WASHINGTON – Less food. No more road accidents. Extreme weather conditions have hit the nuclear waste sites. Migrants rushing to the United States, fleeing even worse calamities in their own country.
These scenarios, once dystopian science fiction, are now driving American politics. Under President Biden’s orders, senior officials from each government agency have spent months examining the major climate threats their agencies are facing and how to address them.
On Thursday, the White House offered a first look at the findings, publishing climate adaptation plans from 23 agencies, including the ministries of Energy, Defense, Agriculture, Homeland Security, Transportation and Commerce. The plans reveal the dangers posed by global warming to all aspects of American life and the difficulty in dealing with such threats.
The federal government has already attempted this exercise under the Obama administration. This work actually ended under former President Donald J. Trump, whose disregard for climate science has led most agencies to either suspend planning for climate change or stop talking about it.
Weeks after his inauguration, President Biden asked officials to quickly return to work. Emphasizing the urgency of the threat, the president gave agencies four months to develop plans that list their key vulnerabilities to climate change and strategies to address them.
“Almost all government-provided services will sooner or later be affected by climate change,” said Jesse Keenan, a professor at Tulane University who focuses on climate adaptation and has advised federal agencies.
The plans released on Thursday are short, many of them under 30 pages. They include key themes: ensuring new facilities meet stricter building standards, using less energy and water in existing buildings, better protecting workers from extreme heat, educating staff on climate science, and creating supply chains that are less likely to be interrupted by storms or other shocks.
The documents also reflect Biden’s focus on racial fairness, examining the effects of climate change on minorities and low-income communities and how agencies can address it. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services said it will focus research grants on the health effects of these communities.
But the most significant piece of information from the recently released plans may be their description, sometimes in blunt terms, of the dangers of climate change.
The Department of Agriculture lists the ways climate change threatens the U.S. food supply: changes in temperature and rainfall regimes, more pests and diseases, reduced soil quality, fewer pollinating insects, and more storms and forest fires they will unite to reduce crops and livestock.
To address these challenges, the department calls for more research on climate threats and better communication of these findings to farmers.
The plan is also clear about the limits of what can be done. In response to drought, for example, farmers can build new irrigation systems and governments can build new dams. But irrigation is expensive, the department notes, and dams affect the ecosystems around them.
Climate change is also threatening the ability of Americans to move within and between cities, limiting not only mobility but also the movement of goods that boost the economy. In a list of potential effects of climate change, the Department of Transportation notes that rising temperatures will make it more expensive to build and maintain roads and bridges.
And the moving experience will become slower and more frustrating. As warmer days cause the asphalt to crack, congestion will increase as traffic slows. Severe weather events “require flights to be canceled, sometimes for long periods” and more heat will force planes to travel shorter distances and carry less weight.
Some of the effects predicted by the Department of Transportation are dangerous. They include “more frequent / severe flooding of underground tunnels” and “increased risk of road accidents in case of bad weather”.
Driving quality may also deteriorate. The plan warns of “decreased driver / operator performance and decision-making skills, due to driver fatigue due to adverse weather conditions”.
Sometimes the plans show how much work remains to be done. The Ministry of Energy, for example, said it has assessed climate risks for only half of its sites, ranging from state-of-the-art research laboratories to nuclear weapons program radioactive waste storage facilities.
“The DOE’s nuclear safety mission is essential to national security and is also conducted largely at DOE sites that are vulnerable to extreme weather conditions,” the department’s plan states. “The DOE’s environmental mission could also suffer disruptions if the facilities dedicated to the treatment and disposal of radioactive waste are affected by climate risks.
The ministry claims it is capable of dealing with this threat, but does not go into detail. “The DOE has an established risk assessment and adaptation process focused on its high-risk nuclear facilities. This process ensures that the most critical structures are well protected from climate hazards, ”the plan states.
For the Department of Homeland Security, climate change means the risk of large numbers of climate refugees: people reaching the U.S. border, driven out of their countries by a mix of long-term challenges like drought or sudden shocks like one. tsunami.
“Climate change is likely to increase population movements from Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean,” the department’s plan says. The department is seeking to develop “a responsive and coordinated operational plan for mass migration events,” he said.
The plan comes just weeks after President Biden sentenced border police officers on horseback for treating Haitian migrants crossing the Texas border. The administration was later criticized for sending many of these migrants back to Haiti, which continues to face the kind of environmental challenges outlined in the plan.
The department does not say how it intends to react in the future as more people flee to the United States, other than saying it “will focus on national security and balanced and equitable outcomes.”
Climate change will bring new sources of conflict and also make it more difficult for the military to function, the Defense Ministry wrote in its climate plan.
Water scarcity could even become a new source of tension between the US military abroad and the countries where the troops are based. At DOD sites outside the United States, “military water needs could compete with local water needs, creating potential areas of friction or even conflict.”
But learning to operate in extreme weather conditions should also be seen as a new type of weapon, according to the plan, that can help the United States defeat its enemies. “This allows US forces to gain distinct advantages over potential adversaries,” the plan states, “if our forces can operate under conditions where others have to take cover or go ashore.”
Not all climate threats facing the federal government are insurmountable.
The Commerce Department, which heads the US Patent and Commerce Office, said that as the effects of climate change worsen, patent applications for “technologies related to climate change adaptation” would rise. Such an increase “would have an impact on the department’s ability to process such requests in a timely manner, which would have a direct impact on the competitiveness and economic growth of the United States.”
For this challenge, at least, there is a solution. For inventions that promise to help address environmental challenges, the department said, patent applications may be able to move forward – or, as the plan says, “anticipated for consideration when a petition is filed. “.
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