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Monday, September 26, 2011

Adapt or combat? Or both?

The debate over emergency aid to victims of natural disasters took a disturbing turn recently, with some lawmakers urging massive cuts in federal electric vehicle research to pay for the needed funds. For a moment there, it seemed like the quintessential problem with ignoring or remaining in denial about climate change: at some point, we will have to spend so much money "adapting" to a continually moving target that "adaptation" will gobble up any resources needed to avert, and hopefully roll back, disruption of the global climate.

Adaptation versus mitigation is the subject of an interesting post at B-Fair, which starts like this:

"Five years ago, at a private dinner where senior members from several major environmental organizations were seated next to her, Beth Raps, a progressive activist from Virginia, began talking about the need to figure out how to adapt to changing climate patterns. Mid-spiel, she noticed something odd. 'Everyone had sort of started to edge away from me at the dinner table,' she recalls.

"Raps had raised what was then a taboo subject among most greens. No one wanted to mention adaptation as a possible response to a warming world. Not when environmentalists were facing stiff political resistance to setting limits to greenhouse gas emissions. Climate activists feared that if they acknowledged that some climate disruption was inevitable, it would undermine their push for emissions curbs (known as 'mitigation' among climate wonks). To say we had to bolster our defenses against a changing climate would be an acknowledgement that mitigation was ineffective, that we couldn’t stall global warming by altering our carbon-spewing lifestyles. Talk of adaptation was seen as defeatist."

The discussion that follows offers much food for thought and is well worth the time to plow through. In the end, though, it seems clear to me that we're going to have to adapt as we can (strengthening flood restrictions on new building, for example) while trying to find creative solutions that don't block our ability to pursue Job #1--rolling back global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

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