The Gulf of Mexico is on the frontlines of the impacts of climate change. Rising sea-levels, more powerful hurricanes and invasive species are all serious threats to the natural resources of the Gulf, our homes and our communities. Coastal erosion and the myriad of problems the Gulf of Mexico is faced with are inextricably connected to climate change. Climate change and its impacts is one of the most pressing issues we face as a region, nation and world and we must rise to this challenge.
Adaptation and Resilience
Even if the U.S. and the world dramatically cut carbon pollution and deforestation, we have already changed the climate, and those impacts will continue to unfold over the coming decades. We will need to adapt to the climate changes already underway, and make our communities and ecosystems more resilient. We must weather the storm, literally and figuratively.
Engineers, planners, and environmentalists wrestling with the challenges of restoring the Everglades and coastal Louisiana know that manmade sea level rise has made their job even more difficult. As billions of dollars are invested in restoring these critical ecosystems—essential for the health of the Gulf—they have the added benefit of making the entire region more resilient to climate change. By repairing the damage we have caused to these special places, we are also protecting water supplies, storm barriers and fisheries essential to future generations.
Funds from the BP drilling disaster, if properly used to restore the health of Gulf, have the added benefit of making it more resilient. Measures such as the RESTORE Act, which sends 80% of Clean Water Act fines from the BP disaster back to the Gulf, could be a source of significant funding for climate adaptation. And the reality of rising seas make some proposed uses of BP funds look even more wasteful, such as a convention centers on a barrier island, or repeatedly pumping sand onto eroding beaches (so-called beach “renourishment”) rather than rebuilding natural shorelines.
Gulf residents have learned hard lessons about resilience from hurricanes and the BP drilling disaster. As we attempt not to repeat the same mistakes of the past, we must also look to the future, using the best available science, community engagement and planning. While we must each take responsibility for ourselves by being prepared and reducing risk, we must also demand more from our local, state and federal governments. Waiting for the next disaster to strike, and then using FEMA dollars or other funding for recovery and resilience is not enough. We must be helping our most vulnerable populations, communities and natural resources now.
The climate is changing, and as we cut pollution and transition to cleaner energy sources, we must also adapt. To learn more about the science of climate adaptation, click here to read the National Climate Assessment's chapter on adaptation.