Billions in Extreme Weather Damage and FEMA Plan "Forgets" to Mention Climate Change
May 8, 2018
Kate Yoder / Grist & Ryan Grenoble / Huffington Post
In 2017, an unprecedented string of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and wildfires cost the US a record-shattering $306 billion -- four times more than average over the past decade, adjusted for inflation. In March, after a year of record-shattering natural disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency released its long-term strategic plan. And that 37-page document somehow neglected to mention climate change. The official explanation: We forgot to mention it.
FEMA Has the Worst Excuse for
Leaving Climate Change Out of Its Strategy
Kate Yoder / Grist
(May 6, 2018) -- In March, after a year of record-shattering natural disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency released its long-term strategic plan. And that 37-page document somehow neglected to mention climate change -- something the agency plainly addressed in the Obama era.
So Keith Ellison, a Democratic representative from Minnesota, sent a letter to FEMA asking why. Brock Long, the agency's director, responded: "There was no decision, and no direction, to deliberately avoid or omit any particular term in the writing of the 2018-2022 Strategic Plan," according to HuffPost.
Ellison wasn't satisfied. "You still have not addressed why the plan makes no mention of climate change," he wrote to Long on Wednesday, demanding further explanation.
But there is a simple answer. Although the Trump administration does not generally give explicit instructions to avoid saying "climate change," it has become an unwritten expectation. The result is a culture of censorship.
While FEMA's strategy doesn't mention climate change, it employs the delightful euphemism "pre-disaster mitigation" 10 times, I wrote when the report came out, as well as other oblique references to "the changing nature of the risks we face."
We Just Got Our Disaster Bill and It Was $306 Billion
Kate Yoder / Grist
(January 9, 2018) -- Highways turned into rivers with white-capped waves in Texas. Wildfire smoke reddened the sky in California. And the country's signature "amber waves of grain" were parched by drought, leaving farmers with fields of gray, cracked soil in Montana.
In all, the United States was hit by 16 weather events last year that cost more than $1 billion each, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calculated. Piece them together, and you get the story of a climate transformed by human activity -- and a country racked by wild weather that cost us a record-shattering $306 billion.
That price tag is four times more than average over the past decade, adjusted for inflation. It was nearly off the charts.
2008, 2011, 2012, and 2017 experienced one or more tropical cyclones. Grist / Amelia Bates / NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information
Last year blew past the previous record for disasters, $215 billion, set in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck. The priciest natural disasters tend to be hurricanes, which explains why 2017 was so different. Harvey, Irma, and Maria were three of the five most expensive hurricanes in US history, and they all hit in one year. The three accounted for 87 percent of the bill.
Western wildfires racked up $18 billion in damages, tripling the price tag of the previous worst wildfire year, 1991.
Severe storms, flooding, and drought afflicted people across the country. But the Northeast was the only region spared from a disaster that caused $1 billion or more in damages.
Scroll to view entire map. NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information
Given how much time we've devoted to talking about climate change's fingerprints on everything, you'd suspect its criminal record would be well-documented.
Although it's difficult to pinpoint exactly how climate change affects a particular storm or heatwave, scientists are getting better at untangling the connection. For example, researchers calculated that the chances of a Harvey-esque storm hitting Texas was made six times more likely because of climate change.
Oh, and did we mention that last year was the third-hottest on record? Thank goodness it's over. But don't get excited -- extreme weather is already creeping in to the New Year. In just the first nine days of 2018, the weather has already dealt us deadly mudslides and a bomb cyclone.
FEMA's Latest Excuse For Why It's
Ignoring Climate Change: It Forgot
Ryan Grenoble / Huffington Post
WASHINGTON (May 3, 2018) -- That clears it up.
When the Federal Emergency Management Agency in March published its latest plan for mitigating natural disasters, there was one thing missing: any mention of climate change.
Rep. Keith Ellison asked the agency why, and so far he's not happy with the answer. In its latest response, FEMA says it basically forgot.
"There was no decision, and no direction, to deliberately avoid or omit any particular term in the writing of the 2018-2022 Strategic Plan," FEMA Director Brock Long wrote on April 12, referring to the document the agency uses to help anticipate and prepare the nation for natural disasters.
Long's claim is a remarkable one given that 2017 was the costliest, most-damaging year on record for weather and climate-related disasters in the US, and the third-warmest year on record. Experts predict those costs, which directly impact FEMA's operation, will increase as the climate shifts further and further from its baseline.
The previous, Obama-era strategic plan identified climate change as a prime contributor to increasing disaster risk and urged action; the new, Trump-era document doesn't mention it at all.
Ellison is now asking the agency to give a real explanation. On Wednesday, he asked FEMA to explain the "analytical basis" for why it omitted climate change from its five-year plan.
"Your April 12th, 2018, response did not adequately answer this question." Ellison wrote in a letter to Long. "Although you reassured me that 'the plan emphasizes all aspects of disaster preparedness, regardless of cause,' you still have not addressed why the plan makes no mention of climate change."
Where Ellison's original letter asked FEMA to identify whom it consulted in drafting its new strategic plan, Long only cited "FEMA employees and external stakeholders," as well as comments submitted online.
Long's responses to follow-up questions only referred back to that answer, including a request that FEMA specifically identify "any scientists or climate experts" who contributed to the decision.
Ellison's new letter requests copies of those online comments, and again asks FEMA to specifically identify those "external stakeholders." It also asks whether Long's office consulted with the White House when formulating the plan's "goals and objectives."
In an emailed statement to HuffPost, FEMA public affairs director William Booher said it doesn't matter whether climate change was mentioned in the document.
"It is evident that this strategic plan fully incorporates future risks from all hazards regardless of cause," he said. "Building upon the foundation established by FEMA's previous two Strategic Plans, this plan commits the agency, and the nation, to taking proactive steps to increasing pre-disaster investments in preparedness and mitigation."
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