House drying up funding for weather preparedness (Repost)

This is a complete repost of "House drying up funding for weather preparedness” published in the San Francisco Chronicle on 11 Aug. 2011. Since I'm the author, I’ve added links and an extra paragraph that is relevant to the piece.

With widespread record temperatures over the eastern two-thirds of the United States in July, it's hard for the nation to think about anything other than the sweltering heat. However, it was only six months ago that the Midwest was shut down by a massive blizzard.

Even less time has passed since tornadoes and flooding ripped through the Mississippi area and the central United States. This year, the United States has experienced an extraordinary number of billion-dollar weather events with unprecedented economic costs - $32 billion by early June. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), that is the largest amount to date since records of billion-dollar disasters began in 1980; and it's $26 billion more than the average.

What role does climate change have in all these extreme (and expensive) weather events? According to scientists, no single event can be tied to climate change but a warming world is changing the odds of these events. Some experts describe it as loading the dice in favor of extremes.

[my added excerpt: While it’s easy to understand how higher temperatures can lead to conditions of extreme drought, wildfires and flooding (warming oceans generate more water vapor in the atmosphere), it’s harder to understand the link to heavy snow events like the Midwest blizzard. It’s counter intuitive, but climate change is also impacting heavy snow patterns during the winter months. According to NOAA’s Arctic Report Card, above normal Arctic temperatures and record sea ice loss is causing changes in atmospheric circulation, driving colder arctic air into parts of the northern U.S.]

As we enter this era of growing climate disruption, it's critical for states, cities and communities to better prepare. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), preparedness effectively protects communities - every $1 spent on disaster mitigation, saves $2 in repair costs.

Remarkably, the U.S. House of Representatives is attempting to undermine the government's ability to prepare for climate extremes. Congress is negotiating the government's Fiscal Year 2012 budget and the House is trying to gut funding for climate preparedness.

House amendments have already been approved for blocking specific federal climate preparedness activities - commonly referred to as adaptation. The House has approved cuts in the Army Corps of Engineers' adaptation funding. Georgia Republican Rep. Rob Woodall's reasoning: "The Army Corps of Engineers is a construction agency - not a scientific research agency. Its mission does not include climate change." However, the Corps is in charge of managing reservoirs and flooding and was heavily involved in dealing with this year's unprecedented flooding. Essentially, these cuts block the Corps from planning for more extreme climate conditions.

The House is also trying to prohibit funds for instituting NOAA's proposed Climate Service. The primary goal of the new service is anticipating and responding to climate impacts and informing the public. House members' reasoning for eliminating funding: the service would be a propaganda office and support research for implementing greenhouse gas-emission reductions.

The House is attempting to prevent funding for climate preparedness in other departments, including Agriculture, Homeland Security and Interior.

At a time when the government is spending billions to rebuild from devastating weather disasters, House members want to gut efforts that would help communities prepare for future extremes. Members are so ideologically opposed to climate change mitigation that they are willing to put their country and constituency at extreme risk by not addressing vulnerabilities and impacts.

It raises the question: What constituency are congressional members serving? It's not local communities. House members are only prepared for denying the urgency of a changing climate, leaving communities vulnerable and forcing taxpayers to cover the cost of a growing price tag. 

By Lynn Englum 

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