Thursday, November 17, 2005

Adaptation and Climate Change

I read an interesting press release concerning who bears the brunt of climate change impacts see These researchers have the guts to forecast far into the future concerning likely impacts. Let me list them:

According to the UW-Madison and WHO team, other model-based forecasts of health risks from global climate change project that:

* Climate-related disease risks of the various health outcomes assessed by WHO will more than double by 2030.
* Flooding as a result of coastal storm surges will affect the lives of up to 200 million people by the 2080s.
* Heat related deaths in California could more than double by 2100.
* Hazardous ozone pollution days in the Eastern U.S. could increase 60 percent by 2050.

All of these outcomes are certainly possible but I don't understand what assumptions are being made concerning our ability to self protect and adapt to climate change. I would bet that these researchers are assuming a "worst case" scenario where we take no precautionary steps to mitigate climate change's worst effects.

Consider Flooding, I'm not an engineer but as we learned from Katrina in New Orleans and the levees infrastructure investments do make a difference in protecting a coastal population. If we have 75 years to get the technology in place and pay for it, how much would anti-flooding investments cost and how much could these devices protect us against the extra flooding caused by climate change?

Similarly with respect to heat, if weather forecasting improves and weathermen are able to predict next week's weather is it really true that in the face of a coming "Heat Wave", if people know the heat wave is coming will they really go jogging outside those days? There is a growing environmental economics literature documenting that people respond to information regulation. We see this with respect to Smog Alerts in Los Angeles. Similar "Heat Alerts" will reduce the death count from hot days. I do agree that the number of deaths in Chicago a few years ago from that Heat Wave was shocking. The urban poor may need resources to help them cope with such shocks.

Hazardous ozone days in the Northeast are likely to take place in July and August. The population, especially those who are susceptible to ozone pollution, may have to learn to take vacations during those months to avoid exposure and get away from affected areas. My general point here is to not under-estimate the ability of the population to adapt. It may be hard for social scientists to measure adaptation, the most educated might be the best at adapting but this force will help reduce the quality of life impacts of climate change.