Washington is asleep at the wheel on climate change, but states are leading

Washington is asleep at the wheel on climate change, but states are leading
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Climate change is no longer a future threat. Its destructive impacts are already here in the form of violent mega-storms, prolonged drought and deadly wildfires. More than ever, we need a credible, positive vision of the future to motivate and mobilize the forces necessary to address climate challenges head-on. 

Dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions is an essential part of that vision, and it’s rightfully a major focus of the United Nations Climate Action Summit and Climate Week. But emissions reductions alone won’t be enough to ensure a livable, prosperous future. We urgently need to do more to make our communities, and the natural systems that support them, more resilient to the climate impacts we cannot avoid. 

Unfortunately, Washington is asleep at the wheel in driving the changes necessary to adapt to this new reality. But states are leading. Regardless of political party, state leaders are accelerating efforts to ensure their residents and natural resources can withstand adversity and thrive even as the planet changes profoundly.


Governors in Louisiana, North Carolina, Florida and Rhode Island have appointed their state’s first-ever chief resilience officers. Other states like Virginia are following suit and will soon have state-wide resilience chiefs as well.

Chief resilience officers are essential for breaking down silos and coordinating across state agencies to ensure that states don’t just bounce back from devastating storms like Hurricanes Florence and Michael, but bounce forward with an enhanced ability to adapt and respond to more frequent extreme and variable weather.

Resilience leadership comes from other state-level cabinet positions as well. This month, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, an association representing the elected and appointed commissioners, secretaries and directors of agriculture from all 50 states and four U.S. territories, unanimously adopted a resilience policy that includes support for climate-smart agriculture programs, funding and research.

Climate-smart agriculture stays above the partisan fray because agricultural practices that improve a farm’s resilience to extreme and variable weather — such as cover crops and buffer strips — also help to reduce emissions, sequester carbon in the soil, and mitigate flood and drought risk. They’re good for farmers, downstream neighbors and anyone who wants to eat high-quality, affordable food.

Across the board, climate adaptation measures enjoy bipartisan support.

recent poll in Louisiana, where a football field of land disappears into the Gulf of Mexico every 100 minutes, found that an overwhelming majority of voters support coastal restoration efforts to stem erosion and protect the state from future storms, even if it means that not everything can be saved. The poll also found that 71 percent of voters believe in climate change and 72 percent believe it will impact future generations. Remember, this is a state that in 2016 went nearly 60 percent for Donald TrumpDonald TrumpPence: Supreme Court has chance to right 'historic wrong' with abortion ruling Prosecutor says during trial that actor Jussie Smollett staged 'fake hate crime' Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE, a president who disavows science and climate change and is the reason why states are providing necessary leadership today.

Because global warming and other stresses will bring continual change, we need to act swiftly to build climate resilience without political party tribalism.

Resilience isn’t a cure for climate change — it’s how we live with it. As the consequences of future climate impacts remain unknown, we can at least begin to make a difference today.

David Festa is senior vice president of Ecosystems at Environmental Defense Fund.