The United States consumes an enormous amount of energy via our buildings and cars. Buildings and light vehicles in the U.S. use forty-six quadrillion British Thermal Units (BTUs) in an average year, which represents over 10% of the total energy consumed worldwide. As global energy demands rise, climate change advances, and new technologies enter the marketplace, many states and localities have tried to push their economies in a greener direction. Often, these measures are centered on increasing energy efficiency for buildings (via new building codes) and cars (by regulating taxicabs). But state and local governments face a series of barriers to this effort, erected by federal courts announcing broad preemption decisions under the Clean Air Act (CAA) and Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA). This article identifies and argues against these high barriers to increasing energy efficiency.
Climate change and the ecological alterations that result will cause millions of people to flee their homes. This humanitarian crisis is occurring with unprecedented rapidity in the Arctic, where rising temperatures, loss of arctic sea ice, thawing permafrost have impacted the 200 indigenous communities that have lived there for millennia. Disaster relief and hazard migration have been the traditional humanitarian responses to extreme environmental events. Yet government agencies are no longer able to protect communities despite spending millions of dollars on erosion control and flood relief. Because there may be no way to quickly reverse the harm caused by climate change, community relocation may be the only immediate and permanent solution to protect people facing climate-induced ecological change.
This article provides an overview of the climate-induced ecological changes occurring in Alaska and an analysis of the post-disaster recovery and hazard migration laws that define the current humanitarian response to extreme weather events in the United States. The author argues that these laws fail to address environmental disasters that occur gradually and require relocation and have, in fact, impeded efforts to relocate communities. The article describes the unprecedented social and ecological crisis climate change has caused in Newtok, an Alaskan indigenous community that has resolved to relocate. Ultimately, the article proposes the enactment of an adaptive governance framework based in human rights doctrine to protect people residing in communities threatened by climate change. This framework will allow government agencies to transition their humanitarian response from protection in place to community relocation.