The wheels may be falling off the media’s climate discussion, if a new L.A.Times piece is any evidence. The piece, “Global warming: Just deal with it, some scientists say,” which is really an article about not dealing with it.
The adaptation trap is the belief that 1) “it would be easier and cheaper to adapt than fight climate change” [as the Times puts it in the sub-head] and/or 2) “adaptation” to climate change is possible in any meaningful sense of the word absent an intense mitigation effort starting now to keep carbon dioxide concentrations below 450 ppm.
Sorry for the long definition, but as we’ll see, the second part is especially critical in what has now becaome an important emerging policy debate, which is cleverly devoid of specifics. (Indeed, on his blog, Pielke says he was misquoted and denies he believes the first part, which actually makes the L.A.T. piece even lamer, as Grist’s Dave Roberts shows). And being misquoted doesn’t mean Pielke isn’t very wrong anyway — as we’ll see at the end, Pielke is so confused about adaptation and mitigation that he takes the prize for the most backward analogy in the history of the climate debate and unintentionally proves just how wrong he is.
You see, as I’ve been arguing, the real question for the world is not whether we can stabilize below 450 ppm of atmospheric carbon dioxide if we try hard enough and fast enough — of course we can, and at a very low cost according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which self-described “nonskeptical heretics” like Pielke claim to believe in.
The real question for humanity is whether we can avoid 800 to 1000 ppm or more. That is what the delayers and nonskeptical heretics simply don’t understand. At 800 to 1000 ppm, the world faces faces multiple catastrophes, including:
- Sea level rise of 80 feet to 250 feet at a rate of 6 inches a decade (or more).
- Desertification of one third the planet and drought over half the planet, plus the loss of all inland glaciers.
- More than 70% of all species going extinct, plus extreme ocean acidification.
[I will explore these and other impacts in more detail in Part 2.]
This Hell and High Water could be “adapted” to by billions and billions of people only in the sense that the citizens of New Orleans “adapted” to Hurricane Katrina or that people in Darfur have “adapted” to their military conflict. Such “adaptation” is better called “suffering” as former AAAS President John Holdren describes it in talks.
What will it take to avoid 800 to 1000 ppm? Remember the IPCC bombshell from last year: