I was just sent an email announcing that my UCLA colleagues will be talking about urban adaptation to climate change in a public discussion titled "Should We Just Adapt to Climate Change?" A leading NY Times blogger (Revkin) will be there but I haven't been invited. To folks who have read something about my 2010 Climatopolis book (Basic Book) this discussion may sound familiar.
The key word above is "just". I have the feeling that my colleagues will say; "yes adaptation will help us cope but there are many unknowns about the impact caused by rising carbon dioxide concentrations and thus we must bite the bullet and radically decarbonize".
As I argue in Climatopolis, city living and working protects us from climate change especially when our cities are built in places at lower risk and scarce resources (such as water and electricity) are price to reflect their scarcity value. In a world of globalized free trade, farming will move to those areas where it can profitably take place and crops that are more robust to weather shocks will be grown. Improvements in holding inventories will provide further insurance against climate shocks. The ability to transport produce long distances breaks the link between consumption and local production and provides additional insurance.
I'm guessing that my UCLA colleagues will stress that adaptation is risky and thus we must reduce our GHG emissions. I respect this "imperative mission" but it is naive to believe that the select set of Los Angeles people who attend intellectual discussions can change the world. The future of GHG concentrations is taking place in the developing world. In the cities there where people are buying cars and air conditioners, how does my IOE colleagues plan to decarbonize that growing part of the world? The only answer would be engineering solutions and technology transfer. Bring in the Engineers!