Getting Serious about Adaptation

The Economist explains why adaptation has long been marginalized in the climate debate:

The green pressure groups and politicians who have driven the debate on climate change have often been loath to see attention paid to adaptation, on the ground that the more people thought about it, the less motivated they would be to push ahead with emissions reduction. Talking about adaptation was for many years like farting at the dinner table, says an academic who has worked on adaptation over the past decade. Now that the world’s appetite for emissions reduction has been revealed to be chronically weak, putting people off dinner is less of a problem.

The article is titled “Facing the Consequences,” and its thrust is captured in the subtitle:

Global action is not going to stop climate change. The world needs to look harder at how to live with it.

Is that a conversation the climate concerned community is ready to have?

65 Responses to “Getting Serious about Adaptation”

  1. PDA says:

    Yes, the Economist explains why adaptation has long been marginalized in the climate debate:
    People will also have to contend with unpredictable shifts in weather patterns. Many models say the factors that give rise to the Indian monsoon are likely to weaken. The strength of the rainfall within it, though, is likely to rise, because the air will be warmer, and warmer air can hold more water. No one can say how these two trends will play out.
    Decisions about adaptation will be made in conditions of pervasive uncertainty. So the trick will be to find ways of adapting to many possible future climates, not to tailor expectations to one future in particular.
    It’s meaningless to talk about adaptation in the abstract, when we have no way of knowing exactly what to adapt to where, and to what degree.

     
    The best starting point for adaptation is to be rich.
    Not helpful.

  2. thingsbreak says:

    Hey, Keith:
     
    It looks like you accidentally omitted the first three paragraphs of the relevant discussion:
     
    Many of these adaptations are the sorts of thing””moving house, improving water supply, sowing different seeds””that people will do for themselves, given a chance. This is one reason why adaptation has not been the subject of public debate in the same way as reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions from industry and deforestation have. But even if a lot of adaptation will end up being done privately, it is also a suitable issue for public policy.
    For a start, some forms of adaptation””flood barriers, for instance””are clearly public goods, best supplied through collective action. Adaptation will require redistribution, too. Some people and communities are too poor to adapt on their own; and if emissions caused by the consumption of the rich imposes adaptation costs on the poor, justice demands recompense.
    Furthermore, policymakers’ neat division of the topic of climate change into mitigation, impact and adaptation is too simplistic. Some means of adaptation can also act as mitigation; a farming technique which helps soil store moisture better may well help it store carbon too. Some forms of adaptation will be hard to distinguish from the sort of impact you would rather avoid. Mass migration is a good way of adapting if the alternative is sitting still and starving; to people who live where the migrants turn up it may look awfully like an unwelcome impact.
     
    The way you’ve clipped the article, some of your readers might wrongly believe that the Economist is implying that adaptation would be roaring ahead if it weren’t for those meddling greens. And you surely wouldn’t want to give them that mistaken impression, would you? 😉
     
    “Adaptation or mitigation?”
    Yes.
     
    We’ve done this before. Aren’t we all for preventative adaptation combined with mitigation? Reactive (after the fact) and mal- (think continuing to build on coastlines and in floodplains) adaptation are losers both economically and in efficiently preventing harm.
     
    But let’s not lie to ourselves, you can’t “adapt” in any meaningful sense of the word if the effects of climate change are rising effectively without an upper bound. You’re no longer talking adaptation at that point, you’re talking life support.

  3. Dean says:

    One reasons less often mentioned that mitigation is preferable is that whatever the costs or difficulties, we do know what we need to do to do it – stop using fossil fuels for one thing (or drastically reduce).
     
    When it comes to adaptation, I think the underlying intent is to plan for adaptation. We can always adapt after the fact, brutal as that will be in some cases. But planning for adaptation requires knowing what you have to adapt to. It means we have to trust the GCMs to a much greater degree than for mitigation.
     
    I’ve always felt that both mitigation and adaptation would be necessary. But if it is going to be almost all adaptation with minimal mitigation, then any efforts spent in planning for it is far more speculative than the costs of mitigation.
     
    Here’s a prediction. It follows from the history that conservatives used to be the big fans of cap and trade. If at some point mitigation is really seen as dead, and many of us move more towards trying to plan for adaptation, many of those who now say we should focus on adaptation will say it’s too expensive, and really we shouldn’t do anything except wait and see what happens. The target always moves and I don’t expect this case to be any different.

  4. Jack Hughes says:

    Yes, dealing with today’s problems instead of inventing things that could go wrong in the future has stood mankind in good stead for thousands of years.
     
    In contrast all this fake concern about future events in distant countries affecting unknown people is just getting boring.

  5. Francis says:

    I’m not sure the climate concerned community has any special expertise in analyzing adaptation tools.  Gavin, Eli, MT and all the rest know far more about climate than I ever could, but I know more about California water law and policy than they do.  Who’s in a better position to work on adaptation?
     
    What the climate community can provide that would be really useful is accurate modeling on a watershed level basis.  Anyone have the money lying around to convert the global models to regional and sub-regional level analyses?

  6. thingsbreak says:

    @Dean:
    I’ve always felt that both mitigation and adaptation would be necessary.
     
    Yes*. So much of this is reinventing the wheel.
     
    Adaptation along with mitigation has always been part of the deal. So has ameliorating climate change through reductions in non-CO2 forcings. So has funding clean energy. None of this stuff is new or being ignored by the IPCC and other relevant groups. None of this stuff is opposed by, well, anyone I can think of in the “climate concerned community” or whatever it’s being called.
     
    *And the actual tension isn’t the apportioning of adaptation, mitigation, and nothing. It’s mitigation, adaptation, and suffering.

  7. PDA says:

    Yes, dealing with today’s problems instead of inventing things that could go wrong in the future has stood mankind in good stead for thousands of years.
     
    This is pretty much the exact opposite of what the Economist article and Keith are saying, not to mention thousands of years of human civilization.
    Irrigation and the storage of food, hallmarks of the Neolithic Revolution, came exactly as a result of “inventing things that could go wrong in the future.” Planning for the future and hedging against misfortune is fundamental to human society. As TB notes, Keith’s idea that there is some group of people called the “climate-concerned community” that opposes any form of planning or adaptation is pure fiction.

  8. thingsbreak says:

    @PDA:
    As TB notes, Keith’s idea that there is some group of people called the “climate-concerned community” that opposes any form of planning or adaptation is pure fiction.
     
    To be fair to Keith, he’s not saying that they “oppose” it, he’s saying that they aren’t/haven’t been ready to talk about it. Which is equally untrue.

  9. LCarey says:

    In my view, there are at least three significant points here.  First, one of the reasons that many in the “climate concerned community” get exercised about hyped up discussions promoting adaptation and geoengineering is the very strong suspicion (given the backgrounds of many of the folks often promoting said approaches) that the real intent of such discussions is indeed to advance such approaches as a replacement for mitigation, and an excuse for doing nothing.  In point of fact, without very aggressive action very soon on mitigation, it appears that  adaptation and geoengineering would both ultimately amount to mere triage — it would be like “adapting” to a leaking ship by a program of progressively throwing cargo overboard and moving to higher decks as the water moves up, instead of fixing the leak.
    Second, as pointed out by Dean, if they are to be effective, both adaptation and geoengineering will have to put much more reliance on the detailed accuracy of GCM’s than mitigation ever would.  Otherwise, given the wide regional variations likely to result from an overall warmer climate regime, one has no idea to what conditions one is supposed to be “adapting”.  Will it rain more in India or less?  or will the timing of the rainy season just shift?  or will drought alternate with floods?  Will sea level rise in Newport News by 2100 be 2 feet, 3 feet or 6 feet?
    Third, a key question for adaptation is “adaptation to what time period”.  Unlike many problems, climate disruption once fully underway will likely be progressive on a scale of centuries.  The date of “2100” allows for  the dangerous misconceptions (a) that nothing much happens before then, and (b) that nothing much happens after then.  Thus, for example, if you’re building a sea wall for Manhattan, to what date do you expect it to last, and what do you plan to do after it is no longer adequate?
    So, sure, let’s talk about adaptation, but please not presented as though it’s some sort of substitute for mitigation, or that the only problem standing in the way of adaptation is the intolerant resistance of some sort of fictional big bad green lobby.

  10. Sashka says:

    Economist had been very sane on climate for quite a while. It’s a shame that we don’t have a comparable publication in America.
    The answer to your question, KK, is resounding “no”. If in doubt, ask Joe Romm.
     

  11. thingsbreak says:

    Don’t you love the framing that Keith (and to a lesser extent the Economist) has bought into?
     
    Yes, it’s the people actively researching, raising awareness, and fighting for action on climate change that are somehow the impediment to “serious” discussions of adaptation.
     
    It’s not, you know, the people who claim that it isn’t a problem, increasing partisan obstructionism, the economic crisis, and the people framing the problem as a choice between adaptation and mitigation.
     
    It’s the secret, powerful “green pressure groups” and “the climate concerned community” who are preventing meaningful action on adaptation.
     
    Yeah, that’s the ticket!
     
    The entire basis for the Economist’s remarkable assertion appears to be a comment related by an anonymous “academic”:
    Talking about adaptation was for many years like farting at the dinner table, says an academic who has worked on adaptation over the past decade.
     
    That’s bang-up reporting right there, isn’t it? The Economist journalists who wrote that article have been linked to a rash of suspicious deaths at retirement centers across Florida. These reporters show up, old people die, and they disappear into thin air, says an investigator familiar with the crimes. It must be true, an anonymous person with a generic job title said so.

  12. dp says:

    i’ve traded words with joe romm on this. as i understand his feeling, pure adaptation to mild changes is a matter of course in public policy, and you take whatever preventive action is needed to make sure mild changes are all you have to deal with.

  13. Dean says:

    And I want to re-emphasize the difference between adapting after the fact, and planning for it. And how some who advocate for adaptation as cheaper ignore what adaptation has usually meant in human history.
     
    While I’m sure there are some people who take the impacts seriously and still want to focus a lot more on adaptation, the comment in this thread by Jack Hughes: “fake concern about future events in distant countries affecting unknown people” demonstrates the other side. We shouldn’t worry about the future. It will take care of itself.
     
    Native Americans adapted to the arrival of European disease after the fact: by the death of approximately 90% of their population. But they did survive and adapt. I’m not saying that I think global warming will kill 90% of humanity, I don’t think it will be anything like that. But most human adaptation throughout our history has been after-the-fact and quite often very brutal.
     
    And there are numerous human societies, many of which were the epitome of technology of their epoch, who collapsed due to regional climate changes. For a society that moans when property values go down a few percent, this is not going to be a pretty process.
     
    So when those advocating for adaptation show some understanding of what adaptation really means, I will take them more seriously. Because a lot of them seem to view modern society like a lot of financiers did all those financial “innovations” a couple of years ago – a new era where there would be no more business cycles and no more financial bubbles; the end of history nonsense.
     
    Does the fact that we went to the moon and have all these high-tech gizmos mean that we are any more immune to collapse than, say, the Maya? I don’t think so. It’s folly to assume otherwise.

  14. thingsbreak says:

    @Dean
     
    The distinction you’re looking for is preventative adaptation, as opposed to reactive adaptation.
    Add to that mal-adaptation, which is spending money to put things at greater risk to climate change. This is currently the present plan in many areas at risk from SLR and associated storm surge, flooding, drought, etc.

  15. keith kloor says:

    TB (11),
    You inhabit an interesting place. You’re an anonymous blogger/commenter, yet you decry a single anonymous reference in a very long article. You also read too much importance into that one quote.
    As for whatever dastardly “framing” or “clipping” of  The Economist piece you perceive on my part, why would I include several links to the article in my post? I thought the piece was great and I was hoping to entice people to read it. Most of my posts are not aimed at scoring points or trying to win an argument, but merely to foster debate.
    PD, I never said people opposed adaptation any more than I said on the other thread that people (in the climate concerned community) opposed plucking the low hanging climate fruit.
    Of course folks are for doing that and for adaptation. They just don’t want to encourage much discussion on it, for fear that it will detract from Co2 mitigation. It’s a matter of priorities.
    As for adaptation, yeah, I can see that the topic really lights up the climate blogosphere.

  16. PDA says:

    They just don’t want to encourage much discussion on it, for fear that it will detract from Co2 mitigation.
     
    Keith, there has been a lot of discussion of adaptation in the comments to various posts with that tag. Whenever you or any other adaptation (advocate/proponent/point-raiser/what-have-you) is asked any question like “what adapting to things that haven’t happened yet and may or may not actually happen would actually look like,” it’s you that aren’t interested in discussing it.
     
    Foster debate. Encourage discussion. Give us something substantive to talk about and I promise we won’t disappoint.

  17. dp says:

    KK,
     
    “Of course folks are for doing that and for adaptation. They just don’t want to encourage much discussion on it, for fear that it will detract from Co2 mitigation. It’s a matter of priorities.”

    the same is true for the other side. the bush-cheney feds did much research into adaptation projects, and played it down so as not to add fuel to public global warming concerns, just as they strongly denied that intervention in hydrocarbon-rich areas is connected to oil or gas. (ultimately the military came back reporting, “we can’t adapt to the bad scenarios.”)

    but as for it being a matter of priorities, cutting carbon is adaptation, and if you take the science seriously, it’s the least costly, least risky form of adaptation available. if you don’t take the science seriously, your rationale for permanent volcanoes and space mirrors is pulp science fiction stories you found in a shoebox.

  18. Keith provides a real facepalm moment. “As for adaptation, yeah, I can see that the topic really lights up the climate blogosphere.”
     
    I wish I knew what “adaptation lighting up the climate blogosphere” would look like. Certainly those of us coming to the matter from atmospheric and oceanic sciences don’t have any special expertise to offer.
     
    For the most part, one adapts to unforeseen events. Hence adaptation is after the fact and local. You should be looking for adaptation discussions in region-focused blogs not in climate focused blogs, to the extent that this is about blogs at all. But that simply amounts to giving up on journalism altogether.
     
    I would love to have more information about how the Pakistanis and Russians are reacting in the aftermath of last summer’s disasters. That would be an adaptation discussion worth having. What’s more, it’s exactly the sort of thing where the press could provide information that stay-at-home bloggers or practicing scientists cannot. So, Keith, why are you looking at us? Are you writing off conventional journalism altogether?
     
    There are at least two huge adaptation stories this year. What is going on with them? Where is the press? If you find adaptation so interesting, go chase the stories down, because I promise you they are out there this year in a way that has not been true before.
     
    These days, it is disappointing but unsurprising that we hear nothing. But for bloggers to be criticized by a spokesman for the press on this matter is bizarre. If there was ever a story where organized journalistic operations still have the advantage it would be ones like the aftermath in Pakistan and Russia.
     
    So go, investigate, write. I promise you I’ll read. But, um, it seems to me that this is your job, not mine.
     
     

  19. thingsbreak says:

    @Keith:
    You’re an anonymous blogger/commenter, yet you decry a single anonymous reference in a very long article
     
    That “single anonymous reference” was the only evidence given to support the claim that you thought was worth turning into a blog post.
     
    The fact that I blog pseudonymously is less apropos than whether or not I demand that people take my claims with no or anonymous sourcing. Obviously, I don’t. When I write (and when I comment) I provide non-anonymous references to the things that aren’t my opinions.
     
    As for whatever dastardly “framing” or “clipping” of  The Economist piece you perceive on my part
     
    Selective argumentation, framing, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I was just adding back in some context that others might lose if they prove to be too lazy to read the Economist piece itself. No need to get defensive!
     
    As for adaptation, yeah, I can see that the topic really lights up the climate blogosphere.
     
    Yep, that’s undeniably the problem. A dearth of climate-blog posts on the issue. Glad that’s all been cleared that up.

  20. Sashka says:

    @ dp

    Cutting carbon is mitigation, not adaptation. That’s by definition. What is more or less costly depends on what what happens in the future which is uncertain. But even if were certain the cost is a matter of economic analysis, not scientific.

    What’s pulp science? Something that doesn’t suit your current beliefs? I wonder how many people would see Internet as pulp science a 100 years ago.

  21. Vinny Burgoo says:

    MT: ‘I would love to have more information about how the Pakistanis and Russians are reacting in the aftermath of last summer’s disasters.’
    The info is out there and it’s not hard to find. For example, here’s a story by the American Forces Press Service, flagged by ReliefWeb today:
    http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900SID/EGUA-8BRNMK?OpenDocument&rc=3&cc=pak
    If you want a more grassroots, local viewpoint, try Dawn and dozens of other online sources. Alas, the excellent Nowshera blog has closed down. It specifically addressed how local people were reacting to the floods and their aftermath.* But there are plenty of others out there.
    ===
    *An extract from a guest blog – ‘The wrath of Allah!’ – by a doctor at the local hospital, 26th August:
    “Why has this happened and why did it affect us so adversely?” is the question asked by millions of people. Nobody has the perfect answer! Some blame it on global warming and other on the lack of dams. What could be more unfortunate that even at this hour of misery and loss the nation is divided? There is evident lack of trust. Many suspect that there are people at helm of affairs who would rather siphon of the aid to their personal accounts ““ leaving these miserable unsupported. Of the foreign countries that are willing to help us, most are hesitant to trust our hierarchy. More disturbingly, even the local population prefers to contribute on their own, in their own way resulting in total lack of coordination.’

  22. Keith Kloor says:

    Michael,

    You should take your face out of your palms and read The Economist article. That’s what you’re looking for, right?

    I’m also hardly a spokesperson for the press. I’m just one among the herd.

    TB, the passage I cited need not have had that quote to have merit. Also, you shouldn’t be so defensive about remaining anonymous. Nothing to be shameful about.

    PDA, I have to think that if you didn’t find this blog substantive on some level, you wouldn’t bother being a reader or an active commenter.

  23. thingsbreak says:

    @Keith:
    the passage I cited need not have had that quote to have merit.

     
    Insofar as an anonymously-sourced paraphrase is worth about as much in terms of evidence as “no evidence whatsoever”, then yes, I’d say that quote had little bearing on the “merit” of the claim.

  24. Francis says:

    OK, I’ve read the article twice now.  And I reiterate my prior point — if humankind is not going to change its path given the warning from the “climate concerned community” {c3, for short} (a terrible expression, by the bye), then the role of the c3 community will be to advise city planners, water engineers and agronomists as to how local environments are going to change.
    As California is discovering, though, telling people that they need to spend billions of dollars on water and sewer infrastructure just to keep their existing level of service is a very difficult sell.  And I’m quite sure that the virulent attacks on the inadequacy of the modeling will only worsen when modelers try to apply their global models to California’s watershed.
    (There’s an interesting story out there, Keith, on how Westlands Water District and other big Central Valley agricultural districts are going to respond to the modeling underlying the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan.  And it’s a lot more relevant than an anonymous quote that uses the word “fart”.)

  25. dp says:

    @ sashka
     
    “Cutting carbon is mitigation, not adaptation. That’s by definition.”

    this little oxford dictionary says the biology definition of adaptation is “a change by which an organism or a species becomes better suited to its environment.”

    because we are very smart and our success is based on planning, our environment includes The Future. thus so-called ‘mitigation’ when it is based on sound evidence of future events is indeed an adaptation to our environment, and a regular one. for instance, we went to lengths to avoid nuclear war not because it was dangerous but because the negative aftermath was really long.

    “What is more or less costly depends on what what happens in the future which is uncertain.”

    no, i’m making a specific case, a scenario with unprecedented deep global ecological disruption. in the specific case, the negative outcome does acute, chronic harm to human welfare, harm so severe it can only be offset by adapting present practices to avoid it.

    the evidence is piling up that we are on track for severe, self-perpetuating ecological disruption. a situation that destroys the economics argument that there’s always another way by filling every avenue with debris & volatility.

    conventional economics assumes that planetary systems will eat a huge amount of costs we don’t want to put on our books. what we’re facing is the end of that — our trash blown back in our face — unless we clean things up quickly.

    “What’s pulp science? Something that doesn’t suit your current beliefs?”

    geoengineering relies on the accuracy of atmospheric models for success. if you think atmospheric models are broken but you trust salt-spray sailboats to fix ‘the problem’ you might as well be talking about space aliens from the noodle galaxy, for all you know they could really be out there.

  26. PDA says:

    Keith, what I’m saying is that on this issue, the substance is being provided by the comments rather than the posts. I’m not blindly casting aspersions at this blog or at you personally: I’m saying your own contributions on this subject have been rather autoreferential.
     
    One could be forgiven for wondering if you continue to engage at the meta level rather than addressing any of the questions that have been raised (how to determine what adaptation, where, when…) so that you can bolster your foregone conclusion that no one wants to talk about adaptation.
     
    Here we are. You’ve raised it as a topic. Why not talk about it rather than staying meta?

  27. Sashka says:

    @ dp

    The dictionary talks about biological adaptation. We are talking about changes in our behavior. See the difference? You are free to use our own definitions but if you want to communicate your thoughts it’s helpful to use the same language as everyone else.

    No, the evidence is not piling up. This notion probably comes from the same source as that of time running out, i.e. from someone’s imagination.

    Geoengineering may or may not rely on models. Solar mirror does not, for example. Pumping carbon back into Earth doesn’t as well. Spraying sulfuric acid in the stratosphere does, to some extent, but these models are (or at least should be – you can ask Caldeira for details) validated by calibration to volcanoes emissions that have known and measured cooling effects. This is all pretty sound science. I don’t know why it is so much fun for your to scare yourself out of your pants.

  28. Jack Hughes says:

    OK – let’s play whack-a-mole.
    #1. “Irrigation and the storage of food”. Irrigation was not a solution to a futuristic invented problem. It was a means of making dry and barren land fertile Solving a here and now problem called dry land.
    Storage of food – say from summer into winter. A here and now problem called “nothing grows in winter”.

    #2. Native Americans catching European disease. Very much a here-and -now problem. Nobody could foresee this. Even Europeans caught European diseases off each other. I really don’t know how 15th century Indians could mitigate against brand-new phenomena.

    #3 Russian heatwave. Nobody predicted this with enough time to instal A/C in everyone’s homes and workplaces. Climatology is great at predicting events after they have happened – like nostradamus.
    Has anyone got any decent counter-examples ?

     

  29. Jack Hughes says:

    Here’s a different take on this concept from web gurus at 37signals.
    It’s a problem when it’s a problem
     

    Don’t waste time on problems you don’t have yet
    Do you really need to worry about scaling to 100,000 users today if it will take you two years to get there?
    Do you really have to hire eight programmers if you only need three today?
    Do you really need 12 top-of-the-line servers now if you can run on two for a year?

    Just Wing It
    People often spend too much time up front trying to solve problems they don’t even have yet.

  30. PDA says:

    Has anyone got any decent counter-examples ?
     
    Probably not. “Whack-a-mole” and “Just Wing It” are pretty clear indications that you’re not seriously interested in an exchange of ideas. I’m sure you can find someone else to play with you.

  31. Keith, what PDA says.
     
    If there is something to talk about, why don’t you start talking about something besides why nobody is talking about it. Show us how it’s done.
     

  32. Jack, despite their advocacy for That Other Computer Language, I have great respect for the 37 Signals guys.
     
    But a biosphere is not a web startup. It’s not obvious that the analogy fails to hold, but it’s not obvious that it holds either. You have to defend the parallelism, not just quote the aphorism.
     

  33. Shub says:

    “Do you really need to worry about scaling to 100,000 users today if it will take you two years to get there?”

    The hole that Webvan was pushed into, by its spanking new Wall Street bosses.

  34. Keith Kloor says:

    Michael,

    I asked you if that article was what you were looking for. What about this one, which I talked about here. (Notice how many comments it generated.)

    As for how it should be done, I make unsolicited suggestions all the time, such as here:

    But if I were creating an environmental magazine from scratch today, I would cede the “lament” and “inspirational” narratives to my colleagues and use the twin concepts of resilience and the Anthropocene as my foundation. Combined, these two concepts offer more than a rhetorical frame”“they suggest the makings of a new paradigm, one that provides the “operating system” to grapple with the world’s increasing complexity and fragility.

    If the science of resilience has arrived to guide us, then the stories showing us how should follow.

    I could go on, but I don’t have the time now to dig through my blog archives. Anyway, I’ve been working up a post that will make another unsolicited suggestion in the coming days.

  35. willard says:

    Speaking of 37 signals, here is something to ponder:
     
    http://www.ted.com/talks/jason_fried_why_work_doesn_t_happen_at_work.html
     
    Sometimes, I get the impression that what we have here is a reunion of managers.

  36. PDA says:

    That quote was about how to frame discussions of climate change, not about adaptation. Seriously, did you really prepare another post on this subject – your fifteenth – and you still don’t have a single substantive thing to say about <b>how adaptation will work</b>?
     
    It’s becoming increasingly difficult to believe that you don’t see the disconnect in continuing to complain that people “don’t want to encourage much discussion on” adaptation when we’re right here, well-nigh <i>begging</i> you to chime in.

  37. Howard says:

    Jack, Jack, Jack.
    You   just   don’t   get   it.  It!   It !  Can you hear IT Now??
    The future climate killing us IS certain and CO2 reduction is the only answer.  Only unburnt offerings work in the age of Aquarius.
    This apocalyptic nightmare must be responded to in a way that is completely counter intuitive and unique from every other human problem solved, mitigated or adapted.  You are just ignorant from the big oil lie.  The sad reality and one true way is we must burn down the house warm our cold hearts.  It might seem irrational, but you will see the logic one day in the ever distant future.  The climate plague is coming. Even if we end CO2 emissions, it will take centuries to reduce it’s forcing, but we must not let our head lead us to cheaper and more effective ways to get through it.  We must crucify our society to be born again unto Him.
    All you need to be enlightened is to have faith.  There are many good preachers.  If you do not believe, the planet dies.  Think about it.
     

  38. Steve Mennie says:

    May be considered OT but just listened to an item on the radio (CBC – Canada) about how ‘weird’ weather  has  now outstripped crime and fire for insurance claims. Settlements for flood have risen from 20%  of claims to 50% of claims in the last nine years. Insurance companies are some of the most conservative elements in our society..would they be wringing their hands without reason?

  39. Keith Kloor says:

    PDA, seriously, what you asking for? You want me to chime in about how adaptation will work? That’s spelled out in The Economist article.

    I don’t understand what the big deal is here. I’ve talked about this reluctance to discuss adaptation before. See here, for example.

    Anyway, I linked to an article today that asserts  “the world needs to look harder at how to live” with climate change. This is not me suggesting that–it’s The Economist. If you agree with this, then why not talk about it more? That’s all I’m saying.

    You’ve already claimed falsely (7) that I’ve suggested the climate concerned community is opposed to adaptation. Now I’m not sure what you’re complaining about.

     

  40. Jack Hughes says:

    @Howard – I’m starting to see it now 🙂
     

  41. Jack Hughes says:

    @PDA
    Don’t sulk 🙂
    Just tell us all why neolithic irrigation fits under “mitigation” and not “adaptation”.

  42. Jack Hughes says:

    I read the economist piece when it first came out (h/t to Bishop Hill).
     
    I saw it as a long-winded way of saying “let’s fix tomorrow’s problems … tomorrow”.
     
    The only extra bit for me was the idea that rich countries should pay for poor countries to fix their problems. Based on this CO2 fixation and nothing more. This is just socialism redux: the only new idea is rich paying poor because of magical thinking that our cars and central heating have caused their problems.

  43. PDA says:

    You want me to chime in about how adaptation will work? That’s spelled out in The Economist article.
     
    No, Keith, it’s not. That was my point at 1 and TB’s point at 2. The main problem with adaptation is that we have no way of predicting which effects of global warming will strike when. This is what people have been trying to tell you again and again and again.
     
    Absent any real way of knowing ahead of time what to adapt to, this is a call to – as Jack Hughes says – “fix tomorrow’s problems… tomorrow.” Which is, obviously, going to happen anyway.
     
    If you want to keep bringing this up over and over again, fine. But really, you have to stop saying “nobody wants to talk about this.” The only person who doesn’t want to talk about it is you.

  44. Keith Kloor says:

    PDA, did we read the same article:

    Many of these adaptations are the sorts of thing””moving house, improving water supply, sowing different seeds””that people will do for themselves, given a chance. This is one reason why adaptation has not been the subject of public debate in the same way as reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions from industry and deforestation have. But even if a lot of adaptation will end up being done privately, it is also a suitable issue for public policy.

    For a start, some forms of adaptation””flood barriers, for instance””are clearly public goods, best supplied through collective action. Adaptation will require redistribution, too. Some people and communities are too poor to adapt on their own; and if emissions caused by the consumption of the rich imposes adaptation costs on the poor, justice demands recompense.

    Furthermore, policymakers’ neat division of the topic of climate change into mitigation, impact and adaptation is too simplistic. Some means of adaptation can also act as mitigation; a farming technique which helps soil store moisture better may well help it store carbon too. Some forms of adaptation will be hard to distinguish from the sort of impact you would rather avoid. Mass migration is a good way of adapting if the alternative is sitting still and starving; to people who live where the migrants turn up it may look awfully like an unwelcome impact.

    What about this:

    New York might, in principle, protect itself against a hurricane-driven storm surge on top of a higher sea level with a much more massive set of barriers that could seal the Verrazano Narrows and the smaller spans of Throgs Neck, at the base of Long Island Sound, and the Arthur Kill, west of Staten Island. However, as Matthew Kahn, an economist at the University of California, Los Angeles, points out in his book, “Climatopolis”, the politics of such huge and hugely costly engineering might prove difficult. New Amsterdam does not have the attitudes of old Amsterdam.

    Let me clarify and reiterate:

    Journalists will write stories about adaptation but the climate blogosphere (one important place where the climate debate takes place) is largely silent on adaptation. It mostly prefers engaging in political and rhetorical debates over climate science.  And, as my current post suggests, one prominent corner wants to keep the focus on scary stories.

     

     

  45. Oh wow, PDA.. switch the topic from CO2 control and mitigation and suddenly you’re able to recognise the futility of action in the face of uncertainty!
     
    Since you were so certain of these catastrophic effects when the topic was mitigation, one wonders how the hell suddenly these catastrophic ramifications of global warming are so insurmountably uncertain now that the aim has changed.
     
    Well, some may wonder. Others may wonder how you managed to allow your unscientific policy-specific advocacy to be revealed so blatantly.

  46. PDA says:

    Flood barriers where? Improving water supply where? Sowing what different seeds, where?
     
    Surge barriers seem like a more simple solution… if you think New York is the only city on a coast. But what about cities that are not behind river mouths, like Mumbai, Tokyo, and Jakarta?
     
    If you want to talk about this, talk about specifics, not generalities that sound great and give you a nice club to beat other bloggers with. You might be surprised to learn that people have actually thought about this.

  47. PDA says:

    Simon, the specific location and severity of the likely consequences of climate change cannot be pinpointed with accuracy. That’s exactly why mitigation is preferable to adaptation, if it’s a choice between the two: better to avoid the chaos than run around trying to deal with its consequences.
     
    If you and your ilk put half the energy into thinking this through that you put into looking for puerile gotchas, we wouldn’t be in this place. But since the worst of it will likely be after both of us are dead, I’ll be stuck listening to your idiotic guffaws for the rest of my life, with my descendants – and yours – left dealing with the consequences.

  48. Keith Kloor says:

    PDA,

    Not every article is going to be exhaustive. Sorry it doesn’t meet your criteria. But seeing how I’d “be surprised to learn that people have actually thought about this” (in such detail, as you suggest), how about pointing me to a few of them. Are you referring to bloggers/commenters? If so, please do send some links my way.

  49. Keith Kloor says:

    PDA  (47) helpfully makes my point:

    the specific location and severity of the likely consequences of climate change cannot be pinpointed with accuracy. That’s exactly why mitigation is preferable to adaptation, if it’s a choice between the two: better to avoid the chaos than run around trying to deal with its consequences.

    Yup, can’t “pinpoint” where to adapt, so might as well keep the focus on mitigation. Another false dilemma.

    Let me again point you to this quote by Columbia’s Wallace Broeker:

    “My view is that we’ll be lucky if we can stop CO2 at 600 ppm. There’s no way we’re going to stop at 450. Impossible. If we’re going to double CO2, we’d better prepare what we’re going to do about it.”

    Like I said, that article generated nary a peep from commenters and not a murmur in the blogosphere. Why do you think that was?

  50. PDA says:

    Keith, come on. This is not an “exhaustive” critique; it’s fundamental. My premise is this: you cannot do adaptation without knowing what to adapt to.
     
    For God’s sake, at least acknowledge once that I’ve written that like half a dozen times on this thread alone, even if you don’t agree. Then, please, tell me why you disagree.

  51. PDA, the cost of mitigation to societies worldwide is neither economically viable nor scientifically justified, is globally unachievable and is an exercise in raw, unadulterated futility. Deal with it.

  52. Keith Kloor says:

    So that’s why adaption is not much chewed over in the blogosphere: because of the imperfect knowledge?

    Gee, contrast that with the rampant (and similarly imperfect) predictions of specific future catastrophic impacts all over the climate blogosphere.

  53. PDA says:

    Jesus, Keith! I have said over and over again that I’m not interested in the meta discussion. I do not care what other bloggers are or are not talking about or in mindreading the reasons why.
     
    I am trying to have a conversation with you, here and now. Specifically, with reference to the topic of this post: how do you do adaptation without knowing what to adapt to?

  54. Let’s consider Keith’s article about New York City’s adaptation policy. Keith is surprised about which of his comments elicit responses and which do not.
     
    One possible explanation is that the blogosphere is not interested in adaptation as opposed to mitigation. There are three others that come to my mind.
     
    1) Keith’s article article about NYC isn’t all that thought-provoking. I notice he concluded with no provocative question, the way he often does, the present article being an example. There being no question raised, there was no follow-up.
     
    2) Keith’s audience is not all that representative of the blogosphere in general, but is focused (more than Keith himself is) on global climate change. This mostly dates back to his role in introducing Judith Curry to the blogosphere, and perhaps secondarily with his early engagement with myself and a couple of other writers who are squarely on mitigation turf. Naturally, the readers so attracted comment much more when Keith is on their turf.
     
    3) Keith’s audience is not particularly centered in the New York City area, and this was, rightly or wrongly, largely perceived as a matter of local significance. (This leaves aside the possible confound of putting out an NYC-related article on Sept 11, the day of maximal NYC glaze-over.)
     
    4) People are not taking the proposal seriously, any more than most people did in the 1980s when the talk about abandoning fossil fuels over the next couple of generations was first raised. The ideas are so unfamiliar and futuristic that they are not registering as real policy proposals.
     

    That all said, I’d rather back off the direct conflict here which is achieving nothing. It does seem like there is some fruitful ground for discussion. We’d be better looking for it rather than arguing how the false dichotomy between adaptation and mitigation is or isn’t  a useful starting place.

     
    I agree that “resilience” is a useful word and a useful concept. We might come up with a useful broad-brush discussion of how “resilience” as a concept relates to “sustainability” and “risk management”.
     

  55. errr, and a fanatical devotion to… err, four others. I’ll start again.
     
    AMONGST the explanations that come to mind are…
     

  56. PDA says:

    It’s hard to know what we’re supposed to “get serious about” without specifics. Adapting to bad things before they happen will save lives, and I support it.
     
    I also support world peace, low prices and weight loss. I suggest we “get serious” about these things as well.

  57. Sashka says:

    @ PDA
    Your sarcasm is deeply misplaced. You should support world peace and weight loss because both are a lot more important than climate change. World peace will mostly likely be disturbed by wars over scarce resources, including (but not limited to) food and energy. That’s why you’d better focus your energies on condoms instead of carbon.

    Of course you can’t adapt to what hasn’t happened yet. But you can prepare for such adaptations by focusing on most likely threats. For example, our scientists tell us a lot of scary things about sea level rise. We could establish a superfund today to fund the construction of the dams akin to those build by Dutch centuries ago. If the forecast is wrong every contributor gets a refund. Simple, right?

  58. Sashka says:

    All along the shore line that may or may not preserve its current configuration.

  59. PDA says:

    Ah: what you’re referring to are not dams, but dikes or levees.

  60. PDA says:

    Right. Mumbai is surrounded by the Arabian Sea, rather than being up a river like New York is.
     
    The use of levees to protect cities is fraught with difficulties.

  61. Sashka says:

    Netherlands managed to protect their Atlantic coast hundreds of years ago. I think we have all the reasons to be optimistic about our ability to do the same on the global scale by the end of century.
    Difficulties will certainly be encountered no matter what we decided to do.  The advantage of planning for possible adaptation is that we may end up lucky or solve the problem technologically before committing huge resources to the problem that may not even exist.

  62. PDA says:

    Well, given that protecting the entire inhabited coastline of the Earth is several orders of magnitude more complex than protecting the Netherlands (which is on the North Sea coast), I don’t see how it’s not going to require “committing huge resources.”
     
    Nevertheless: absolutely, planning should start happening now and yes, we may get lucky.

  63. Sashka says:

    I didn’t say it won’t  require  huge resources. I said I didn’t want to commit huge resources until and unless I know it’s necessary and unavoidable.

    I don’t think it is necessarily more complex now it’s just the sheer volume of work that is a bit troubling. OTOH, these massive government-funded construction projects will provide a huge boost to poor economies. That’s in contrast to cutting CO2 emissions which will have a negative economic effect.

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