U.S. vs the World on Climate Change: Who will Represent Our Interests?

Earlier this fall, nations around the world gathered in Bonn Germany to strategize and form a united front regarding analysis, predictions and plans for the decades ahead, decades in which sea levels are expected to rise and ecosystems around the planet are expected to shift in as-yet unknown directions as the climate changes. But since the current U.S.administration has taken a hostile stance on climate issues, the conversations generated by the event took place largely without formal U.S. representation. Governors and state representatives lent their voices even when the White House did not, and the global community as a whole showed no signs of backing down from the challenges ahead, with or without U.S. participation. Some reporters and pundits have characterized the meeting as one in which U.S. absence was essentially ignored, and global commitment to the goals of the Paris Agreement remained unfaltering despite U.S. statements of non-engagement.

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But what will this mean for future collaborations and commitments? And just as important, how will states, federal agencies like FEMA, and local governments here in the US follow a similar course? Can states, agencies and municipalities carry on, enacting and enforcing building codes and infrastructure plans that respect climate science, even while the White House remains determined to opt out?

FEMA officials appear to be caught in the middle, pushed on both sides by political and financial pressures as the agency works to find a productive balance between diminished funding and the need to redraw federal flood maps (an expensive process) and rebuild structures in flood zones using federal dollars (even more expensive). 

Importance vs Urgency

While few outside the White House disagree that climate change is an important concern that will—eventually—impact every aspect of policy making and governance in the U.S. from agricultural subsidies to central interest rates, not every agency and local municipality can afford to place climate issues at the top of a list of urgent priorities. What must be dealt with and what must be dealt with immediately differ from one region to another depending on the political climate and the rise of competing concerns (for example, epidemics, security threats, and budget crises.)

As a nation and as representatives of our own local municipalities and hometowns, our mission is becoming clear: we’ll need to make sure our local leadership recognizes the immediacy of climate change issues and is inspired to push these concerns toward the foreground, regardless of the stance taken by the current administration. In this case, it may be possible that change—or the pressure for change—moves from the ground up, not the top down.

Contact our office for more on how to apply this steady pressure through organization and strategic action.