As the climate crisis has intensified, researchers have warned repeatedly in recent years about the consequences of rising sea levels. Those warnings took a turn earlier this month when scholars, relying on new measurement methods, pointed to evidence that sea levels have risen “dramatically faster over the last two decades than anyone had known.”
Today, Juliet Eilperin reports that the Obama administration is taking new steps to incorporate rising sea levels into all federal projects.
President Obama will issue an executive order Friday directing federal agencies – as well as state and local governments drawing on federal funds – to adopt stricter building and siting standards to reflect scientific projections that future flooding will be more frequent and intense due to climate change.The order, described by senior administration officials, represents a major shift for the federal government: while the Federal Emergency Management Administration published a memo three years ago saying it would take global warming into account when preparing for more severe storms, most agencies continue to rely on historic data rather than future projections for building projects.
Historic data, of course, is of far less value because it wouldn’t reflect the growing warming crisis.
The Washington Post’s report added that the administration’s new approach “gives agencies three options for establishing the flood elevation and hazard area they use in siting, design and construction of federal projects. They can use data and methods ‘informed by best-available, actionable climate science’; build two feet above the 100-year flood elevation for standard projects and three feet above for critical buildings such as hospitals and evacuation centers; or build to the 500-year flood elevation.”
The executive order comes a month after a U.S. Geological Survey report highlighted the alarming fact that sea levels “are rising three-to-four times faster along parts of the U.S. east coast than they are globally.”
As for the right, it seems likely Republicans will be unhappy with today’s policy announcement. Indeed, conservative hostility towards sea-level evidence has grown more belligerent in recent years.
Remember this story out of North Carolina in 2012?
To briefly recap, GOP lawmakers in North Carolina have a new solution to rising sea levels, caused by global warming: scrap the scientific evidence pointing to rising sea levels.A state-appointed science panel warned officials that sea levels will rise 39 inches over the next century and that North Carolina needs to prepare. Under a GOP plan, officials would be prohibited from relying on the scientific evidence, and would instead have to use a historical model to set expectations. North Carolina would prepare for only 8 inches of sea level increase, since that’s what happened over the last century.
Or how about this one from Virginia?
Virginia’s legislature commissioned a $50,000 study to determine the impacts of climate change on the state’s shores. To greenlight the project, they omitted words like “climate change” and “sea level rise” from the study’s description itself. According to the House of Delegates sponsor of the study, these are “liberal code words,” even though they are noncontroversial in the climate science community.Instead of using climate change, sea level rise, and global warming, the study uses terms like “coastal resiliency” and “recurrent flooding.” Republican State Delegate Chris Stolle, who steered the legislation, cut “sea level rise” from the draft. Stolle has also said the “jury’s still out” on humans’ impact on global warming.
As conditions grow more serious, it will be worth watching which policymakers act responsibly and which choose to bury their heads in the sand.