Saturday, August 18, 2012

What Do Pessimists Have to Say About Climate Change Adaptation?

Here is a blog piece that is worth reading by by Frank Lowenstein and Evan Girvetz of the Nature Conservancy.

Here are some juicy quotes;

"And this summer the impacts of our mounting climate debt became clear. July was the hottest month ever in U.S. history (3.3°F above the 20th century average). Drought has reduced water levels in soils and rivers across much of the country, and spectacular and unprecedented heat has evaporated what little water is available, baking our soils and forests. With the natural resilience of our forests and watersheds reduced, climate bankruptcy hits home, yielding charred homes from fires in Colorado; suffering in stifling, power-less homes across the East; and reduced yields in the parched breadbasket of the Midwest.

And extreme temperatures are occurring faster than scientists anticipated. Extremely hot summers — warmer than virtually ever occurred during a base period of 1951-1980 — have occurred across more than 10% of the world’s lands during the past several years. Extremely hot temperatures are more than 10 times more likely to occur now than 50 years ago.
You have likely felt the heat this year — which has broken tens of thousands of heat records across the U.S. But do you also recall the heat wave in Texas and Oklahoma just last year that killed 100,000 cattle and 500 million trees? The Russian heat wave two years ago that killed 56,000 people? The European heat wave in 2003 that killed [at least 35,000] people?  The new research shows that this is not just year-to-year variation in weather, but almost certainly due to global climate change causing warmer temperatures.
These heat waves have major impacts for people. Hot temperatures were a cause of the terrible wildfires that ravaged Colorado and New Mexico this year and destroyed hundreds of homes. Hot temperatures exacerbate drought conditions and are contributing to the crop failures we see across the Midwest, with rising prices in the grocery store certain to follow.
And hot temperatures have direct health impacts for people — more than 60 people died in the US earlier this year from the heat. A new article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review notes that the 2006 heat wave in California killed 138 people, more than died in the Loma Prieta and Northridge earthquakes combined."
When I was a young man, I liked the Heavy Metal song; "We're Not Going to Take It".  
The authors of this piece have a pessimistic view of society that we have no ability or will to adapt and cope with these new threats.  While Congress is gridlocked  and India's and China's GHG emissions are booming, adaptation offers a real strategy for mitigating the concerns that they list above.  Nowhere in their piece do they bother to discuss adaptation.  Do they really believe that we are all victims with no control over our lives?  Such fatalism is "refreshing" but very odd and self-serving.   Of course, the poor have the least ability to adapt.  These authors could make a decent point arguing that social justice concerns hamper solely focusing on adaptation as our "best coping strategy".   But, as we have seen with all capitalist products -- the quality adjusted price falls sharply over time.  Today, many poor people have better consumer durables than the last Russian Czar had in his palace.   As prices fall for new coping products, everyone can benefit.  
I understand that the authors want carbon mitigation and as usual are trying to create an "urgency of now"  but these folks should visit China and see the ongoing spike in GHG emissions.  It is time for reasonable people to start to think harder about creating incentives and "rules of the game" that allow our economy and government policy to pursue climate change adaptation.