University of Southern California

NEPA and CEQA: Effective Legal Frameworks For Compelling Consideration of Adaptation to Climate Change

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Note by Katherine M. Baldwin
From Volume 82, Number 4 (May, 2009)

As the subject of global climate change occupies an increasingly prominent position in the current social and political discourse, competing voices clamor to predict the future effects of climate change and to propose solutions. While some environmentalists press the public to imagine catastrophic scenarios in which large cities will be inundated with rising seas or landscapes will be parched by persistent drought, some skeptics urge business as usual, insisting that no evidence unequivocally substantiates the existence of global climate change. How should the public react to these varying attitudes? On the one hand, drastically cutting the greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions known to cause climate change and enacting every possible precaution to protect against its impacts may be expensive and involve sacrifices in the near term that might ultimately prove unnecessary, given the uncertainty surrounding the future effects of climate change. On the other hand, failure to take action could result in devastation to the human community, irreversible damage to the environment, and astronomical expenses incurred to repair both. Perhaps, both views merit consideration, and the reality lies somewhere between these two extremes. Questions remain, however, concerning how communities should evaluate information regarding the projected impacts of climate change and which adaptive measures offer the best protection from its effects.

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