From wildfires and drought to flooding and tornados, 2011 has been a record-setting year for extreme weather events. The economic pain to American communities unprepared for such radical shifts in natural weather systems has been tremendous. Already, drought in the south has cost the country $10 billion. And as the dry conditions spread to the southeast and midwest, we can anticipate that number to grow.
Our finances aren't the only place we feel the effects of extreme weather. Natural disasters take a substantial toll on our national historic places, parks and refuges, and the wildlife that make up our country's natural heritage. Drought reduces food supply, flooding damages river banks and sends pollution into waterways, and hurricanes and other large coastal storms can devastate coastlines, habitats and wildlife. Unfortunately, these threats only promise to get worse. These weather patterns have long been predicted as indicators of a changing climate, and as the world continues to warm, we can expect these events to occur more often, with greater intensity.
Natural disasters join a long list of ways a shifting climate is already changing the face of our planet. Sea level rise, warming rivers and streams, insect infestations and other risks to wildlife and natural habitats may not be as high-profile as extreme weather, but their impacts on our wildlife and natural resources are no by means insignificant. To survive these threats, our natural resources and wildlife -- and the economies they support -- need help adapting to these changes now.
Fortunately, we've got leaders in the U.S. Senate taking action to tackle this challenge. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Max Baucus (D-MT) have been longtime champions in the effort to protect American communities, natural resources and wildlife from the increasingly destructive impacts of climate change. Legislation introduced by the senators today provides a road map for how to get it done. The bill, the Securing America's Future and Environment (SAFE) Act, outlines the countless benefits that healthy natural resources provide to our country's safety, economy and well being, and offers an common-sense approach to help them adapt to a more hostile climate.
This is not a regulatory bill; the SAFE Act is an investment plan. Senators Whitehouse and Baucus know that each step taken to help our natural resources adapt to a changing climate now will save us time, money and energy down the road. So when we rebuild coastal wetlands to create buffers against damaging storms or combat invasive pests in our forests where watersheds originate and in turn protect drinking water supplies, we are not only helping to strengthen our natural resources, we're investing in our communities, our country and our future.
In light of this year's tragedies, can we really justify not giving our counties, towns and states better tools to prepare for disasters and restore their communities after disasters happen? Instead of waiting for disaster to strike, our leaders are planning ahead to be sure that we are stronger and ready for whatever future climate change holds. The SAFE Act provides us with the plan and the leadership to start fortifying our natural defenses. Let's get to work.
Follow Jamie Rappaport Clark on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JClarkprez