Climate change's missing place in the draft FEMA prevention framework


National resiliency receives special attention under a set of four draft Federal Emergency Management Agency frameworks released March 5 for public comment.

Presidential Policy Directive 8, signed by President Obama last March 30, calls for a set of national planning frameworks covering prevention, protection, mitigation, response and recovery. FEMA has now released draft frameworks for all except recovery, which it finalized in September 2011.

The draft prevention framework, however, focuses on only one threat to the homeland--and probably not the most important one, too: Terrorism.

Terrorism is a threat, don't get me wrong; but as the decade since 9/11 has shown, it's a controllable one. In fact the number of terrorist attacks in the United States, as well as the number of such attacks that result in fatalities have declined considerably since the early 1970s, according to research (.pdf) from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 increasingly look like an outlier, thanks in great part to the additional security measures and national security funding put in place afterward.

What's not an outlier, and what's not as easily controllable as terrorism, is extreme weather produced by climate change. Now there lies a threat to the security of our homeland that we need to be doing a lot more to prevent.

As a panel of climate scientists note in a 594 page report issued on March 28, a changing climate is leading to extreme weather.

"In coastal areas of the United States, property damage from hurricanes and rising seas could increase by 20 percent by 2030, the report said. And in parts of Texas, the area vulnerable to storm surge could more than double by 2080," reports the Chicago Sun Times, in a summary of the report.

Last year was a peak year for federally-declared major disasters.

It's understandable from a political perspective that the FEMA prevention framework failed to include climate change. Anti-global warming efforts have a reputation for being a left-wing cause, part of a general anti-industrialist stance taken by mushy-headed beaded hippies or sanctimonious yuppies who can afford to preach about consuming less from their perch of comfortable affluence.

But that's an obsolete perspective. In Florida's Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties alone, about $30 billion in taxable property is vulnerable to rising sea levels. Climate change is the most pressing problem of the 21st century and a matter that needs pressing attention from FEMA, DHS and the entire federal government. Working against climate change isn't something that should make us feel better, or more virtuous; it's a matter, in many cases, of survival. Climate change belongs in the prevention framework. - Dave