Climate Change demands we walk and chew gum at the same time. We will have to Adapt to Climate Change and we should Mitigate Climate Change simultaneously. There are important differences between mitigation and adaptation. So that we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot while attempting both, we ought to be clear up front what we are talking about. The long road that leads us to the People’s Climate March in September and then to the Paris Climate Conference in 2015 is fraught with denial, political intrigue, physics, biology, and (dare I say it) hope.
Mitigation, taking actions to reduce the greenhouse gases (GHGs) emissions so that our atmosphere does not warm up even more, is at its core a moral issue. So that others—plants, animals, soil, and ourselves—have a viable future, we should do everything we can to stabilize or return to the climate we, and most of the life around us, thrived in. (I say ‘most’ because many creatures like amphibians and reptiles probably could have done without the Holocene altogether.) We have caused Climate Change; therefore, we have a moral responsibility to stop it. There are books and books that ruminate ad infinitum on this connection, not to mention religious leaders, including Pope Francis, who have waxed eloquently on this. But the moral imperative of Climate Change should be obvious to all; even an old atheist like me gets it.
Regardless of our mitigation efforts, we will, sooner or later, be compelled to adapt to Climate Change as well. The consequences of Climate Change—more wildfires, more extreme weather, rising seas, melting glaciers, and overwhelming insurance costs—will force us to adapt. Even those who deny the science of Climate Change*. Those who think Climate Change is so overwhelming and hopeless that they just go fall into a paralyzing pit of despair don’t understand the adapting part of Climate Change. It’s one thing to say, for example, that a nuclear holocaust is going to happen tomorrow (as we once thought in the sixties) and just go about one’s business as usual, hoping those fools in government won’t push the button—or whatever you use now to set those things off. It is quite another thing to say during a 100-degree-plus heatwave that you’ll just keep exercising outdoors and suck it up. Or, when your water is undrinkable because of sewer overflows (CSO) due to frequent extreme rainfall, you’ll just drink bottled water. Bottled (plastic really) potable water will run out very quickly in a parched, public shitstorm. All living organisms, even humans with cars and houses, have to adapt to every little change in their environment or they don’t get to live and procreate another day.
Since we are clearly not (yet) moved by the moral aspect of Climate Change (and it appears that we in the aggregate are not), we find ourselves instead shooting ourselves in the foot, as it were, by adapting to Climate Change by using more fossil fuels to keep ourselves cool. If we don’t change to a renewable energy grid, we’ll be cooling ourselves in the short term while setting the table for disaster. It would be the height of moral depravity to adapt to Climate Change by doing more harm than good. But adapting to Climate Change without mitigation would be like a worldwide whack-a-mole, starting more fires as you’re trying to put them out.
This brings us to the People’s Climate March and the Paris Climate Conference in 2015. GHG concentrations have gone up significantly since the 1980’s (when dramatic action was called for by Dr. Hansen in a speech to Congress in 1988), so much so that the time has long since past when a few good actions by a few environmentally-minded folks alone could have any chance of mitigating Climate Change. This is the message we must all understand now: Mitigation actions now must be on a very grand scale to matter. (Let those who disagree be held accountable.) We can adapt, and we will for awhile, but ultimately our efforts to save ourselves (outweighing all our other hopes and dreams) will fail unless mitigation and adaptation go hand in hand. The physics of trapping greenhouse gases more quickly than our biology can handle them will spell doom unless we understand the compelling nature of Climate Change. (Sorry to be a ‘Debbie Downer’ but Climate Change is not a special interest.)
The People’s Climate March, where hundreds of thousands of folks will demand that their leaders take action on Climate Change, is a moral action on Climate Change mitigation on a level that will really matter. Maybe one of the last. The potential of impact of this march is summed up here:
“The September march will be more globally relevant, as Ban Ki-moon has raised expectations that world leaders from across the world will attend, in order to raise ambition ahead of the UN’s climate conference in Paris 2015, where all countries have agreed to sign off a legally binding deal to prevent dangerous global warming.” Bill McKibben issues ‘call to arms’ for New York climate summit (May 22, 2014) Responding to Climate Change RTCC
The more you know about the Paris Climate Talks in 2015 the more you will realize it must not fail. There is no Plan B. This conference may be the world’s last chance to mitigate Climate Change and keep our greenhouse gas emissions to a sustainable level. If it does fail, most likely we’ll all be scurrying around trying to only adapt to Climate Change—which is ultimately hopeless.
The great moral leaders of our time are urging folks to understand the important of Paris 2015:
WORLD LEADERS MUST ACT IN 2015: TUTU, MALALA AND BONO’S STARK WARNING Today is Mandela Day. Desmond Tutu, Bono, Malala Yousafzai, Graca Machel, Muhammed Yunus and Mo Ibrahim have written a powerful letter to world leaders to make 2015 a transformative year in the fight against poverty, inequality and climate change. Dear World Leaders, We write to sound a warning. A warning that 2015 will be a year of huge opportunity, but also of huge risk. What is at stake here could not be greater, for it is not less than the future of our human family and the world upon which we all depend. Two global processes – the replacement of the current UN development framework and the conclusion of a new climate treaty – culminate within months of each other at the end of 2015. They require us to decide which future we want for people and planet. For there are two dramatically different futures we could live in by 2030. Down one hopeful path we have built on progress, and learned how to eradicate extreme poverty, hunger, as well as put an end to preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths. In so doing, we will give everyone everywhere opportunity and the right to lead their lives with dignity without jeopardising our planet’s ability to provide for its people now and into the future. This is an entirely possible outcome if we do the right thing. (July 18, 2014) Save the Children
So connecting the dots between the People’s Climate March in September and the Paris 2015 Climate Conference (COP21) is crucial. The world has come together over twenty times to do something meaningful on Climate Change and failed. The window of opportunity is closing because if global surface temperatures are not kept below 2°C (a world consensus) over the pre-industrial average, this may well be more warming than humanity’s amazing ability to adapt can handle.
*Of course, all of the above will seem absurd and look like the mere hysterical rantings of a Chicken Little (actually, Penny Henny) if you’re still in Climate Change denial mode. However, there are folks who can help with ‘Climate Change denier Syndrome”. They are called scientists.