A better relationship with the Earth

“Leave this world a little better than you found it.”

Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the scouting movement, was right when he urged us to hold the Earth as sacred. 

Every year as we celebrate Earth Day, we commemorate the beauty of Mother Nature by planting trees or cleaning up our neighborhoods to make them better than they were the previous year. Hurricane Sandy, which hit this past October, reminded us that we rarely pause to think about preserving our ecology and environment.

When Sandy hit, we witnessed firsthand the danger of letting our environmental and physical infrastructure go. 

The storm called attention to what Mother Nature can do to our man-made infrastructure and natural environment. We can no longer deny the increasing frequency and intensity of such storms. We have the chance to enact policies that will keep our environment and our homes safe before the next major natural catastrophe.  

With the next hurricane season less than two months away, now is the time to consider a comprehensive catastrophe management system, with mitigation and prevention as the cornerstones, to better prepare and protect Americans from natural catastrophe.

A newly introduced bill proposing a better catastrophe management approach, the Homeowners and Taxpayers Protection Act of 2013, sponsored by Rep. Albio Sires (D-N.J.), builds upon legislation that passed the House of Representatives in 2007 by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 258-155. It was reintroduced and passed the House Financial Services Committee in 2010 with nearly 80 congressional co-sponsors from 30 states.

This bill contains incentives and requirements to improve prevention and mitigation measures at the state and local levels, including strong building codes, which protect the environment by ensuring that structures are built with energy-efficient materials and release fewer carbon emissions. Strong building codes also reduce the large quantities of post-disaster debris that can overwhelm landfills.

This bill also supports sensible land use planning, which will also help protect the environment by reducing beach erosion and water contamination and could help improve ecological life.

After Sandy, many families were unable to afford the rising costs of rebuilding their homes. By building a privately funded national catastrophe fund, Americans across the country in harm’s way would have greater access to affordable homeowners insurance to protect them before the next catastrophe.

The fund would also designate needed money to support the mitigation programs that must be implemented to protect our sensitive environmental resources and mitigate damage when the inevitable next storm comes to town.

The national catastrophe fund that is part of this comprehensive legislative solution can be thought of like a “catastrophe IRA.” Insurance industry money would prudently be set aside and built up, not for later retirement but for a speedy and well-resourced recovery from true natural catastrophe whenever it hits. Because the fund is financed through private insurance premiums, it provides protection without requiring deficit spending or additional taxation. 

The legislation espouses the notion that we should prepare for the future by conserving today, and it’s in this same spirit that we celebrate Earth Day.

We have the opportunity to heed Baden-Powell’s call and create a sustainable system that protects our environment and our economy before the next Andrew, Katrina or Sandy arrives at our doorstep. We also now have the opportunity to honor Baden-Powell’s legacy and heed the Scout’s motto to “be prepared” for the next storm. Now is the time to take swift action and enact the bill.

The writers are co-chairmen of ProtectingAmerica.org. Witt is executive chairman of Witt O’Brien’s, a disaster recovery and crisis management consulting firm, and was director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under former President Clinton. Loy is senior counselor at The Cohen Group and was commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard and deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security under former President George W. Bush.