In Part 1, we saw that
- Adaptation as primary strategy for dealing with climate change is widely oversold.
- This is especially true as atmospheric Co2 concentrations approach 800 to 1000 ppm, a likely outcome if we listen to either the delayers or deniers.
- And a leader adaptation advocate and apparent delayer-1000, Roger Pielke, Jr., “labels adaptation what is in fact mitigation, and his idea of mitigation is apparently research into adaptation.”
… if our political system stinks at managing floods, coastal storm risks, and fresh-water resources in the absence of anthropogenic climate change, why would it manage better if climate change does turn out to significantly increase the mean severity and/or variance of the distribution?
I made a similar point last year on the second anniversary of hurricane Katrina, a catastrophe that “showed the limitations of adaptation as a response to climate change“:
… a classic adaptation strategy to deal with rising sea levels is levees. Yet even though we knew that New Orleans would be flooded if the levees were overtopped and breached, even though New Orleans has been sinking for decades, we refused to spend the money to “adapt” New Orleans to the threat. We didn’t make the levees able to withstand a category 4 or 5 hurricane (Katrina was weaker at landfall than that, but the storm surge was that of a category 4).
… even now, after witnessing the devastation of the city, we still refuse to spend the money needed to strengthen the levees to withstand a category 5 hurricane. We refuse to spend money on adaptation to preserve one of our greatest cities, ensuring its destruction, probably sometime this century.
If we won’t adapt to the realities of having one city below sea level in hurricane alley, what are the chances we are going to adapt to the realities of having all our great Gulf and Atlantic Coast cities at risk for the same fate as New Orleans — since on our current path, climate change will ultimately put many cities, like Miami, below sea level?
For some, of course, adaptation is a complete ruse:
The fact is, the Denyers don’t believe climate change is happening, so they don’t believe in spending money on adaptation. The Center for American Progress has written an important paper on hurricane preparedness, which is a good starting point for those who are serious about adaptation.
But don’t be taken in by heartfelt expressions of faith in human adaptability. If Katrina shows us anything, it is that preventing disaster would be considerably less expensive — and more humane — than forcing future generations to adapt to an unending stream of disasters [which is to say a permanently altered climate].
The nation and the world will obviously have to spend serious money adapting to global warming for two reasons. First, we’ve delayed action to reduce emissions for so long. Second, delayers like Pielke (and President Bush, Bj¸rn Lomborg, and Newt Gingrich) still have the upper hand in the debate (as the L.A.T article and this Revkin NYT piece make clear), because the 1) technology trap is so appealing, 2) action requires a lot of effort, and 3) procrastination is always attractive option when someone is whispering in your ear that it is actually the best option.
Note: The cleverest delayers, like Pielke, never oppose action completely, they just never tell you specifically what their targets and actions would be. So they get to take the high road and argue out of both sides of their mouths, effectively arguing — “We need both mitigation and adaptation, but even though I don’t think the problem requires urgent action like the advocates, take my word that I support just enough mitigation to avoid the part of climate change that can’t be adapted to.”
Unfortunately, the part of climate change that can’t be adapted to is coming much faster than we feared. If we can keep total warming from preindustrial levels to 2°C or lower, than genuine adaptation is possible. The more we go above 2°C, the more adaptation will be replaced by suffering.
LIVING/SUFFERING IN A 1000 PPM WORLD
I listed only three catastrophes that would probably occur at 800 to 1000 ppm because I think those are the most serious and most inevitable. But they are hardly the only ones. A major 2005 study of the impacts of about 800 ppm on the United States found in the second half of this century (from 2071 to 2095) a vast swath of the country would see average summer temperature rise by a blistering 9°F.
Houston and Washington, DC would experience temperatures exceeding 98°F for some 60 days a year. Oklahoma would see temperatures above 110°F some 60 to 80 days a year. Much of Arizona would be subjected to temperatures of 105°F or more for 98 days out of the year–14 full weeks. We won’t call these heat waves anymore. As the lead author, Noah Diffenbaugh, of Purdue University said to me, “We will call them normal summers.”
Climate scientists don’t spend a lot of time studying 800 to 1000 ppm, in part because they can’t believe humanity would be so self-destructive as to ignore their increasingly dire warnings and fail to stabilize at well below 550 ppm. The IPCC notes that if equilibrium CO2-equivalent concentrations hit 1000 ppm, the “best estimate” for temperature increase is 5.5°C (10°F), which means that over much of the inland United States, temperatures would be about 15°F higher.
This increase would be the end of life as we know it on this planet. Interestingly, 5.5°C is just about the temperature difference between now and the end of the last ice age, the difference between a livable climate for human civilization that is well suited to agriculture and massive glaciers from the North Pole down to Indiana.
Is it 100% certain that 1000 ppm would result in