GAO Report Underscores Economic Imperative in Addressing Climate Change

A Gallup poll released earlier this year showed record percentages of Americans are concerned about global warming, believe it is occurring, consider it a serious threat and say it is caused by human activity. More than 70 percent recognize the scientific consensus on climate change, and more than 60 percent say the effects of climate change are happening now.

Not surprising – especially in today’s political environment – is that Americans’ views about climate issues divide sharply along partisan lines. Some two-thirds of Democrats polled expressed a “great deal” of worry about climate change. For Republicans, less than one in five said they had great concerns.

Given that divide, a report issued this week by the General Accounting Office (GAO) – an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress – recommends the White House take action to address climate change. This is a singular development, given the bitterly partisan debate over the subject on Capitol Hill.

In issuing the recommendations, the GAO is following its mission as the “congressional watchdog” charged with investigating how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. From that oversight perspective of fiscal responsibility, the agency makes the case that without implementing measures that mitigate the impacts of climate change, which has resulted in the spending of billions of disaster assistance dollars, the federal government will only have to respond with even more spending in the future.

The report, requested by Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA), says that over the past decade more than $350 billion in federal money has been spent to deal with increasingly severe hurricanes, extreme droughts, volatile weather like tornadoes, and wildfires. The GAO warns that the number and intensity of extreme weather events will rise, costing taxpayers more than $1 trillion by 2039. If hurricane and wildfire seasons continue in a similar pattern to 2017, costs will exceed $6 trillion in 20 years.

So, the GAO says, the White House should use the information that is available to help identify risks posed by climate change and “craft appropriate federal responses.”

As has been made clear by 25x’25, Solutions from the Land (our parent organization) and scores of other stakeholder organizations and forward-thinking policy makers, it is imperative that the White House and Congress develop policies that promote clean energy and boost the role of agriculture and forestry in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Renewable energy technologies – wind, solar, biomass, biofuels, geothermal and hydropower – are proven, inexpensive performers that are being deployed on a wide scale, and providing low- and no-carbon solutions to the challenges of a changing climate.

Meanwhile, bioenergy is playing a critical role in meeting an expected growing energy demand in the decades to come. The sustainable management of our forests and other biomass resources supplement non-renewable fossil fuels in the transportation, building and industry sectors, while also supporting domestic industries and improving our national energy security.

America’s farmers, ranchers and forestland owners are well positioned to contribute to this transition and seize the economic opportunity that can come with helping this country meet the challenges of climate change. Not only can they produce vast amounts of clean, renewable energy, but through the pursuit of soil health goals, they can sequester carbon through the crops, grasses and trees they grow.

Federal government data shows that U.S. working lands have been sequestering much more carbon than they emit (a net “carbon sink”) for the last three decades. In 2014, the U.S. land carbon sink sequestered a net 762 million metric tons of CO2, offsetting 11 percent of economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions. Those numbers can only get better with policies that help and incentivize landowners to boost soil health that can enhance carbon sequestration.

The reputation of the GAO as a nonpartisan, independent source of information serves to underscore the credibility of the warnings the agency is issuing in this latest report. Stakeholders should use this information and reach out to their elected officials, urging them to elevate adaptive management and resiliency planning and make the case to the White House that a misplaced devotion to an outdated view of our nation’s energy sector is not only extremely costly, it is also dangerous.

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