It’s been a devastating year in the Hoosier state. After a months-long drought, all 92 Indiana counties were declared natural disaster areas. The rains finally came, but the majority of the state is still under “abnormally dry” or drought conditions, according to the Purdue Extension Service, which recently presented a webinar on drought-related mental health issues for farmers who, like their crops and livestock, are under extreme stress.
Indiana isn’t the only state affected by the drought. The U.S. Department of Agriculture designated all or parts of 39 states as natural disaster areas this year. Hotter, dryer conditions have resulted in the worst wildfire season in U.S. history, with almost 8 million acres burned by the end of August.
The National Climatic Data Center reported that the first eight months of 2012 were the hottest ever recorded in the continental United States. Then September 2012 tied September 2005 as the hottest on record.
If this isn’t evidence of climate change, it’s a preview of how it will affect our lives.
Every National Academy of Science in every country in the world has confirmed that climate change is happening and that it is caused by human activity. The Union of Concerned Scientists’ report on climate change impacts to Indiana predicts drought, shorter winters and more frequent and severe storms, with all manner of damage to people, agriculture, and infrastructure.
Given the many threats to Hoosiers, and the fact that we are among the top producers of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, we may reasonably expect that Indiana has prepared or is preparing a plan to avert climate change. But we have no climate change action plan, and the agency charged with protecting our environment doesn’t acknowledge that climate change exists.
“If you look at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management website, you won’t find a mention of climate change,” said Melissa Hulting, climate change coordinator for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region V, which includes Indiana.
A search of IDEM’s website does in fact reveal a mention of climate change — in a presentation IDEM Commissioner Thomas Easterly made to the Indiana Chamber of Commerce in 2009. In his slideshow, Easterly, who was appointed by Governor Mitch Daniels in 2005, asserts there is no evidence that the planet is warming.
According to an IDEM spokesperson, Easterly’s view has not changed. “Commissioner Easterly has not spent time and resources researching the topic of climate change since his presentation in 2009,” said Rob Elstro, public information officer for IDEM’s office of air quality.
Asked if the drought led IDEM officials to discuss the necessity of responding to climate change, Elstro said, “You’re the first person I’ve talked to who has made that connection.”
Asked if IDEM acknowledges that climate change is real and caused by human activity, he responded, “Acknowledging climate change and its cause are not necessary to do the practical work of planning for extreme weather events or implementing U.S. EPA regulations.”
Does it matter that IDEM won’t acknowledge the reality of climate change if it’s preparing for natural disasters and complying with EPA rules? Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, says that it does.
“We think that it would enhance the credibility of IDEM to acknowledge that this challenge is real and that it has real implications on the well-being of Hoosiers now and in the future, Kharbanda said. “Our country’s most distinguished scientific bodies, like the National Academy of Sciences and the American Geophysical Union, believe that climate change is unambiguously driven by man-made emissions and also have commented that the magnitude of climate change’s impacts is of an unprecedented scale, and for IDEM to not acknowledge what countless peer-reviewed studies have concluded strikes us as political.”
According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, Indiana is one of only a dozen states with no climate change action plan prepared or in progress. The EPA does not require states to create climate change action plans, but its state and local climate and energy program assists states with creating the plans, which outline a state’s response to climate change tailored to the state’s specific circumstances.
“The plans only have teeth if laws get passed to implement the recommendations in the plan,” Hulting said. “Good examples of that are states that have passed renewable portfolio standards requiring utilities to purchase power from renewable sources. Some states also have energy efficiency performance standards in which utilities are required to improve energy efficiency by a certain percentage each year.”
States began to develop climate change action plans in the latter part of the last decade in response to inaction at the federal level. “A lot of states and local governments wanted to move forward and do something,” Hulting said. “Ultimately it’s going to take action at all three levels. It’s a big problem, and there are decisions about different things made at different levels of government.”
Kharbanda said Indiana needs a plan. “If policy makers want to be true to the principle of caring for our current and future generations, it follows that a climate change action plan needs to be in place, because that’s sending a signal that we see this as an issue that affects the quality of life of Hoosiers and we’re going to do something about it. It’s a moral imperative.”
But Hulting said state climate change action plans are usually driven by the governor. “If it’s a priority of the governor, it happens. If the governor changes and has different priorities, or if the legislature doesn’t pass the recommendations, nothing may come of the plan.”
The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
From the EPA: Climate Change Action Plan — A climate change action plan is a comprehensive document that outlines a state’s response to climate change, tailored to the state’s specific circumstances. It typically includes a detailed emission inventory, baseline and projected emissions, a discussion of the potential impacts of climate change on the state’s resources, opportunities for emission reductions, emission reduction goals and an implementation plan. It also usually identifies and recommends policy options based on criteria such as emission reduction potential, cost-effectiveness and political feasibility.