Mother Jones: "What Obama Can Do on Climate Change"

November 19, 2012

Chris Mooney of Mother Jones discusses the prospects for climate action and leadership in Obama's second term in office. His piece revolves around five key ideas: 1) Use the bully pulpit, 2) Promote climate resilience, 3) Eliminate climate change accelerants, 4) Unleash the EPA, and 5) Restart the conversation about pricing carbon—without cutting off the EPA.

In the piece, he also shared some thoughts by the Center's Vicki Arroyo on some of the changes and opportunities for action on climate resilience.

"Traditionally, FEMA flood maps have been geared to a 100-year flood based on historic record, rather than looking forward based on climate projections," says Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center. In other words, FEMA still bases its planning on the planet of the past, rather than the planet of future in which vulnerability is increasing, rather than staying static.

New legislation passed in June took steps towards modernizing the program, and promoting climate planning—but that's just the beginning. The flood insurance program went into considerable debt after Hurricane Katrina, and that's likely to happen again after Sandy—meaning Congress will have to raise its flood "debt ceiling," so to speak. "In the context of that," Arroyo says, "ideally you would also see some funds that promote preparation in the future, rather than just dealing with things in 'disaster mode.'"

Of course, FEMA is just one of many federal agencies that need to modernize in the face of climate change—from the US Army Corps of Engineers to the Department of Transportation, the infrastructure and programs that will be impacted by climate are massive. In 2009, Obama issued an executive order requiring every federal agency to assess its vulnerability to climate change (e.g., low-lying highways, bridges, and other infrastructure). But these reports have not yet been released—in fact, Arroyo charges that they have already been written, but are being held up. Now that he has won reelection, it's past time for Obama to put them out. "That I hope will be a starting point, looking at the government's own buildings and infrastructure," says Arroyo.