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As Congress remains unwilling and unable to deal with climate change, federal government agencies — even without the blessing of lawmakers — have been thinking about, and quietly acting on, climate change for years.
The Army Corps of Engineers, for instance, is building new levees, dams, buildings and other infrastructure to withstand higher sea-level rise and more extreme weather events. The Defense Department is making decisions about its current and future installations based on the expectation that sea levels will rise. And NASA has assessed its sites and is considering how to manage higher water at places such as Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Climate adaptation is becoming part of the normal course of business for some federal agencies.
“If you get the processes into the bones of the organization, you can weather out the political climate,” said William D. Goran, director of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Center for the Advancement of Sustainability Innovations. Adapting to climate change is easier to tackle than mitigating the causes of global warming because efforts to stem greenhouse gas emissions have to be undertaken globally to have an effect. Adaptation consists of actions that each agency can take on its own.
“For the future,” Goran said, “we are going to have to adapt.”
There are signs that the political climate is becoming more receptive to addressing climate adaptation. The supplemental bill to assist areas affected by Superstorm Sandy required the Army Corps of Engineers to assess and evaluate its infrastructure for future storms.
And after the Government Accountability Office last month listed climate change as one of the greatest threats to the federal government’s financial stability, even fiscal conservatives such as House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., started paying attention. “It points out we are underprepared,” he said at a news conference. “It’s a wake up call.”
Larger efforts in Congress to promote climate adaptation initiatives, however, have failed. Most recently, after Sandy, then- Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., introduced a measure that would require buildings to be more resilient to changes in climate and extreme weather. Kerry has since become secretary of State, but Gillibrand said she intends to reintroduce the legislation.
Climate adaptation efforts largely have come from the White House.