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Adapting to our New Climate


Human caused climate change is real and its impacts are already being felt all around the world.  As well, according to the latest studies, maintaining our current trend of greenhouse gas emissions is a grave risk to our organized global society, not to mention a large fraction of wildlife on this planet.

So, what do we do?

If you were to listen to the political debate on this issue (what little there is in North America), you would come to the conclusion that we must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid catastrophic climate change.  This is what is known as the mitigation of climate change.  Mitigation is extremely important because “business as usual” (no changes in our trend of emissions) scenarios are projecting that the planet will warm to somewhere around 6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.  This is something we must avoid at all costs.  In fact, a even a warming of 2 degrees Celsius is to be avoided.  At all costs.

However, mitigation is only half of the answer.  The other half, the half that seems to be completely missing from our public discourse, is adaptation.  We must adapt our way of life to the climate change we are already experiencing and to the climate change that is on the way.

Adaptation is critical because even if, by some miracle of global cooperation, we stopped emitting greenhouse gases tomorrow, our planet would continue to warm for several decades.  This is due to the fact that there is a delay (of several decades) between our emission of greenhouse gases and the actual increase in global temperature (and the change in our climate).  And so, no matter what we do to mitigate climate change, the oceans will continue to rise, heat waves and droughts will continue to get hotter and longer and storms will continue to become more frequent and more powerful.  At least for the next several decades.

This brings me to a Ted Talk by Vicki Arroyo titled “Let’s prepare for our new climate”.  Vicki Arroyo is a lawyer who “uses environmental law and her background in biology and ecology to help prepare for global climate change.”  She is the director of the Georgetown Climate Centre and she works with American policymakers to develop “planetary management” strategies.  Her talk highlights the importance of adaptation and gives concrete examples of what needs to be done in order to “prepare for our new climate.



9 Comments leave one →
  1. 2012/10/12 10:53 am

    What’s also needed is a view to merging mitigating and adapting techniques wherever possible.

    For instance, we ought to immediately consider the (immediate) implementation of a simple rule:

    Nobody can cut down a tree, anywhere, for any reason whatsoever.

    Penalties imposed for infraction will clearly depend upon the locality…

    The unspoken other aspect to this is that the ‘adaptation’ solutions we have to consider will include our political systems. These changes can be forced upon us by those currently in power, who have already proven they are prone to a ‘stationarity’ mindset.

    • 2012/10/12 2:51 pm

      Hello Pendantry,

      With all due respect, I do not agree with the idea that “nobody can cut down a tree, anywhere, for any reason”. I know that the production of lumber can be done (is being done) in a sustainable manner. Having said that, I do agree with “nobody can cut down a tree, for any reason, in certain places”. For example around coastlines that are susceptible to erosion, around agricultural land in order to control flooding and erosion, etc.

      As to adaptation solutions being forced upon us, same goes for mitigation. Although, politicians are incredibly good at making certain people support policies that are horrible for them. Adaptation and mitigation solutions are actually good for us! So, really, with a descent dose of education mixed with some good ol’ politics, there shouldn’t even be a need for these solutions to be “forced”!

      • 2012/10/13 6:45 pm

        I intended the ‘cutting down a tree’ rule as an example of the kind of simple, understandable mandate that we must begin to consider — even though it might seem ‘unnatural’ or ‘against common sense’. Another might be:

        No new construction can begin on ground that is less than (say) ten metres above sea level.

        As for the forcing of solutions upon us, again my intent was unclear. Granted, some adaptation/ mitigation solutions can be good for us; others might not be so good for anyone but those currently holding the reins. There are many ways to skin a cat, and the cat-skinning method that the incumbents, given their closed mindset, would choose for us is almost certainly not one that we would choose for ourselves. In fact, this is what we can see happening now: we’re in a fix, but:

        the politicians are narrow-mindedly fixed upon ‘growth, growth, growth’ as the solution — and are incapable of seeing that it is a (BIG) part of the problem
        the oil industry, instead of seeking alternative energy sources, is determind to ‘drill, baby, drill’ (until, presumably, there’s not a drop of oil left anywhere)

        The question is: will we insist on being given the choice in solutions, or will ones we don’t like be rammed down our throats?

      • 2012/10/14 5:33 pm

        If I look at how climate change is being addresses in North America, I feel like we are delaying so much (and ignoring so many relatively easy solutions) that we will end up, a few years down the road, with having drastic, more difficult solutions “rammed down our throats”.
        And regarding your comment about “growth, growth, growth”: I was reading up about the Stern Review (about the economics of climate change) and I came across a criticism that made me want to bang my head against the wall! (I forget who it was) Someone argued that rather than changing the way we produce energy, we should aim to continue to grow our economies so that the next generation will have the economic wealth to deal with the problem.
        Wow. How incredibly…

      • 2012/10/15 1:24 pm

        … stupid. Yes.

  2. Martin Lack permalink
    2012/10/12 11:17 am

    Vicky’s talk was excellent; and very revealing… From a UK Cabinet Office document, she quotes a conclusion similar to that of the USA Dept of Defense (i.e. the Quadrennial Defense Review). Such documents as these suggest that, all around the World, high level Civil Service personnel know that climate change is a real threat; and yet…

    And yet, our politicians (in the UK at least) are still banking on the efficacy of adaptation alone. Or, at very least, they are in severe danger of appearing to have given up on mitigation. They seem to want to ignore that emissions reduction programmes, even if we were to start following them, will not work. We had a total cumulative emissions budget and we are well on the way to blowing it.

    This is the truth that, even if our civil servants do so, no politician seems willing to admit. On the contrary, until popular outrage forces them to do so, it seems very likely that they will continue to peddle the myth (being fed to them by the fossil fuel lobby) that decarbonising our power generation systems will take decades: They therefore seem determined to ignore the warnings they are being given that, contrary to conventional economics, the total cost of doing this will get more expensive the longer we wait to start doing it. Little wonder then that people like James Hansen and Bill McKibben have decided that civil disobedience is the only answer… It is either that, or complete disengagement and joining the ranks of the Preppers.

    • 2012/10/12 2:59 pm

      I’m sorry Martin, but what are “the Preppers”?

      Still, thanks for your comment 🙂

      I can’t imagine how someone like Dr. Hansen keeps his cool. You spend most of your career studying climate change, spend years trying to get the world to listen to the science. And then to hear, even in 2012, some many people ARGUING with what YOU KNOW is fact. Even calling it a hoax, lies for financial gain, and all the other crap they say. And politicians doing little to nothing to fix the problem. I don’t know how climatologists keep their cool… I’m just some guy talking about climate climate change and it ticks me off!

      • Martin Lack permalink
        2012/10/12 3:41 pm

        Doomsday Preppers – People who have spend huge sums of money (100s of thousands of USD in some cases) preparing their families to survive social breakdown irrespective of cause (e.g. Mayan calendar asteroid, solar flare induced systems failure, flu pandemic, terrorist dirty bomb, WW3, pole shifts…).

        I agree with you – I don’t know how people who have known the truth for so long and been ridiculed (and worse) for so long can manage not to be incandescent with rage over humanity’s stupidity – and I have said as much to Jim Hansen myself (via email)…

      • 2012/10/13 7:12 am

        Ah yes! I’ve heard of them. There is a descent sized industry to cater to those folks. I’ve seen ads where a company sells you (for a large sum of money) a room in a large underground shelter where you can stay for months while “the Apocalypse” is occur up on the surface!

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