President Barack Obama toured drought-ravaged California last week, promising $183 million in aid to farmers and communities devastated by water shortages from the region’s worst drought in more than 100 years. The president also proposed creating a $1 billion Climate Resilience Fund to help communities better prepare for future droughts, heat waves, wildfires, storms, and floods. This valuable fund would invest in research, planning, preparation, and breakthrough technologies to make infrastructure “more resilient in the face of changing climate.” It also would help communities better protect their residents, vital services, and businesses from extreme weather events. Even though the Climate Resilience Fund could help their communities, the key question now is whether congressional Republicans will pass this proposal, as a majority of these legislators deny climate science, according to a Climate Progress survey.
Extreme weather continues to batter the United States. California is just part of the one-quarter of the area in the lower 48 states suffering from drought, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center. This drought could lead to an increase in significant wildfires between now and May, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. The Washington Post noted that officials are worried that “a confluence of factors, including climate change and human development, are conspiring to create conditions ripe for a landmark fire year.”
This epic drought and potential wildfire follow the plague of extreme weather that began in 2010, when the United States had a record 81 presidential disaster declarations, with a new record of 99 in 2011. All but one in 2010 and all but five in 2011 were due to extreme weather events linked to climate change. A CAP analysis estimated that there were 25 extreme weather events in 2011 and 2012 that each caused at least $1 billion in damages and were responsible for a total of 1,107 fatalities and $188 billion in costs.
In the wake of the growing number and expense of disasters, it is imperative that we help vulnerable communities better prepare for future extreme weather event to save lives and to reduce federal disaster spending. A Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, study determined that investments to prepare water, electricity, and other vital infrastructure to better resist storms, floods, drought, and other extreme weather reduced federal disaster spending by $4 for every $1 spent on resilience efforts.
Despite the savings from such investments, another CAP analysis determined that federal expenditures for resilience lag far behind disaster relief. We estimated that between fiscal year 2011 and 2013, the federal government spent $136 billion on disaster recovery but only $22 billion to increase preparedness—or $6 on recovery for every $1 spent on prevention.
To address this imbalance, CAP proposed in 2012 the creation of a “community resilience fund” that would provide a dedicated stream of revenue to assist communities with the billions of dollars of investments necessary to make their residents and infrastructure less vulnerable to future extreme weather. President Obama’s new resilience fund proposal would be the first step toward filling this need.
As part of the announcement of this proposal, the president noted the urgency of helping communities prepare for future extreme weather events:
A changing climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms, [and] floods are potentially going to be costlier and they’re going to be harsher.
… Unless and until we do more to combat carbon pollution that causes climate change, this trend is going to get worse …The planet is slowly going to keep warming for a long time to come. So we’re going to have to stop looking at these disasters as something to wait for; we’ve got to start looking at these disasters as something to prepare for, to anticipate, to start building new infrastructure…
The administration indicated that it would include the Climate Resilience Fund proposal as part of its FY 2015 budget proposal scheduled for a March 4 release. Congress must approve a budget with this program to increase resilience investments. Unfortunately, several prominent Republicans, including Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Reps. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Devin Nunes (R-CA), immediately rejected this idea and denied the link between climate change and drought.
Climate Progress found that, along with Sen. Cornyn and Reps. Smith and Nunes, a majority of congressional Republicans continue to deny climate science. Nonetheless, President Obama’s proposed Climate Resilience Fund would help the communities in their state or district better protect themselves from future storms, floods, droughts, heat waves, and wildfires. The investments would safeguard lives and reduce taxpayers spending on disaster recovery. Congressional Republicans must set aside their disbelief in climate science and instead help protect and prepare their communities by approving the Climate Resilience Fund.
Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress.
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Daniel J. Weiss