Joe Biden Asked Federal Agencies How Climate Would Affect Them. The Answers Will SHOCK You!
We got another reminder yesterday that grown-ups are running things again, this time in the form of — we hope you're ready for the shock of your life — a set of reports from 23 government agencies on how they'll be affected by the climate emergency and what they plan to do to meet those challenges.
We know, it's a lot to take in. We'll give you a moment to catch your breath.
But as you can imagine, it's very srs bns, because a warming planet with more frequent extreme weather events will affect just about every aspect of how we live, and how the government does stuff. As the New York Times points out, some of it sounds like the stuff of dystopian fiction:
Less food. More traffic accidents. Extreme weather hitting nuclear waste sites. Migrants rushing toward the United States, fleeing even worse calamity in their own countries.
Some of it may sound more mundane, but will require costly changes to deal with. F'rinstance, as the Department of Transportation report notes, more severe weather is going to lead to airport closures, flight cancellations and delays, and snarls in the air traffic control system. Even without storms, warmer average air temperatures mean planes will need longer takeoff runs, and they won't be able to fly as far or carry as much as they did in the cooler past. Not gigantic changes, but enough to have an economic effect.
The reports were required by Biden as part of an assload of executive orders he issued on January 28, when he announced his climate agenda and pledged to pursue a "whole of government" approach to the climate crisis, rather than shunting the issue off to agencies like the EPA or the Interior department. The 23 agencies include some that are obviously going to be dealing directly with climate and its impacts, like the departments of Agriculture, Defense, Interior, Homeland Security, and Transportation, as well as the EPA and NASA, along with other agencies that don't immediately pop into your head when you think "climate change," like the Department of Education or the General Services Agency.
But hell yes, they're all going to be dealing with climate: The Education Department's report points out that just in California, during the 2018-2019 school year, wildfires caused school closures that affected more than a million kids and their families. More powerful hurricanes are going to affect schools across a larger part of the country — kids in Puerto Rico lost an average of 78 school days after Hurricane Maria, for instance. And then there's the challenge of upgrading tens of thousands of schools to be more energy efficient, plus planning to do something about the more than 6,300 schools nationwide that are in flood plains. Those schools alone serve about four million kids.
And yes, the super-boring General Services Agency, which manages federal property, purchasing, and vehicle fleets, among other things, is revising its design standards to make sure government facilities are more resilient — that's a hell of a lot of office space. GSA also handles IT for government agencies, and there again, it has to plan for how to keep data systems working when there are wildfires and severe storms and coastal flooding.
There's even a report from the Smithsonian Institution, which has all those museums in flood-prone Washington DC. It would be a darn good idea if the "nation's attic" didn't literally have to move its collections upstairs and paint "HELP US" on the roof.
A little more, from NBC News:
Changes in temperature, increases in floods and droughts, more pests and disease will all affect America's food supply, according to the Agriculture Department, while the Department of Housing and Urban Development warned that affordable housing "is increasingly at risk from both extreme weather events and sea-level rise."
Health and Human Services said that not only are more people exposed to deadly heat and floodwaters because of climate change, but also that exposure to certain infections increases as the life cycles of ticks and mosquitoes change. Severe weather disasters contribute to anxiety, depression and other mental health impacts, they added.
In accordance with Biden's call for racial equity and justice, the reports all note what their departments can do in that area; HHS's report, for instance, says it'll fund grants to research health effects in frontline communities, which is a hell of a lot, given that some of the worst industrial sources of pollution have been built in minority and low-income communities. That's also why the Build Back Better reconciliation bill specifies that climate mitigation funding should go to environmental cleanup, adaptability planning, and building resilient infrastructure in the most hard-hit communities.
The Defense Department has long considered climate change a potentially "destabilizing force," causing international tensions and also creating logistical problems for the armed forces, as military bases in some areas get flooded or damaged by storms and equipment gets bogged down in wetter parts of the world. As the Times points out,
Water shortages could even become a new source of tension between the U.S. military overseas and the countries where troops are based. At DOD sites outside the United States, "military water requirements might compete with local water needs, creating potential areas of friction or even conflict."
Then there's the Department of Homeland Security, which notes that the US is already dealing with climate refugees from Central America, a challenge that's only going to grow as farmland dries up and climate change causes even greater "population movements from Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean." Perhaps a bit ominously, the Times points out that
The department doesn't 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."
Sadly, we don't think that translates to abolishing ICE. Maybe we can send the agency to the poles, where ice is already in short supply.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.