Working with the Natural Resources Defense Council to Change FEMA’s Policy on Climate Change Inclusion within State Disaster Plans

The tides of change are upon us. Nowhere is this more apparent than the actual changing tides that are starting to inundate U.S. states like Florida, threaten the safety of New Yorkers, and eat up the coastlines of states like Texas, Louisiana, and California.

Although often mentioned, the impacts of spewing megatonnes of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide, methane (think natural gas) and others into the atmosphere are finally beginning to be felt.

Summer temperatures are reaching new extremes. For example, Australia had to issue new colors to signify the highest temperatures ever reached in the continent. Increased number of high heat days are contributing to drought and massive wildfires, like the 2011 wildfires in Texas that destroyed the homes of over 1,500 people and cost the state over $513 million in damages. Drought has also threatened the agricultural sectors of the U.S. Midwest and Great Plains region, where hundreds of thousands of livestock has had to be voluntarily culled due to lack of water.

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Not to mention, the lack of accessible water threatens to shut down economic powerhouses like oil, chemical, and fracking industries that rely on huge amounts of water to cool and clean their operations.

Climate change is an aspect of modernity that must be dealt with realistically in order to secure the best survival of our health, communities, property, and ultimately, ourselves. That is why it would seem reasonable that our federal government, especially the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that handles natural and man-made national emergencies, would be on top of this.

Indeed, FEMA does require every U.S. state to submit an updated disaster plan, also known as a State Hazard Mitigation Plan (SHMP), that lists the threats a state is susceptible to and what that state has put in place in order to handle those threats. In addition, the state also drafts a budget of the funds the state may need from FEMA to construct preventative measures against disasters, and in the case that disaster strikes, they can receive aid from the federal government.

These SHMPs, however, are not required by FEMA to include climate change into their natural disaster considerations.

This is where non-profits Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and National Wildlife Federation (NWF) come in. Knowing that most states gauge their SHMP updates on historical data that unfortunately is no longer accurate for the future events of a climate change-impacted world, NRDC and NWF filed a petition with FEMA asking the agency to fulfil their legal duty in requiring states to include climate change considerations when drafting their SHMPs.

This would ensure that all states would enlist the most updated tools, resources, guidance, and requirements for preparation against natural hazards that are projected to increase in both severity and frequency. Taking account of added threats to a state’s populace and property from climate change-related impacts can help decrease the vulnerability and loss estimates incurred as the tides keep on changing.

NRDC has begun to partner with state public health and emergency management organizations to form a coalition asking FEMA to reconsider their requirements towards climate change inclusion in State Hazard Mitigation Plans.

Change is always a scary thing, but by people and groups doing the research, starting dialogue, and getting more people on board with an important issue, we may all be better at dealing with a future where the “change” in “climate change” is nothing to fear. 

About Rochelle March

Rochelle is a dual MS/MBA graduate student at Bard, and currently does research for the Natural Resources Defense Council on issues relating to climate change impacts on public health. She also blogs about other sustainability topics on her website, earthoffoxes.com, and invites you all to read an article or peruse her nature-inspired t-shirt designs and illustrations.