On Tuesday, the White House formally embraced a declaration by researchers at its Science and Technology Council that climate change will be severe enough to endanger human health, and be used as a trigger for larger policies that include a ban on gasoline-based electricity in the United States by 2040.
And, on a far more practical level, Ms. White, in an interview the day before the statement, outlined other elements of a draft White House Climate Action Plan, which also takes a page from the science council’s recommendations.
In the plan’s chapter on coastal resiliency, there is little or no mention of a climate scientist’s “thermohaline circulation” explanation of how rising seas will likely inundate critical coastal infrastructure, or of the hundreds of thousands of acres already being covered by development that will not be necessary for the plan’s purposes.
Instead, the White House wants action now. “For coastal communities,” the White House says in the White House Climate Action Plan, “climate change presents long-term challenges in terms of energy, water, coastal transportation and structural resilience.”
And for communities along the Appalachian region, Ms. White explains that “in some cases, all their infrastructure has been built in a very high elevation, or in a floodplain or so forth. … So what we’re asking is for pre-emptive actions. That way, if it happens, you’ve got a lot of time and a lot of infrastructure that’s already made up.”
The White House statement released Tuesday, of course, recognizes climate change as a serious threat, and that the United States should lead the world in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It also says there is an opportunity for the United States to be a leader in climate resiliency, but without specific details.
The statement cites a report in June by scientists from around the world that found that 21 percent of global sea levels are already rising and that by 2090 the rate will be 50 percent higher.
The report, commissioned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, found that sea level rise will disrupt economies, change agricultural production and threaten food supplies for 2 billion people living in low-lying regions.
The White House climate action plan, using technical language and a two-sentence summary, suggests, “If nations match current national goals for emissions reduction, but also complement that with actions in the field, sustainable change will be possible and transition to a low-carbon future will not be impossible.”
In a separate section, the plan mentions sea level rise, but it emphasizes two other elements the climate council had not done: proposing the right levels of federal funding to keep Americans safe, and adopting “herd immunity” so that in the event of extreme weather or an extreme influx of climate refugees, the government can mobilize in a way that keeps people from being displaced.
The White House climate plan mentions an attack on an U.S. facility in Saudi Arabia in the Saudi desert on Nov. 19, 1971, in which a clandestine bomb was dropped on a bus of young Americans who were on an overnight train headed for Iraq. (The victims survived.) In that case, as in others, a dose of those massive decontamination chemicals, salts and chemicals may have led to the failure of the bomb.
The science council also recommends capping methane emissions, and sets goals to limit the use of water and energy that comes from coal in buildings.