Last year was among the most expensive years in the history of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief program, due to record-breaking hurricanes and wildfires that scientists say were made worse by climate change. But the agency has removed that very term from its strategic plan for the next four years.
It’s long been the unspoken policy of the Trump administration to erase references to climate change from government documents. Vox reported in December that the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Interior, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Transportation “have all had websites or press releases scrubbed of references to humanity’s role in rising average temperatures.” Now, it appears, this policy applies to the agency in charge of protecting Americans from climate disasters.
FEMA insists it is still preparing for such disasters, and implies that the causes don’t matter. “It is evident that this strategic plan fully incorporates future risks from all hazards regardless of cause,” FEMA Public Affairs Director William Booher said in an email. “Building upon the foundation established by FEMA’s previous two Strategic Plans, this plan commits the agency, and the nation, to taking proactive steps to increasing pre-disaster investments in preparedness and mitigation.”
But preparedness and mitigation are not enough to keep Americans safe as the atmosphere and ocean gradually warm. If government agencies don’t tackle the cause—carbon emissions from fossil fuels—the impacts, in many places, will become too extreme to adapt to. FEMA will bleed money preparing for, and responding to, more hurricanes like Harvey and Maria. And much of the blame will lie with conservatives who are triggered by two little, truthful words.