Last night, President Obama claimed his debt ceiling deal as lifting the “cloud of uncertainty that hangs over our economy.” While he expresses concern for the political weather, the actual weather — poisoned by carbon pollution — is growing more devastating. The drastic cuts in federal investment that are requirements of the debt deal will leave the nation in deadly peril from our superheated climate, just as full mobilization is needed.
Last week, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) brought attention to the deadly scourge of severe weather fueled by climate change, and the federal government’s troubling lack of readiness. In an appropriations subcommittee hearing on budgeting for federal disaster assistance attended only by himself — Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) appeared only to give an opening statement, but left without asking witnesses questions — Durbin interviewed top climate scientist Donald Wuebles, NOAA deputy administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, and representatives from the Small Business Administration and the private re-insurance industry. Durbin discussed the extraordinary damage to the nation from climate disasters in the first seven months of 2011, before asking whether the federal government is actually ready:
We’ve seen droughts in Texas, wildfires in Arizona and New Mexico, flooding in Tennessee, and according to Sen. Moran, both in his state, drought and flooding. Today, there are excessive heat warnings in twenty communities throughout Kansas, Sen. Moran’s home state, and flood warnings along the Missouri River. In 2011, almost $28 billion in damages have already been caused by catastrophic events, and the hurricane season is just starting. The economic impact of severe weather events is only projected to grow in future years as the frequency and intensity of weather events continues to grow.
The weather is getting worse and more violent. Catastrophic, in fact. The federal government needs to do more to be ready to protect federal assets and provide disaster assistance on an increasing frequency. Are we ready?
“I’m not sure the federal government is thinking ahead when it comes to our preparedness for disasters,” Durbin continued, with extreme understatement. Dr. Wuebles explained that because oceans can store vast amounts of heat, the changes in climate we are now seeing are the result of the pollution added twenty years ago — which means that failure to act now will doom future generations to an unimaginably deadly world.
“We’ve stopped talking about this on Capitol Hill,” Durbin concluded. “We’ve decided that the debate over global warming is too contentious. I think it’s a big mistake.”