Editor’s Note: Alice Hill is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. She was formerly a federal prosecutor, judge, special assistant to the president, and senior director for the National Security Council during the Obama administration. At the White House, she led the development of policy regarding national security and climate change. The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author. View more opinion articles on CNN.
The nation got its first chance to digest the details of the Green New Deal when Democrats proposed a nonbinding congressional resolution last week. Reading the 14-page document feels a bit like scanning a multipage menu in search of a satisfying meal. If you are a progressive, you feel overwhelmed by all there is to savor, and if you are a conservative, you struggle to find something you can stomach.
When New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unveiled the plan alongside Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, she offered it as a “comprehensive agenda of economic, social, and racial justice in the United States of America.” Republicans didn’t waste time sharing their distaste for the contents. A spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee called the resolution “zany” and Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson pronounced it “loony.” Pundits predicted that it will render Democrats unelectable. It’s not hard to see why the proposed resolution sparked such divergent views. It is so sweeping in scope and so vague in detail that some claim it calls for the elimination of air travel and the end of cows.
But putting aside the partisan sparring, the Green New Deal offers something every American should want: A country that is resilient to the impacts of climate change. In the proposed legislation, this takes the form of finding ways to pay for the resilience plans communities develop to prepare for worsening disasters, and repairing and upgrading our infrastructure to withstand future climate impacts, including increased flooding.
The United States urgently needs to focus on resilience to climate impacts. Last week, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration revealed that 2018 was the fourth warmest year on record. With more heat, the nation continues to see new extremes. A rain gauge in Hawaii measured the most rainfall in a single 24-hour period ever in the United States last year, while both West Virginia and North Carolina broke their precipitation records, with North Carolina exceeding 100 inches. And California lit up in flames driven by wildfires that caused unprecedented destruction.
The losses from these and other climate and weather-related disasters in 2018 tallied to $91 billion. The overwhelming losses from climate-fueled disasters have the Government Accountability Office, the nonpartisan watchdog agency for the federal government, worried. It has deemed the fiscal drain caused by climate change a “high risk” and has wisely recommended that the nation increase its investment in resilience.
Yet, despite the compelling need to build climate resilience, the nation hasn’t even mastered the basics yet. We don’t routinely incorporate climate resilience into our infrastructure planning. We do a lousy job of notifying people of their true flood risk, leaving communities to rely on flood maps that all too often ignore the increased risk of flooding from climate change. We spend our tax dollars to rebuild structures that probably won’t withstand future climate impacts. We provide subsidized insurance to properties that flood over and over and over again. And we have almost no building codes that account for the future risk of climate change impacts.
Our shortsighted approach means that when we invest in a new bridge or water treatment plant it is at risk of being washed away even before we hold the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
What if we rose above the partisanship to embrace the Green New Deal’s demand for climate resilience? We would unquestionably save money.
Research tells us that by investing just $1 in resilience before calamity strikes, the nation can save itself $6 in future recovery costs. This preparedness would leave fewer people homeless, get children back to school faster, protect infrastructure investments, and let businesses reopen their doors more quickly. It would reduce demands for emergency services, allow authorities to restore order rapidly, and help keep the power on and the water running. And it can save lives.
As the nation continues to study the Green New Deal and its menu of ideas, climate resilience is one aspect we should all agree upon – no matter what our political persuasion.