the experience of being around will become slower and more frustrating. As the hot days degrade the asphalt, the congestion will increase as traffic slows down. Severe weather events would require “flight cancellations, sometimes for extended periods,” and overheating would force planes to fly shorter distances and carry less weight.
The Department of Transportation estimates that some of the impacts are dangerous. These include “more frequent/severe flooding of underground tunnels” and “increased risk of vehicle accidents in severe weather”.
Even the driving quality can be poor. The plan warns of “decreased driver/operator performance and decision-making skills due to driver fatigue as a result of adverse weather”.
Sometimes, plans reflect how much work is left. For example, the Energy Department said it has assessed climate risks for half of its sites, which range from advanced research laboratories to storage facilities for radioactive waste from the nuclear weapons program.
“DOE’s nuclear security mission is critical to national security and is also largely conducted at DOE sites that are vulnerable to extreme weather conditions,” the department’s plan says. “DOE’s environmental mission may also experience disruption if facilities dedicated to radioactive waste processing and disposal are affected by climate hazards.”
The department says it has been able to address that threat, but does not go into details. “DOE has a well-established threat assessment and adaptation process focused on its high-threat nuclear facilities. This process ensures that the most critical facilities are well protected from climate risks,” the plan states.
For the Department of Homeland Security, climate change means the risk of large numbers of climate refugees – people reaching the US border, pushed out of their countries by a mix of long-term challenges such as a drought or a sudden shock such as a tsunami.
“Climate change is likely to increase population movements from Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean,” the department’s plan reads. The department is trying to develop “a responsive and coordinated operational plan for large-scale migration incidents”, it said.
The plan comes just weeks after President Biden condemned horse-ridden Border Patrol officers for treating Haitian migrants crossing the border into Texas. The administration has faced criticism for deporting many of those migrants back to Haiti, which still grapples with the environmental challenges described in the plan.
The department does not say how it plans to respond in the future as more people flee to the United States, beyond saying it will “focus on national security and balanced, equitable outcomes.”
The Defense Department wrote in its climate plan that climate change would create new sources of conflict, and would also make it harder for the military to operate.
The water shortage could also become a new source of tension between US military overseas and the countries where the troops are located. At DoD sites outside the United States, “military water requirements may compete with local water needs, creating potential areas of friction or conflict.”
But learning to operate during extreme weather should also be seen as a new type of weapon, the plan says, that could help the United States dominate enemies. “This would enable US forces to have distinct advantages over potential adversaries,” the plan reads, “if our forces can operate in situations where others must seek refuge or land.”
Not all climate threats facing the federal government are insurmountable.
The Commerce Department, which runs the US Patent and Trade Office, said it expects an increase in applications for patents for “climate change adaptation-related technologies” as the effects of climate change become more severe. . Such an increase “would impact the department’s ability to process such applications in a timely manner, with a direct impact on US competitiveness and economic growth.”
To that challenge, there is at least one solution. For inventions that promise to help with environmental challenges, the department said, patent applications may be able to move forward in line — or, as the plan put it, “turn up for examination when a petition is filed.” advanced.”
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