Obama's "Secret" Climate Adaptation Plan

Whether he'll talk about climate change publicly or not, the President is preparing all federal agencies for its inevitable impacts.

On March 4th, in a move surely designed to side-step Congress, Obama's Council on Environmental Quality issued instructions to all federal agencies on how to adapt to climate change. All agencies, from the Food and Drug Administration to the Department of Defense, will be required to analyze their vulnerabilities to the impacts from climate change and come up with a plan to adapt. Thousands of governmental employees will be trained on climate science, like it or not.

The changes aren't limited to just federal agencies. Countless numbers of private businesses that sell, build, provide logistics or maintenance, or anything else to the government will be forced to comply with new Federal climate adaptation guidelines—all because of Presidential Executive Order 13514.

How far reaching is this adaptation action? The National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) is holding a training and workshop conference on Obama's Executive Order in May. NDIA is the primary private industry group that supports the Department of Defense. To be clear, NDIA connects the DoD to bomb makers Raytheon, bullet manufacturers Sierra Bullets, and the designer of the stealth bomber, Northrup-Grumman. Now NDIA is training defense contractors on climate science and analysis based on a little known Executive Order.

How did this happen?

At first glance, President Obama's little-reported Executive Order 13514 (PDF) is a straightforward, environmentally-friendly one-two punch that boosts the sustainability of our government. The Order aims to lower the amount of greenhouse gases that the Federal Government emits, reduce environmental pollution and waste, and establish a permanent Sustainability Officer in each agency. It also "requires Federal Agencies to set a 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target within 90 days; increase energy efficiency; reduce fleet petroleum consumption; conserve water; reduce waste; support sustainable communities; and leverage Federal purchasing power to promote environmentally-responsible products and technologies."

But tucked into EO 13514 is a provision that requires all Federal Agencies to also adapt to climate change. The Order's brief Section 16 (PDF) will have profound and long lasting effects on how our Federal Government responds to climate change. For here, each agency is required, among other things, to:

  • Appoint a Climate Adaptation specialist
  • Establish an Agency wide Climate Change Adaptation Policy and Mandate by June 2011
  • Participate in Climate Adaptation workshops and then educate all employees throughout 2011
  • Identify and analyze climate vulnerabilities that would interfere with accomplishing the Agency's mission by March 2012
  • Implement the adaptation plan by September 2012
  • \n

Serious Business

The U.S. Navy's Task Force Climate Change created a 5-year climate action plan, called the Navy Arctic Roadmap. The Roadmap is concerned with protecting U.S. interests in the Arctic Circle from impacts that melting ice—to the point of conducting Joint war games with allies. Other agencies are scrambling, as well. The USDA, for example, is evaluating how climate change impacts crops and commodities markets, and then make a plan to avoid food shortages and price collapses. Even the Army Corps of Engineers is required to reassess all water resources and coastlines in the United States for vulnerabilities to climate change. It is unclear what this will mean for those new dikes protecting New Orleans.

Is Credit Due to George W. Bush?

The mainstream media hasn't given this executive order much attention over the last year and a half but its implications are far-reaching. An Executive Order is a powerful and enforceable law, and it takes a (rare) Congressional super-majority to override the President's pen.

What might surprise you is that this was not Obama's idea. It was President George W. Bush's. You see, back in 2007, it was Bush who forced the Federal Government to lower emissions and become more sustainable. Executive Order 13423 (PDF) "Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management" was a short, sweet 5-pager that required all Federal Agencies to adopt sustainability plans. Two years later, in 2009, Obama merely expanded on Bush's idea. Obama tweaked the former requirements by upping the percentages of emissions cuts, boosting sustainability requirements, and adding in adapting to climate change.

Executive Orders are somewhat controversial because they seem to subvert the legislative process. Through the use of Executive Orders, presidents have substantial formal powers to make their own policies without interference from Congress or the courts. Abraham Lincoln used the EO to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, for example. And Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, keen on avoiding losing several political battles, bypassed the Congress to establish many civil rights laws and racial discrimination law. Most controversial, however, was George H.W. Bush's EO 13292, which created the concept of the "unitary executive," substantially expanding the powers vested in the Office of the Vice President.

Collectively, EOs do in fact expand the powers vested in the Executive Office. It pushes the boundaries of what is possible to get around the Congress. Obama's EO 13514 not only forces agencies to green their operations without signing on to Kyoto or passing domestic legislation, it also trains all employees to believe, analyze, and make decisions on the controversial topic of climate change. Obama has stated many times that he represents all people—right, left, and center. This top down decision forces tens of thousands of federal employees—right, left, and center—to be trained openly on the science of climate change. It may be his best kept secret.

Editor's note: Michael Cote, the author of this piece, is a climate adaptation and urban planning expert, friend (and once-upon-a-time newspaper reporter) who I first met in Copenhagen before the COP15 climate talks. Over the past couple of months, I've been working with Cote to develop a regular feature for GOOD's environment hub on climate adaptation solutions from around the world. We're still working on a title for his regular, recurring series of posts, so let us know if you have any suggestions! —Ben Jervey

Image: Icebreaker from
via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

At the age of 15, he was given to Thomas Auld, a cruel man who beat and starved his slaves and thwarted any opportunity for them to practice their faith or to learn to read or write.

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via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

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For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

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In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

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via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

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In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?


Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

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