Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Compleat Wetlander: Climate Change Adaptation Strategy Could Learn a Few Lessons from Wetlands

On October 14, the Administration’s Climate Change Adaptation Task Force released an interagency report providing recommendations on how federal agencies can prepare the United States for climate change.  The report provides a broad framework for acquiring information and developing tools needed to adapt to a changing climate.

It is very hard to make plans when the past is increasingly a poor predictor of the future.  Old weather patterns are being replaced with new ones.  However it is hard for many people to understand that new patterns really are emerging.  Let’s face it, weather is pretty variable to begin with.  The weatherman never begins a forecast with “the weather will be average all week.”   It is always hotter or wetter or colder or something-er than average.  In effect, weather experts are telling the world that something that was never really average to begin with is becoming even less average.

How does that translate into what needs to be done?  The White House report addresses that question only in the broadest context.  The details will be pursued as part of future actions.

In the coming months federal agencies and their partners including states, private businesses, local government, nonprofit organizations, individual citizens and countless others will have the opportunity to continue the dialogue and identify opportunities to take action.

In one respect climate change policy is similar to wetland policy.  Wetland regulations have always been contentious because they are not directed only to large corporations or government agencies with deep pockets.  They can also have an impact on an individual.  There is great concern on behalf of many people that the time and cost of acquiring wetlands permits will undermine individual efforts to make a living.  The reality may be very different, but the fear is real.

Climate change is similar.  Sea level rise, changing temperatures, floods, drought, etc. are likely to threaten individual livelihoods. So here are some lessons wetland policy experts can offer for those dealing with climate change policy.

Long term changes to policies and programs that prohibit or limit individual action require support from the public at large.   The U.S. is a democracy with checks and balances.  Too much change too fast will lead to checks—even if the changes are directed to protecting public health and safety.

The role of government is to provide the best available knowledge—science, economics, engineering, etc. so the public can understand and support new initiatives to adapt.

Abandon all preconceived notions about which groups or interests it is possible to work with. Everyone will be needed.

White House Progress Report on Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force:  Recommended Action in Support of a National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy
Climate Change Adaptation Task Force Website

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