By Keith Zukowski
Scientists around the world are telling us, in no uncertain terms, that we – as in humankind — have little time left to avert the worst impacts of climate change. Those include: widespread coastal and riverine inundation, stronger storms and wildfires; new disease vectors; agricultural and other economic disruption. That is the reality and scope of the challenge we face.
There are, of course, things we can do — things we must do – to respond to the climate crisis, both to learn more about its causes and consequences and to activate solutions to prevent as much damage as possible.
Those solutions, for the most part, fit into four areas: investment, innovation and technology; science and research; mitigation, adaptation and relief; and policy. An intransigent and shortsighted White House has made the achievement of any significant policy gains difficult in the short term. Now, the latest federal budget proposed by the Trump Administration has sought to undercut those other three potential progress areas, exacerbating America’s susceptibility to climate disaster and running down the clock on desperately needed action.
The Trump budget slashes funds for nearly every agency that plays a role in thwarting climate change. NASA, FEMA, EPA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Department of Energy (DOE) all would see significant cuts. Those agencies play essential, leading roles in understanding our climate challenge and crafting ways to keep families safe from natural disasters and the worst effects of a warmer world. The Trump administration seems to not care. It is their third consecutive year seeking to cleave funding from programs critical to the environment and public health.
Here’s a look at how programs in three essential areas are being attacked:
Disaster Relief, Mitigation and Preparation
In 2018, 14 weather and climate disasters each exceeded $1 billion in the United States. There were 247 known fatalities associated with these events, and their total costs were estimated to be about $91 billion. The reality of climate change is that lives are increasingly at risk, as are entire communities, farms and businesses. Livelihoods and ways of life can be ruined in mere moments when a storm made stronger by climate change touches down. Rather than prepare for that challenge, the Trump Administration has chosen to leave families exposed to some of climate change’s worst effects.
FEMA, which is largely responsible for the relief and security of disaster-struck communities, can expect more work if the President’s budget becomes a reality. The administration has proposed to eliminate FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program and wants to cut the agency’s Risk MAP, a tool that offers a comprehensive look at what areas are most prone to dangerous flooding. Similarly, the National Coastal Resilience Fund would be terminated, as would Regional Climate Centers, which respond to emerging issues such as floods and drought and works with the National Weather Service to better anticipate climate extremes and understand regional impacts of a changing climate. NOAA’s Coastal Zone Management Grants would also be eliminated.
Additionally, the Center for Disease Control’s climate and health program, which “leads efforts to identify populations vulnerable to climate change and prevent and adapt to current and anticipated health impacts,” would be entirely done away with.
In all, the Trump budget would leave American communities and families burdened by more illness, worse disaster outcomes, and increased hardships.
Science and Research
How do we know that climate change is real? Yes, we can often sense that it is getting hotter, that winters are getting shorter and warmer, but that hasn’t stopped climate deniers from using cold snaps to argue that global warming isn’t real. Instead, massive data collection and research have allowed science to prove that our world is trending in an unsustainable, dangerous direction. As the earth continues to heat, it’ll be more important than ever to accurately detect and understand changes in our atmosphere and climate. Until lately, American government agencies have been at the forefront of that research. The Trump administration’s budget would drastically change that.
NASA’s PACE program, which uses data to better understand how our oceans and atmosphere are changing, is tabbed to be eliminated. EPA’s Stratospheric Ozone Multilateral Fund would also be terminated. Its clean air science and technology program would be slashed 25% and its air and energy research program would be more than halved. Plus, state grants that towns and localities rely on to detect and monitor pollution are almost entirely eliminated.
At NOAA several key programs are under attack. Its Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research would see its budget cut more than 40%. It’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Info Services would be reduced more than 13%.
Technology and Innovation
Innovation is absolutely critical to solving climate change and reaching net-zero carbon emissions by mid-century, a mark that science says we must achieve in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. While solar and wind can offer a large share of that transition, other energy sources will be necessary to fill in the gaps to reach a 100% clean energy economy. Some are in the development phase, while others are not yet dreamed of. What is paramount, though, is that Congress and the federal government create conditions favorable to the research and growth of innovative energy technologies. The Trump administration does not appear to be interested.
One of the offices most critical to energy development, ARPA-E, has been targeted for complete elimination. Since its creation in 2009, ARPA-E has led to the creation of 76 private companies, 346 US patents, and nearly $3 billion in private-sector follow-up funding. Eliminating the program would deprive American inventors of a reliable test lab, slowing our clean energy revolution. A similar office, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the federal government’s most significant driver of renewable energy and energy efficiency, and which states its mission as “creating and sustaining American leadership in the transition to a global clean energy economy,” is marked for an 85% cut.
The administration’s disregard will not only affect the environment and climate. It will also be destructive to our economy down the road as other countries are given the chance to develop solutions that could instead provide jobs and business opportunities to workers here in America.
Since taking office, President Trump and his administration have waged an all-out assault on any efforts to combat climate change. It has abdicated American leadership on the global stage, undone or fought critical protections, and questioned sound science and research. This latest budget proposal is more of the same and speaks to the administration’s misguided and dangerous policies. The numbers in a budget are not mere figures, but instead represent how much we value American safety and prosperity.
Climate change is one of the greatest threat America and the world face today. It has the potential to touch virtually every corner and community in the country. Now, it will be up to Congress to counter the administration’s proposal with a budget that, at the minimum, fully funds critical agencies and pays special attention to programs that are responsible for protecting human health and the environment and for fighting our climate crisis.