The lessons of Katrina: Global warming “adaptation” is a cruel euphemism — and prevention is far, far cheaper

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"The lessons of Katrina: Global warming “adaptation” is a cruel euphemism — and prevention is far, far cheaper"

http://www.killedthat.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/08/hurricane-katrina.jpg

I’m updating this post from August 29, 2007, along with pieces of the adaptation trap “” Part 1 and Part 2 from March 2008.

The L.A. Times has brought to prominence (and fallen for) what I call the “adaptation trap”:

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.

G. Gordon Liddy’s daughter repeated that standard denier/delayer line in our debate: Humans are very adaptable “” we’ve adapted to climate changes in the past and will do so in the future.

We know that fighting climate change — stabilizing below 450 ppm of atmospheric carbon dioxide — has a low cost, according to IEA, IPCC, McKinsey and every major independent economic analysis (see “Intro to climate economics: Why even strong climate action has such a low total cost — one tenth of a penny on the dollar“).

What is the cost of “adaptation”?  It is almost incalculable.  The word is a virtually meaningless euphemism in the context of catastrophic global warming.  That is what the deniers and delayers simply don’t understand. On our current emissions path, the country and the world faces faces multiple catastrophes, including:

  • Staggeringly high temperature rise, especially over land “” some 10°F over much of the United States
  • Sea level rise of 5 feet, rising some 6 to 12 inches (or more) each decade thereafter
  • Permanent Dust Bowls over the U.S. SW and many other heavily populated regions around the globe
  • Massive species loss on land and sea “” 50% or more of all life
  • Unexpected impacts “” the fearsome “unknown unknowns”
  • More severe hurricanes “” especially in the Gulf

I think Hurricane Katrina gives the lie to the adaptation myth. No, I’m not saying humans are not adaptable. Nor am I saying global warming caused Hurricane Katrina, although warming probably did make it a more intense. But on the four-year anniversary of Katrina “” and the three year anniversary of Climate Progress’s initial launch “” I’m saying Katrina showed the limitations of adaptation as a response to climate change, for several reasons.

First, the citizens of New Orleans “adapted” to Hurricane Katrina, but I’m certain that every last one of them wishes we had prevented the disaster with stronger levees. The multiple catastrophes “” extreme drought, extreme flooding, extreme weather, extreme temperatures “” that global warming will bring can be suffered through, but I wouldn’t call it adaptation.

Second, 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).

Third, 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 sea level from climate change will ultimately put many cities, like Miami, below sea level? And just how do you adapt to sea levels rising 6 to 12 inches a decade for centuries, which is the fate we risk by 2100 if we don’t reverse greenhouse gas emissions trends soon. Climate change driven by humans GHGs is already happening much faster than past climate change from natural causes “” and it is accelerating.

The fact is, the deniers don’t believe climate change is happening, and the the delayers don’t take the climate change impacts above seriously, so they don’t believe in spending serious 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.

Finally, a major new study finds the cost of adaptation — and the costs of inaction — are far, far higher than anyone thought.  Duh!  Since it provides strong economic and analytical support for my analysis here, I will blog on it soon.

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40 Responses to The lessons of Katrina: Global warming “adaptation” is a cruel euphemism — and prevention is far, far cheaper

  1. Rick Covert says:

    I would invite those “adapters” to come to Houston about 4 years ago when Houston received 150,000 refugees overnight. It was a herculean effort and put a strain on public services and the placement of the refugees in the Astrodome was not without controversy. In addition a number of felons came in with the refugees and crime spiked in Houston in 2006. Most of these felons had records, were on parole or were convicts and were eventually captured. The vast majority of Katrina evacues have decided to stay in Houston, have made a life in Houston and some have even succeeded here but the post traumatic stress is still there. You don’t adapt you cope.

  2. David Levy says:

    Adaptation is expensive, but we need to remember that these costs are major business opportunities, particularly in the construction sector. Dikes and levees, the impressive Thames flood barrier in London (designed before climate change was a big issue, but subsequently upgraded) etc. The agricultural sector might suffer from droughts and floods, but seed companies like Monsanto are racing to produce drought and saline tolerant varieties. The insurance sector seems more interested in adjusting rates and building codes than doing anything about climate change. Watch out for a post on this soon at Climate Inc. http://climateinc.org

  3. Dallas says:

    @Rick,

    I’m from Dallas, but I will still brag on Houston. They took in all of those people, and made it look easy. The planners that performed that week deserve a medal of honor.

  4. Wonhyo says:

    JR – The top priority should clearly be preventing and mitigating further climate change, but aren’t we at a point where preparation for and adaptation to climate change is also necessary? My understanding is that there’s quite a bit of climate change already “in the pipeline”, based on past emissions which we cannot take back.

    To establish a baseline minimum amount of required preparation/adaptation, I think it would be useful for climate scientists to simulate an immediate zeroing out of all GHG emissions from fossil fuel combustion. This is a theoretical lower limit on future GHG emissions. How much climate change and resulting damage would there be in this scenario? How much preparation/adaptation will be needed?

    In public policy discussions, is it more useful (and productive) to discuss reductions from our present emissions growth path, or to discuss allowances from a zero baseline emissions scenario? I think the former strategy is allowing us to be in a state of denial that leads to climate/energy policies that do too little, too late. The latter strategy will be more shocking, at first, but may lead to stronger policies sooner, because it will more realistically convey the costs we’ve already payed for past inaction.

    What do you think?

  5. Leif says:

    Just the cost of Katrina alone, estimated at about 100 billion and still a long way from mitigated, not to mention out of pocket expenses and disrupted lives, has cost every man, woman and child about $300 per person. (100 b/~330m) Take away the folks that are too old or too young or too poor or too rich to pay taxes and that leaves about 50% to pick up the slack or about $600 per person for the rest of us smocks. That is money down a rat hole to boot. What a deal. Adaptation my a**…

  6. Jeff Huggins says:

    It seems that many people go for this “we’ll just adapt” thinking. Why?

    I think there is, in many cases, a confluence of factors.

    First, many people do not really “understand and appreciate” the powers of nature and of natural principles. Somehow, they’ve either been “protected” from those or they haven’t developed the understanding and paradigms to fully appreciate them. Some people (but certainly not all) who haven’t studied the sciences in depth fall into this category. Indeed — and this is quite odd, but it exists out there — some people seem to think that human “wishes” or “ideology” or “thinking” trump nature’s most basic principles: They act as if they think: “If we just THINK something hard enough, or BELIEVE something stubbornly enough, that will take care of us, hell or high water.”

    Something else is also amazing: Setting aside the fact that people who opt for the “let’s just adapt” approach grossly underestimate nature’s vastness and dynamics, and grossly underestimate what we would have to do to “adapt”, even in those ways that might be slightly possible (with great pain and harm along the way), they also usually display a central and revealing inconsistency when you get to the bottom of things: When you ask them, “OK, you don’t want to spend X or do Y to address the root cause of the problem in the first place, but you say we should spend W and do Z to prepare for the situation and ‘adapt’, so are you going to introduce serious legislation to spend W and do Z like you suggest?” In other words, “are you actually beginning to do what you say we should begin to do?” And then — in most cases — the excuses and hesitation come. That’s because most of them don’t seem to REALLY want to adapt or do anything at all: They just want to avoid the changes necessary to address the root problem. Future generations can worry about “adapting” to the messes that we continue to make. How convenient! How selfish!!

    Also, of course, there is the dynamic that Upton Sinclair observed when he said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

    Yet, that’s unfortunate: Because only in a very very few cases does a person’s “salary” depend on the notion of not addressing climate change. Many people — because of the disinformation and misunderstanding — might think that their salaries depend on a world that doesn’t address climate change, but it’s just not so. Addressing climate change will require the efforts and work of oodles of people, with all sorts of backgrounds, from all sorts of prior industries. Indeed, one of society’s goals should be to make that sort of transition smoother and worry-free.

    Adaptation (in place of addressing the root problem) is a dead end and a fool’s path.

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  7. Uosdwis says:

    I’m afraid that’s exactly right. Humans, as a race, and especially Americans, are simply not able to see the benefit of preventative measures. They look at the equation “pay a little extra now to save a lot later,” and stop at the part about paying anything now. We are irrevocably a “this quarter only” society. And we’re doomed.

  8. paulm says:

    Life is going to get tough.

  9. john says:

    Adaptation and its handmaiden, geo-engineering offer the option of not changing — we are, as a species, procrastinators. Our challenge is to show it’s not an option.

    By the way, the best answer I’ve ever seen to the “humans are adaptable creatures” argument came from the former Mayor of London (whose name escapes me at the moment). A critic of his stiff, carbon-motivated zoning laws said something to the effect of, “look, climate change is no big deal. Why, 30,000 years ago, a giant ice sheet came down to this very spot, and we did just fine. We humans are an adaptable species.”

    The Mayor nodded in agreement, then said drolly, “Although I rather think it would be harder to pack up London and move South, this time around.”

    Humans may be adaptable, but civilization may not be. It creates a certain brittleness in the face of change, and saps us of resilience.

  10. Dean says:

    People who want to focus on adaptation don’t really understand what it means in real terms. This isn’t like adapting to a company no longer making your favorite ice cream flavor. Humans successfully adapted to the arrival of bubonic plague in Europe, and humans in the Americas successfully adapted to the arrival of diseases with Europeans. But the former adaptation cost Europeans one third of their population and the latter probably 90%. This is what human adaptability can mean.

    Furthermore, the adaptability of our species does not, according to the historic record, seem to translate very well to our cultures and civilizations. Many have depopulated, collapsed, and disappeared, when faced with all variety of challenges, including climate changes.

    Were our society able to rationally discuss and plan for climate change, having a component of adaptation in conjunction with the much larger mitigation effort, would make sense. But as long as the current irrational process features many pro-adaptors wanting to do so _instead_ of mitigate, it will be hard to do so.

    It’s also worth pointing out that as far as I can see, you can only really plan for adaptation if you trust the climate models, since they are telling us what we need to adapt to.

  11. Scott says:

    If there wasnt so much corruption in LA, the levies would have been in decent shape and most of the folks would have been evacuated. Bad luck it struck so close to NO, fortunately we are seeing fewer hurricanes in recent years.

  12. Bob Wallace says:

    Scott – don’t forget to give a very large shovel full of blame to the Army Corps of Engineers. They were the people who screwed up the levee construction.

    The 17th Street flood wall collapsed due to inadequate soil analysis on the part of the Corps. They failed to take the poor subsoil in that particular spot and did not build an adequately wide wall which then “leaned” when its footings softened, thus opening a breach which allowed flooding.

    As for “we are seeing fewer hurricanes in recent years”, that’s bogus unless you cherry pick normal variability and disregard the overall trend during the last 40-50 years.

  13. lgcarey says:

    The statement that “the citizens of New Orleans “adapted” to Hurricane Katrina”, while correct as a tautology (whatever happens, however horrible, constitutes “adaptation”) neglects to mention the 1,800+ people who “adapted” by dying. The blithe denier / delayer non-sense about humans just adapting to whatever happens seems to amount to saying “I think I’ll be just fine so I don’t need to worry about a lot of people I don’t know suffering and dying”. Hard to think of a better illustration of immorality…

  14. ecostew says:

    It is quite informative to go the TNS site and use their tool for both precipitation and temperature for US states/other countries under several emission scenarios and time-frames: http://www.climatewizard.org/

  15. Paul K says:

    Scott, the levees on all navigable waterways, are the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers (part of the federal government) and that has been the case for a long time. Here is what they had to say about the failure of the levees in New Orleans:

    NEW ORLEANS, June 1, 2006
    Katrina Report Blames Levees

    (CBS/AP) A contrite U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took responsibility Thursday for the flooding of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina and said the levees failed because they were built in a disjointed fashion using outdated data.

    “This is the first time that the Corps has had to stand up and say, `We’ve had a catastrophic failure,”‘ Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, the Corps chief, said as the agency issued a 6,000-page-plus report on the disaster on Day 1 of the new hurricane season.

    The Corps said it will use the lessons it has learned to build better flood defenses.

    “Words alone will not restore trust in the Corps,” Strock said, adding that the Corps is committed “to fulfilling our important responsibilities.”

    The $19.7 million report includes details on the engineering and design failures that allowed the storm surge to overwhelm New Orleans’ levees and floodwalls Aug. 29.

    Many of the findings and details on floodwall design, storm modeling and soil types have been released in pieces in recent months as the Corps sought to show it was being open about what went wrong. But the final report goes into greater depth.

    The Corps, Strock said, has undergone a period of intense introspection and is “deeply saddened and enormously troubled by the suffering of so many.”

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/06/01/national/main1675244.shtml

  16. Chris Winter says:

    What John (#9) wrote is dead on target. In fact, his last two sentences bear repeating:

    “Humans may be adaptable, but civilization may not be. It creates a certain brittleness in the face of change, and saps us of resilience.”

    Too right. Civilization is fragile. We are seeing many of the projected results of climate change already, although they’re due to other causes and happening on a smaller scale.

    Refugees? Look at Africa. Look at Southeast Asia. Hell, look at Houston, TX in fall 2005; Rick Covert (#1) describes it well here.

    Seaport flooding? Look at New Orleans; the scars are still there.

    Drought? Look at the Dustbowl of the 1930s. Look at the drought of 1987-1989, which covered 36% of the country and cost an estimated $39 billion. Drought hits some part of the U.S. every year, and FEMA estimates the annual cost at $6 billion to $8 billion.

    http://drought.unl.edu/risk/us/compare.htm

    Wildfires? Look at California, now and over the past decade.

    These are not trivial impacts. Anyone can see how much worse would be the projected impacts of climate change — assuming they are willing to look.

  17. ecostew says:

    And remember ocean ecosystems continue degrade because of intensifying acidification.

  18. K. Nockels says:

    It seems to me that Katrina and the rebuilding of New Orleans, both show how far from reality we are on addressing Climate Change. Is it realistic to even consider, with the sea level rise that is already in the pipeline, New Orleans as city that will be here in 70 yrs. and not under water? The rebuilding seems pointless in the face of our current situation. How much more so as time goes on and we are still fighting over what to do, how much to do,or even to do anything at all. How many times and how many cities will there be in this situatuion given our current inability to address this problem? As we continue to rangle over this issue here in the US and in the rest of the world the Bell Tolls and it is Tolling for US.

  19. Chris Winter says:

    lgcarey (#13) also makes a good point. In the past, humans adapted to disaster by fleeing or dying. The chance to die in unpleasant ways will always be with us. However, places into which large numbers of people might flee to escape sea-level rise, drought and famine, or the other projected calamities associated with global warming are today already occupied by people who will strenuously object to having the extra mouths to feed.

  20. Paul K says:

    Further responding to Scott who wrote:

    Scott says:
    August 29, 2009 at 11:17 am
    If there wasnt so much corruption in LA, the levies would have been in decent shape and most of the folks would have been evacuated. Bad luck it struck so close to NO, fortunately we are seeing fewer hurricanes in recent years.

    Response: to attribute Katrina damage to bad luck is nonsense. Lets take the mis-information in your comments, and hit each element.

    As I commented above, the levees are the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers, and they have determined that their design and construction of the levees was at fault. In addition, as most residents of New Orleans know, the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet intensified the impact of the storm surge. The infamous MR GO, a waterway built through the delta to shorten the shipping route into the gulf, directed the storm surge right into the levee wall that catastrophically failed and flooded the Ninth Ward. The local authorities have been concerned about MR GO for years. Somehow you have shifted the blame from the the federal government to the local.

    Secondly, there are only a few ways out of New Orleans, the Ponchartrain causeway, a portion of which collapsed, I-10 to the east (directly into the path of Katrina) and I-10 to the west, which entails a pretty good drive over swamps before you can get anywhere that can handle several hundred thousand people. Despite of this, most of the folks did evacuate or the death toll would been much higher, given the delayed response by FEMA. The people who stayed and died were predominantly poor who didn’t own cars.

    Compare this with the failure to evacuate the much smaller group of people in the Galveston area prior to the landfall of Ike in 2008. Here is a news clip about the aftermath that storm (fortunatley Ike veered just to the northeast of Galveston):

    “Galveston had ordered evacuation of the island, but Galveston City Manager Steve LeBlanc said about 40 percent of the city’s 57,523 residents chose to stay.”
    http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/weather/09/13/hurricane.ike.texas/index.html

    If forty percent had stayed in NO, and FEMA took a week to get there, then the death toll would have likely topped 20,000.

    Finally, to address the bad luck of Katrina, and the lower incidence of hurricanes since 2005. First, note that (the highest total of recorded tropical storms was in 2005, so to have the next few years revert toward the mean isn’t surprising. Secondly, Katrina crossed the tip of Florida as a Category 1 storm, in then in less than 36 hours strengthened to a Category 5. For a hurricane to pick up strength this quickly in the GOM seems very unusual. Although we can’t prove it (yet), it is logical that the much higher than normal surface temps in the GOM contributed greatly to the strengthening. Although we don’t have the smoking gun to directly tie Katrina’s destructiveness to AGW, scientifically the data point in that direction.

    I believe we will see more catastrophes like Katrina in coming years, as GOM temperatures increase.

  21. lgcarey says:

    Related on the ClimateFeedback blog at Nature.com:
    The high cost of adaptation –
    “Adapting to climate change will cost many times more than the UN has estimated, according to a report by former IPCC working group co-chair Martin Parry and colleagues, published by the International Institute for Environment and Development and the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London.”

    “He worries that lowball back-of-a-metro-ticket numbers create the illusion that adaptation is a cheap alternative to mitigation. He says in Nature News’s story, ‘Sceptics could argue we should just walk into the future adapting as we go.’”

    http://blogs.nature.com/climatefeedback/2009/08/the_high_cost_of_adaptation.html#more

    [JR: I'll blog on this in a day or two.]

  22. Petro says:

    Human as a species has survived numerous bottlenecks during its evolution. However, never earlier, the number of people has been at the current levels, 7 billion or so. Never earlier has humankind reached the level of industrialization and post-industrialization.

    What happens to humanity, if Lovelock’s dire forecasts do realize? What sort of humanity there is left in the world of 500 million, which know that some 6.5 billion fellow human beings have been distroyed by the collective stupidy of humanity?

    I dare say we lose moral and start to slaughter even more intensively each other until we reach the bottleneck once again.

    Then we can adapt to nature.

  23. paulm says:

    Cyclic, my dear Watson. Lovelock points out that we go around once more, strengthening Gaia.

  24. David B. Benson says:

    What lgcarey wrote in comment #13.

  25. Rick says:

    I thought the lesson of Katrina was to make a choice not to put neighborhoods below sea level with insufficient dyke systems in a hurricane zone. The two best options are to move the people out of those neighborhoods or build proper dykes that can stand up to a major hurricane.

    The third option is to fix things up a bit until it happens again.

  26. Bob Wallace says:

    Rick, I think the lesson of Katrina is that if you live below sea level you better get the right people to build your levees and hope even the right people don’t make a mistake. And that trusting your fate to levees is not as good as living above the level to which the water might reach.

    Now, let’s play that forward to the possible future in which we don’t deal with the warming we’re causing.

    Think about building and maintaining levees around New York, Miami, Bangkok, and a number of other cities, large and small. Think about building levees around the coastal areas of Bangladesh, Egypt, Florica, etc.

    Think about the cost. Think about the number of levees that will fail, simply because humans make mistakes.

    I suppose that the alternative is to move all those people to higher ground. You ready to share an ever decreasing amount of land with billions of others?

    “(F)ix things up a bit until it happens again” is not an option.

    We’ve got only three options:
    1) Build tens of thousands of miles of levees,
    2) Crowd together on ever shrinking high ground,
    3) Get busy and stop the oceans from rising.

  27. Nice posting. And superb comments. I can only offer the classic aphorism:

    “Lessons not learned, will be repeated”

  28. jackafuss says:

    If we are so concerned about global warming, why did we just bail out the auto industry twice? Why are we subsidizing the purchase of gasoline burning cars? Why did we allow so many of the ethanol plants to go busted? Why are we now exporting natural gas? Why did we not use some of the stimulus funds to subsidize the purchase of electronic book readers? If the situation were so dire, why are our leaders in Washington spending so much of their efforts on health care?

    I understand that 80 million US hectares have been reforested with trees over the past 80 years, I wonder how many more hectares will be reforested once we stop cutting trees to make books and newspapers?

  29. Since the IPCC 2007 reports, new research has been reviewed by the the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU). IARU organized an international scientific congress on climate change, Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges and Decisions, which was held in Copenhagen from 10-12 March 2009. Participation in the Congress was open to all. Most of the approximately 2500 people attending the Congress were researchers, many of whom have also been contributors to the IPCC reports. Participants came from nearly 80 different countries and contributed with more than 1400 scientific presentations. The Synthesis Report (Richardson, et al., 2009) contains six key messages:

    Climatic Trends
    Recent observations show that greenhouse gas emissions and many aspects of the climate are changing near the upper boundary of the IPCC range of projections. Many key climate indicators are already moving beyond the patterns of natural variability within which contemporary society and economy have developed and thrived. These indicators include global mean surface temperature, sea-level rise, global ocean temperature, Arctic sea ice extent, ocean acidification, and extreme climatic events. With unabated emissions, many trends in climate will likely accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts.
    Social and Environmental Disruption
    The research community provides much information to support discussions on “dangerous climate change”. Recent observations show that societies and ecosystems are highly vulnerable to even modest levels of climate change, with poor nations and communities, ecosystem services and biodiversity particularly at risk. Temperature rises above 2oC will be difficult for contemporary societies to cope with, and are likely to cause major societal and environmental disruptions through the rest of the century and beyond.
    Long-term Strategy : Global Targets and Timetables
    Rapid, sustained, and effective mitigation based on coordinated global and regional action is required to avoid “dangerous climate change” regardless of how it is defined. Weaker targets for 2020 increase the risk of serious impacts, including the crossing of tipping points, and make the task of meeting 2050 targets more difficult and costly. Setting a credible long-term price for carbon and the adoption of policies that promote energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies are central to effective mitigation.
    Equity Dimensions
    Climate change is having, and will have, strongly differential effects on people within and between countries and regions, on this generation and future generations, and on human societies and the natural world. An effective, well-funded adaptation safety net is required for those people least capable of coping with climate change impacts, and equitable mitigation strategies are needed to protect the poor and most vulnerable. Tackling climate change should be seen as integral to the broader goals of enhancing socioeconomic development and equity throughout the world.
    Inaction is Inexcusable
    Society already has many tools and approaches – economic, technological, behavioural, and managerial – to deal effectively with the climate change challenge. If these tools are not vigorously and widely implemented, adaptation to the unavoidable climate change and the societal transformation required to decarbonise economies will not be achieved. A wide range of benefits will flow from a concerted effort to achieve effective and rapid adaptation and mitigation. These include job growth in the sustainable energy sector; reductions in the health, social, economic and environmental costs of climate change; and the repair of ecosystems and revitalisation of ecosystem services.
    Meeting the Challenge
    If the societal transformation required to meet the climate change challenge is to be achieved, then a number of significant constraints must be overcome and critical opportunities seized. These include reducing inertia in social and economic systems; building on a growing public desire for governments to act on climate change; reducing activities that increase greenhouse gas emissions and reduce resilience (e.g. subsidies); and enabling the shifts from ineffective governance and weak institutions to innovative leadership in government, the private sector and civil society. Linking climate change with broader sustainable consumption and production concerns, human rights issues and democratic values is crucial for shifting societies towards more sustainable development pathways.

  30. ecostew says:

    Australia is beginning to plan for sea-level rise as there is a substantial amount already in the pipeline due to existing GHGs and we likely will not see a substantial annual global reduction in GHG emissions for a few years. http://news.theage.com.au/breaking-news-national/sea-level-rises-prompt-planning-overhaul-20090825-ey1m.html

  31. ecostew says:

    Drought in Africa and large delta areas at risk: http://www.sindhtoday.net/news/1/46494.htm

  32. David B. Benson says:

    Climate protection ‘to cost more’:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8224823.stm

    About $500 billion per year.

  33. Chris Winter says:

    That article seems sloppy in its use of the word “adaptation.”

    “Developing nations want rich countries to provide major sums for adaptation as part of the new UN climate deal due to be agreed in Copenhagen in December.”

    I’d like to see more people follow the dictionary definitions. Here’s Merriam-Webster online:

    ADAPTATION [2]: adjustment to environmental conditions: as a : adjustment of a sense organ to the intensity or quality of stimulation b : modification of an organism or its parts that makes it more fit for existence under the conditions of its environment.

    MITIGATION ==>
    Mitigate:
    1 : to cause to become less harsh or hostile : mollify
    2 a : to make less severe or painful : alleviate b : extenuate

    Thus, to mitigate climate change is to lessen its impacts; to adapt to climate change is to lessen our susceptibility to its impacts.

    To my mind, the distinction is crucial.

  34. Col says:

    Whenever I hear “we can adapt to CC” and whenever I hear of theories as to why the Bush admin did so little, so late in response to Katrina I wonder how many have read Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”.

    If I had to guess I’d say the large majority of “adapters” are just plain rationalising inaction. But I wonder what fraction are more insidiously wondering if there will be more profit to be had in a destabilised world of ubiquitous conflict.

  35. Andrew says:

    This blog post from the Economist is a depressing analysis of the study on adaptation, explaining how current economic estimates of global warming costs devalue the lives of the world’s poor by essentially excluding the mass death and suffering in those countries:

    http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2009/08/costing_climate_change.cfm

  36. David B. Benson says:

    Chris Winter — Unfortunately I fear that the article in question correctly stated the views of the diplomats from the so-called developing countries. Indeed thay want around $500 billion a year to adapt to the changing conditions since they are (except India and China) powerless to mitigate.

    That is a big chucka change. Enough for a sensible mitigation plan to be implemented, now.

  37. Col says:

    One thing we shouldn’t forget is that sometimes adaptation and mitigation are one and the same. That is, the two approaches overlap.

    Take the remote living for example. If you were trying to mitigate the emissions of your isolated research station which right now relies exclusively on diesel shipped by sea for its heat and electricity, you might want to develop on-site renewables. If you wanted your remote station to be better adapted to a destabilised climate with more and more storms which disrupt shipping, you would also want on-site renewables.

    There are many other examples. Local farming would adapt cities against many of the ills of climate change as well as mitigate its effects due to lower transport emissions. Better city planning which reduces automobile dependance would mitigate against climate destabilisation as well as be a good adaptation to it as fewer roads and bridges obviously need less repairing from more severe and frequent natural disasters. Etc. Etc.