Planning Ahead By Looking Backwards?

As news has come recently of an unwritten policy mandated for Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection not to use the words “climate change”, “global warming”, and “sustainability”, it is important to underscore the necessity of state Climate Action Plans. Although Florida actually does have a state action plan which is designed to protected biodiversity (mainly in the Everglades region), the high level of denial of anthropogenic climate change in certain coastal regions is worrisome and potentially dangerous.

Planning for climate change is difficult because of the inexact and drawn-out timeline predicted by models, but nevertheless areas along the coast or sea-level delta regions, such as Washington, D.C., need to anticipate threats such as storm surges and higher floodwaters in the coming decades, and that will affect how to build or buffer current and future infrastructure projects. Any waterfront development going forward in coastal areas should, at the very least, have guidelines about how to proceed in spite of climate challenges. Without that kind of forethought, cities on the coast such as Boston or Miami put themselves at greater risk of a Katrina-like disaster where infrastructure is damaged beyond repair.

What goes into a Climate Action Plan? Strategies from state and regional governments range from pie-in-the-sky proposals (vague education reform, massive barrier project proposals, etc) to more practical ideas for slow implementation of an organizational structure that can better deal with climate change; how do different government departments coordinate, for example, when trying to plan ahead and create new laws? How can sustainability efforts and city planning help mitigate and preempt the effects of global warming?

Currently all coastal states have at least begun the process of state-led adaptation plans, with the exception of Georgia and the Carolinas. In addition, five inland states have comprehensive plans: those that border the Great Lakes, Colorado and Vermont. That the Carolinas have avoided or stalled development of an adaptation plan is puzzling, considering both have extensive coastlines (North Carolina has the seventh longest coastline in the country and South Carolina is just outside the top ten).

Several years ago, the North Carolina legislature made headlines for banning the state from using data predicting sea level rise in coastal policy. This incredibly short-sighted move shows the influence developers and insurance companies still have over many government officials, who are afraid to then acknowledge any information that could potentially undermine economic growth.

Unfortunately, whether or not government officials want to believe climate change is real will not alleviate the coming threat, and building coastal properties like tomorrow doesn’t exist will cost millions of dollars, and possibly lives, when tomorrow brings more powerful ocean storms. An action plan is really just the first step, but it is an essential one.


Aaron Dorman, Intern