February 22, 2019

How Much Does the Government Spend on Climate Change?

“America’s problems with solving our climate crisis predate President Trump and go deeper than petty snark. Yes, it’s a problem when the president of the United States sees a vicious cold snap and uses it as an opportunity to mock climate change. (Especially when the cold snap is itself linked to climate change.) But it’s also a problem when the government doesn’t keep good track of how much it’s spending to fight climate change. That could be said about the Trump administration — and several others before it.

“We collect a lot of useful information, but we don’t make it available in useful ways,” said Alfredo Gomez, director of the natural resources and environment team at the Government Accountability Office, a federal agency that investigates and evaluates the government for Congress. Back in 2015, his team found that even basic climate data like satellite observations and climate model predictions are fragmented across federal agencies in ways that make it difficult to share information with everyone who might need it. But last spring, the GAO published a report focused on financial accounting that detailed just how muddled the government’s data on climate change spending can be — and how that means Americans (citizens and politicians alike) are woefully ignorant of what the government is and isn’t doing to reduce the risks.

The 2018 GAO report found that, while the Office of Management and Budget has reported that the federal government spent more than $154 billion on climate-change-related activities since 1993, much of that number is likely not being used to directly address climate change or its risks. Many of the projects reported as “climate-change-related activities” are only secondarily about climate change.”

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