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Trump Administration's Latest Disaster Preparedness Report Omits Climate Change

The 2017 Lodgepole Complex of fires in eastern Montana was attributed to a severe drought exacerbated, in part, by climate change.
The 2017 Lodgepole Complex of fires in eastern Montana was attributed to a severe drought exacerbated, in part, by climate change.

The Trump administration’s latest National Preparedness Report is the first of its kind to completely ignore climate change

“That seems to be a really grave, missed opportunity,” said Divya Chandrasekhar, a professor at the University of Utah who specializes in disaster recovery. “The unpredictability of weather events is something we need to contend with.”

The 60-page report, prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, mentions the devastating wildfires that mostly destroyed Paradise, Calif., in 2017. It also nods at severe hurricanes and floods. But it omits the role climate change has played in exacerbating such disasters. 

Abigail Dennis, a spokesperson for FEMA, wrote in an email that emergency managers need to be prepared for disasters regardless of the reasons why the climate is changing.

“We are convinced that enforced strong building codes, smart land use planning, and community and private sector mitigation investments, will change the risk profile of communities and reduce the cost of disasters,” she said. 

Climate change’s omission in the 2019 report is a marked difference from the National Preparedness Report compiled by the Obama administration four years ago, which said that global warming and sea level rise posed a growing risk to the country’s critical infrastructure. 

It also contended that climate change can increase health-related risks by contributing to more intense heat waves and facilitating the spread of diseases.

“Members of the public and private sectors are increasingly taking steps to address these risks by reducing their vulnerabilities and preparing for the consequences,” the Obama-era report said. 

Private insurance actuaries around the globe have recently begun adding climate change to their risk analyses, according to Chandrasekhar.

“There are all these other actors that seem to be coming together around this notion of climate change disasters,” she said. “It’s really unfortunate that the federal government isn’t running with it.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center For the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Copyright 2020 KUER 90.1

Nate Hegyi
Nate Hegyi is the Utah reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at KUER. He covers federal land management agencies, indigenous issues, and the environment. Before arriving in Salt Lake City, Nate worked at Yellowstone Public Radio, Montana Public Radio, and was an intern with NPR's Morning Edition. He received a master's in journalism from the University of Montana.
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