Nebraska Must Plan for a Changing Climate: Passing LB 283 is a First Step

In April, I published an opinion piece (A Tale of Two Crises, 4/14/20) that pointed out numerous similarities between the current Covid-19 pandemic and the climate crisis that is looming today and in the decades ahead. There I pointed to the need to plan for future crises, knowing that when confronted with a crisis—a pandemic, a natural disaster or the climate crisis—the costs of inaction (lack of preparedness) is always far greater than the costs of action (preparedness). While the loss of human life as well as the economic costs and human suffering from Covid-19 continue to mount, we wait anxiously for a vaccine. There is no vaccine for climate change. Given recent occurrences of extreme weather events locally, nationally and internationally and repeated warnings from scientists, the need for planning and preparedness for the climate crisis has never been more apparent. There has been a lack of a concerted effort by many political leaders to address these warnings, including those in Nebraska. I served as one of four authors of a UNL climate change report in 2014, completed at the request of the legislature. It examined the science of climate change, identified projected changes in our climate by mid-century and beyond and the implications of these changes on key sectors of Nebraska. In 2015, I organized a series of eight sector-based roundtables that assembled more than 350 stakeholders from across the state to identify potential adaptation and mitigations measures to address climate change. Nevertheless, the state’s leadership has not addressed the implications of our changing climate. Despite repeated legislative attempts by then Senator Ken Haar and more recently by Senator Patty Pansing Brooks to initiate the development and implementation a climate action plan, no legislative action has occurred. Nebraska remains poorly prepared for a future characterized by a warmer climate, including more frequent and severe heat waves, droughts, floods and more variable and seasonal changes in precipitation. These extreme events will cause even greater economic, environmental and social impacts then Nebraska experienced in 2012 from a severe drought or the epic flooding in 2019 resulting in over $3.4 billion dollars in losses. LB 283 is on the agenda for the final days of this year’s legislative session. The bill proposes development of a climate action plan for Nebraska, requesting $250,000 from the Petroleum Release Remedial Action Cash Fund. Introduced by Senator Pansing Brooks, LB 283 is the priority bill of Senator John McCollister and it has the full support of many organizations in the state. A 2020 survey by UNL’s Bureau of Sociological Research found that 7 in 10 Nebraskans believe climate change is real. Given the widespread acceptance of the reality of climate change, the next step is to prepare for current and projected changes in climate. Climate change is a threat to Nebraska’s economy, the environment, public health and racial justice. The state’s agriculturally based economy is especially vulnerable. Proactive actions aimed at addressing that threat now are prudent, socially responsible and more cost effective than inaction that ignores that threat. While climate change is a complex issue, its implications for Nebraska are real. There exist real solutions to the climate crisis, but we must work together to identify and implement these solutions. A plan developed with broad input from Nebraskans would develop solutions that best fit this state.

An effective climate action plan will enable the state to diminish the negative impacts of climate change while taking advantage of economic and societal opportunities associated with a changing climate. A climate action plan will provide economic sectors and communities with the strategies and tools necessary to take full advantage of the opportunities gained through proactive planning. An outcome of this planning process will be the identification and adoption of strategies to attract new businesses and investments to Nebraska, leading to the creation of substantial job opportunities to retain and attract the human resources necessary in support of a more vibrant and sustainable economy, one of the goals of Blueprint Nebraska. We must plan for climate change by taking action now. Passage of LB 283 will begin that process and set the state on a course to address proactively our changing climate in a responsible manner. We can and must prepare for this looming crisis. It is time for the legislature and the governor to provide leadership on this issue. Their constituents demand that leadership.

Donald Wilhite is a climate scientist and founding director of the National Drought Mitigation Center and professor and director emeritus, School of Natural Resources, UNL. He is also a member of the Nebraska Elder Climate Legacy group.

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