Babbitt, who was Interior Secretary in the Clinton
Administration, painted a grim picture of southern
Before any new major federal program can commence, its administrators must sign off on an Environmental Impact Statement — an analysis of how the program might affect the environment or be affected by it. The new CAP report argues that one facet of every EIS should be an assessment of how the program would contribute to climate change or be affected by global warming. Currently, climate change is all but ignored by analysts who prepare an EIS, the authors of the new report say.
Carol Browner agrees. She headed the Environmental Protection Agency
But Babbitt is the one who offered the riveting anecdote of
the session. He focused on a 2004 EIS that the Army Corps of Engineers commissioned in anticipation of
launching a $14 billion Coast 2050 program. Its goal: to reverse a century-long
degradation of the
Since the 1930s, the
So the Corps of Engineers entertained proposals from a host of stakeholders and research groups to redress the problem. The only problem, Babbitt argues, is that the Corps neglected to account for the region’s topography and the effect global warming would have on it.
More than 95 percent of the terrain in a 10,000 square mile
area at the mouth of the
“The ineluctable fact,” he maintains, is that within the
lifespan of some people alive today, “the vast majority of that land [the
10,000 mi2 delta] will be under water.” He also faulted federal
officials for not developing migration plans for area residents. Then again, he
charged that Uncle Sam lacks the “honesty and compassion” to tell
And the reason this is important for environmental assessments, he argued, is that in some instances — such as the Corps' efforts to rehabilitate the Louisiana delta — the feds risk throwing huge sums into a money pit. In the end, he worries the $14 billion gesture will have proven "meaningless" if the area is ultimately drowned by seawater.
Clearly, Babbitt offered up some great quotes. The problem, of course, is that the glib orator can’t prove his prognostications will come to pass. Nor can anyone else. He argues that his crystal-ball gazing has been informed by conclusions issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the huge consensus group that has deliberated on the science of climate.
So, do we accept the analyses of a skilled political animal,
like Babbitt, to cautiously and accurately apply climate science to the
In fact, I don’t think it matters. I think he was really having sport with reporters and climate-policy analysts in the audience today. Deliberately putting a dramatic slant on the situation.
But if his what-if scenario is at least partially right,
Only five days ago, I sat across the table at dinner, with an executive of a major insurance company that insures other insurance companies. These “reinsurance” firms are a very conservative lot. And this executive noted that his company and others reinsurers do take climate change very seriously.
The kind of havoc climate change could wreak to infrastructure threatens to break the bank, he said. It’s that simple. And that disturbing.
And if insurers are worrying about this, then I’d argue that we – and Uncle Sam – should too.
Pyke, C. and K. Batten. 2008. Full Disclosure:An Executive Order to Require Consideration of Global Warming Under the National Environmental Policy Act. Center for American Progress: Washington, D.C. (May 5): 21 pp.
Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Task Force and the Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Authority. 1998. Coast 2050: Toward a Sustainable Coastal Louisiana. Louisiana Department of Natural Resources. Baton Rouge, La. [Go to]
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and State of Louisiana. 2004. Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA), Louisiana Ecosystem Restoration Study. (November). [Go to]
Note: To comment, Science News subscribing members must now establish a separate login relationship with Disqus. Click the Disqus icon below, enter your e-mail and click “forgot password” to reset your password. You may also log into Disqus using Facebook, Twitter or Google.