Preventing, preparing for climate change
Above, rescue workers evacuate residents of the Weston Trailer Park in Berlin after severe flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene caused the Dog River to overflow its banks in late August 2011. At left, the flooding driven by Irene’s destructive tour of Vermont left this covered bridge precariously perched over the Ottauquechee River in the village of Quechee. The catastrophic floods after Irene served as a wake-up call and raised awareness of the world’s changing climate.
Heat waves, heavy rainstorms, floods. That is the long-term forecast for the Northeast as a result of global climate change.
The National Climate Assessment, issued last week by the White House, provides scientific information about how climate change is impacting different regions of the country and different sectors of the economy. This comprehensive report, developed with help from hundreds of the nation’s top experts on climate change, tells us in unprecedented detail that climate change is not some future threat. It is already here, and it is affecting not just Vermont, but every part of our country and every sector of our economy. The report makes it clear that urgent action is needed to combat the threats from climate change and to ensure that our families and communities are resilient to these threats.
The National Climate Assessment is one step in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which he announced last spring. In addition to taking action to cut carbon pollution (EPA announced significant new rules to reduce emissions from transportation as well as from existing and new power plants), the president committed to helping America’s communities prepare for the impacts of climate change.
Gov. Peter Shumlin has been recognized nationally for his leadership during Tropical Storm Irene and for the many lessons that he and all Vermonters learned about how to recover from disasters and build back stronger than before.
President Obama appointed him to serve on the White House Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. The task force comprises state, municipal and tribal leaders who have been delegated with developing recommendations for the administration on steps the federal government can take to support the needs of communities nationwide that are dealing with the impacts of climate change.
Our growing understanding of the ways Vermont’s climate patterns are already changing — from more frequent, intense storms, to winters with more freeze-thaw cycles — makes us keenly aware that we need the support of our federal agency partners to tackle the challenges that climate change will deliver. Our experience recovering from the devastation of Tropical Storm Irene has given us many clear insights into how federal disaster recovery programs can be improved and how the federal government can help us improve the resilience of our infrastructure, communities and environment.
Through the governor’s Climate Cabinet, leaders and staff from across state government are using these lessons to develop recommendations for consideration by the president. We are reaching out to partners in the business community, as well as local governments and nonprofits, to develop a set of recommendations for how federal agencies can better support states and communities as we prepare for the impacts that are coming.
Our focus has been on identifying concrete ways to improve federal and state programs that address emergency management, community development and housing, natural resource management and transportation. The goal is to help our communities to:
Evaluate where they are most vulnerable.
Site and build resilient infrastructure.
Protect natural assets, whether floodplains, river corridors, upland forests or coastal dunes, that protect our built communities from damage caused by extreme weather.
I am optimistic that this process will result in improved customer service from the federal disaster recovery agencies and better federal incentives that we can use to make Vermont’s infrastructure more resilient — from our roads and bridges to our energy and drinking water facilities. We are optimistic that this process will also result in better coordination among federal programs that provide support during and after disasters, and that we will have better data and tools to help us assess our vulnerability and plan for resilience into the future.
The findings in the National Climate Assessment underscore the need for immediate action to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions — and also to prepare our communities, businesses and families for the changes that are already under way. Gov. Shumlin’s leadership in the White House task force puts Vermont in a unique position to take the lessons we learned from Irene and use them to help the president build a more sustainable future for our children and grandchildren.
You can see the National Climate Assessment for yourself at: www.globalchange.gov/
Deb Markowitz is secretary of the state Agency of Natural Resources.