Addressingmeans both adapting to the changing conditions and mitigating the damage, i.e. bringing down the planet’s temperature as quickly as possible. According to the article below and my own observations, most climate activists’ efforts have leaned heavily towards mitigation—and ignored the problem of adaptation.
“As early as the 1990s, and then in climate-treaty talks in 2002, there was talk of the need to adapt to a changing climate even as nations struggled to curb emissions. But what some called the “A” word was anathema to many global warming campaigners, who saw efforts to adapt to climate extremes as capitulation and a distraction from the need to curb emissions from fossil-fueled smokestacks and tailpipes, cattle pens, cement factories, and felled forests.” (January 9, 2019)[more on in our area]
While it is crucial that we drop greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions significantly and quickly, we must at the same time adapt to the changes planetary warming brings. Discovering that your ship is slowly sinking in a sea of ice means you must act quickly to both stop the leak and keep from drowning while you do so.
One of the assumptions that those who think we should focus exclusively on mitigation must be that we’ll have time to adapt later. Put all our energies into mitigation, then we’ll worry about adapting. But this assumption ignores many absolutely essential aspects of adaptation.
You must make sure that while you’re changing the energy system the public doesn’t freak out (major social unrest) when faced with more floods, heat, lack of food, infrastructure damage, or economic collapse in the meantime.
Adapting or preparing the world that now holds over seven billion people and their infrastructure takes time. It takes time for the public to back their leaders for the necessary changes; it takes time to change the millions of structures and services our species cannot live without—transportation, for one. If you wait until you’ve brought our emissions down to a level our species can thrive in, humanity may be too overwhelmed by the changes to tackle adaptation. Especially when you consider that even if we brought down our planet’s temperature tomorrow, we’ll have decades (probably centuries) before the consequences of the energy (heat) we have already put into our climate system plays out and stabilizes at an endurable level.
Our reluctance to highlight the importance of adapting to Climate Change has squandered valuable opportunities to inform the public that Climate Change is already happening. Knowing this early on would have helped the public prioritize this crisis when choosing their leaders. We are now dramaticallyour GHG emissions, breaking down our ability to work with other nations on this planetary problem, and forfeiting our environmental health by electing leaders who don’t have a clue about what Climate Change actually means.
If you’re focused only on mitigation, you’re missing theabout how our environment is changing due to this rapid warming, which will determine how and where we should place our efforts.
To me, adapting to Climate Change has been the most obvious mandate for addressing this crisis. Decades ago since I first became familiar with this existential threat, I have thought that humanity should mitigate Climate Change because it is a moral issue and because it will cause catastrophic damage soon, I nevertheless thought the public must (meaning they would have to whether they wanted to or not) adapt to Climate Change because any living being that wanted to survive would have to. Those billions upon billions of creatures in our planet’s past that no longer exist are not around because they didn’t adapt to existing conditions. We are not that exceptional; in fact, we are displaying an appalling disposition towards planetary ecocide.
So it is with increasing wonder that I view humanity’s response to this crisis; we still seem oblivious to the importance of adapting—as if keeping your kid healthy and safe were second to saving for their college education.
My articles on Climate Change adaptation:
- Finding out what climate adaptation looks like at the local level (MAY 25, 2013)
- Climate Change mitigation (People’s Climate March ==> Paris 2015) & adaptation: what’s the diff? (AUGUST 11, 2014)
- Controversy over Plan 2014 is a Climate Change adaptation issue (MAY 29, 2017)